iPod Nation.

Bike-riding season is officially open. It’s been open for a while, but today is the first I managed to kick it off right — with a few downloads from the iTunes Music Store.

I hadn’t been there — to iTunes — for weeks and weeks, and I see that in my absence Steve Jobs has only redoubled his efforts to part me from all my money, 99 cents at a time. They’ve been adding to the iTunes Exclusives library, virtual albums built around a theme. I only needed to see they have a whole series devoted to the ’70s to start drooling.

Some people maintain the 1970s were an unrelenting sump of suckishness. They couldn’t be more wrong, especially when it comes to pop music, most of which was at least listenable and some of which was simply great. I’ll put ’70s funk up against Motown any day.

And there’s always another song to buy. I chose the Isley Brothers’ “Fight the Power.” Every song from one’s youth has a memory attached, and this is mine: Watching a bunch of gay men dance to “Fight the Power” at the Kismet, one of Columbus’ oldest gay bars, maybe the oldest. (It still is, but now it’s called the Eagle.) Every girl who knows gay men has danced with them; it’s part of their job in straight society — dance with women whose husbands refuse. At school dances, girls dance with one another, but boys can’t, lest the closet cases on the football team decide to hold their heads in the toilet over it. And as you get older, girl-girl dancing gives way to girl-gay boy dancing. It’s a perfect expression of teenage misery, one reason the “World Happiness Dance” episode of “My So-Called Life” reached the level of absolute brilliance.

If it continues into adulthood, one venue for it is gay bars, where single women go with their gay male friends for a little frisson of transgression, among other things. So it was with me at the Kismet, where we danced and danced and danced, and then “Fight the Power” came on, and everyone started doing a line dance called the Bus Stop. I didn’t know it, and I needed a break, so I stepped off and watched for a while, all those muscles and tight T-shirts and perfectly faded jeans moving together in the line. And then it came to me: They’d really rather be dancing with each other. All that dancing-with-girls stuff — they’re just humoring us.

When you have an epiphany, you remember what was on the soundtrack at the time.

I also got Gary Wright’s “Love is Alive,” which will bring no end of abuse from Alan, who considers him Lame. He’s right — Gary Wright is lame. But again, there’s a memory attached. Wright came to Ohio University to open for Peter Frampton in 1976 or so. I think Frampton was touring to support “Frampton Comes Alive,” which meant he was doing a live show of a live album. Of course, “Frampton Comes Alive” was turgid, horrible crap, but there was a certain lemming-like appeal to seeing what was all over the radio being acted out on stage. I bought tickets.

So Gary Wright comes out to play, and no one had heard of him. He opened with “Love is Alive,” and it was fabulous, this sort of jazzy organ groove pop thing. He had three sylph-like chick singers, each one a sexy goddess, doing backup. He was in and out in about eight songs, ending with “Dream Weaver,” which we also hadn’t heard, and oh my but it was one of those opening acts you remember, so fresh and new and what about those backup singers.

And then Frampton comes out, and all our hearts sank. He isn’t really going to sing that Doooo you, you! Feeeel like I doooooo thing, is he? Oh god, it sounds just like the album. Aren’t live shows supposed to sound different from the album, even live shows about live albums? We stayed to the end, but left thinking about Gary Wright.

Gary went on to have a very very good year, and he came back to OU almost a year later, and he was headlining this time. And guess who opened for him? The J. Geils Band.

Well, you know how that went. J. Geils comes out and blows the freakin’ roof off the place. I mean, it actually levitated. It was in a smaller venue this time, and they did the same opening-act thing — concise, tight, loud. Also, with lots of harmonica solos. Ain’t nothin’ but a house party!…First I look at the purse! It was outstanding. And then they went off, and out came Gary Wright, after a hard year of touring, which in the ’70s wasn’t about yoga and fresh-made carrot juice, if you catch my drift.

There was a new set of chick singers, just as sylphlike, but not the same ones as the first go-round. And he didn’t open with “Love is Alive,” but with “Dream Weaver,” his big ginormous hit. And get this — there was a slide show.

Sure. He sang, “I just closed my eyes again…” and behind him flashed a big picture of Gary Wright with his eyes closed. “Climbed aboard the dream weaver train…” And there was a train in soft focus on the screen. And so on.

Oh my, did it suck. I mean, we’d just heard “Whammer Jammer.” We didn’t want to hear this lame-ass crap. Not even.

I’m not sure if this story has a moral, but I always think of it when I hear Gary Wright, and maybe, if I had to write it down, it’s this: Stay nimble, keep your material fresh, don’t be too literal and choose your opening act carefully.

Posted at 1:54 pm in Popculch |

34 responses to “iPod Nation.”

  1. John said on March 29, 2006 at 2:49 pm

    You’ve just sent me down memory lane, looking back on my best opening-act-blows-the-doors-off-headliner moments. I saw Aerosmith in 78 or 79, when they were ascending their drug abusing peak. They positively blew, playing for less than an hour. The opening act, which we’d never heard of, was awesome – theatrical and spectacular. Of course, that was as good as Styx would ever get. I remember an all-day show in Philly in 1983, when REM was second on a bill of five bands, playing before even Flock of Seagulls (which featured a lead singer so wasted he fell down on stage in the middle of a song.).
    And as for J. Geils, did you know that Peter Wolf was a real live Boston radio dee jay before he formed the band? And do you remember the name of his harmonica player? I’ve actually had the pleasure of tossing back a few beers with him one night at the Tam O’Shanter on Beacon Street in Brookline, up the road from my alma mater, which is only meaningful in the sense that it allows me to claim, truthfully, that I have partied with the Magic Dick. Somehow I feel like I should tie this back in with the dancing with gay guys theme, but nothing comes to mind.

    1161 chars

  2. Joe Kobiela said on March 29, 2006 at 3:52 pm

    Magic dick on the likin stick, Also J.Geils is the name of the guitar player. I had the pleasure of working security for J Geils when they played the colisium in Fort Wayne, Best rock and roll show I ever saw. They were great.

    231 chars

  3. Futz said on March 29, 2006 at 4:51 pm

    I haven’t heard anyone mention the Kismet in (mumble mumble) years. I was never in it. First time I ever went there (with Jeff and Craig and Paul), it was the Eagle. Still lots of guys in tight t-shirts dancing around.

    221 chars

  4. nancy said on March 29, 2006 at 6:01 pm

    We saw X open for Warren Zevon in Merrillville, Ind., maybe 19, 20 years ago. A little strange mix there, but at least a WZ crowd is pretty open-minded. Exene Cervenka, the lead singer, was enormously pregnant, and we all assumed the baby daddy was John Doe, also in the band. Weren’t they an item? I thought they were married.

    Anyway, their set was terrifyingly loud. Go-out-in-the-lobby-and-have-a-smoke loud, and even then, you knew it was healthier for you than sitting in all those decibels. Joe Pixler came out and said, “I feared for the unborn child.”

    A few weeks later I’m reading Rolling Stone and I see Exene has had her baby. Named him Henry. OK.

    So then last month I’m reading GQ while I’m getting my hair cut and there’s a story about Viggo Mortensen, the hunklicious Viggo, yet another of my Hollywood boyfriends who never calls. It says that years ago he had a thing with Exene Cervenka, and they produced a child, upon whom he dotes. A boy named Henry.

    Small world.

    998 chars

  5. wade said on March 29, 2006 at 6:16 pm

    Kismet and J. Geils would have been enough, but I’ve been yammering on for years about Wright’s “I just closed my slides again…” routine.

    I am overcome with nostalgia.

    180 chars

  6. nancy said on March 29, 2006 at 6:18 pm

    Cuz you wuz there, Wade. Right next to me.

    42 chars

  7. Jeff said on March 29, 2006 at 6:54 pm

    J. Geils, Exile, Little Feat . . . i’d enjoy this memory marinade, but it makes me keep thinking something is due tomorrow morning, and i can’t recall for which class.

    Which isn’t enough of a problem to make me stop thinking about those concerts, and how i would have wasted the ticket money on food and tuition payments if i hadn’t gone. What are they gonna do, encumber my grades? (…which i think they still are)

    peace, jeff

    436 chars

  8. Jeff said on March 29, 2006 at 6:55 pm

    …oh, and is “No Anchovies, Please” on iTunes? If it is, i may have to turn in my geriatric Walkperson and get an iPod.

    pax, jeff

    134 chars

  9. basset said on March 29, 2006 at 9:03 pm

    back in my concert photographer days I saw Styx open for Black Oak Arkansas… this was a loooong time ago, John Curulewski was still in the band and wearing jeans and a pocket t-shirt to set off the polyester suits everyone else had on.

    meanwhile, about five feet from me as I type is a poster advertising a show at Indiana University’s Assembly Hall freshman year, September 30, 1973… J. Geils Band headlining over Mark-Almond and Strawbs. all I remember of that show is that Peter Wolf could dance better than just about anyone I ever saw anywhere and that the first twenty or so rows of chairs on the floor were completely trashed when it was over.

    most intoxicated entertainer I have ever viewed onstage in person would have to be Burton Cummings in Terre Haute on the last Guess Who tour. white doubleknit pants and red eyes, what a combination.

    saw Rick Wakeman suck down an entire case of warm Stroh’s during a show in Louisville about that same time but you couldn’t tell he’d had a drop, most humans couldn’t have played his parts dead sober back then.

    1077 chars

  10. brian stouder said on March 29, 2006 at 9:38 pm

    “most intoxicated entertainer I have ever viewed onstage in person would have to be Burton Cummings in Terre Haute on the last Guess Who tour.”

    Most of my live-entertainment money has been spent on racing (Champ Cars and F1, baby! – none of that tin-top stuff) – which is plenty load too, in a pleasing way…….but about a decade ago we went to Deer Creek to see John Cougar Mellencamp, and Blind Mellon opened up. They were absolutely terrible; reall, listening to a wood chipper would have been more pleasant. One of the guys was rolling around on the stage, groaning incoherently and the pointless and tuneless ‘music’ screeched and screamed and droned.

    Not very long after that their guy Hoon died in The Big Easy (cocaine od?) – and when I heard the news it was flatly unsurprising

    794 chars

  11. Ricardo said on March 29, 2006 at 10:38 pm

    Gary Wright was also in the 60s group Spooky Tooth. You can laugh at him nervously giggling in the low budget film Groupies.

    125 chars

  12. harry near indy said on March 30, 2006 at 3:40 am

    basset, i was attending i.u. then and, i went to the j geils show. don’t remember strawbs but mark almond was a little folkie for the taste of the crowd, which was there to see j geils band.

    and the j geils band was powerful.

    228 chars

  13. Kirk said on March 30, 2006 at 9:04 am

    my first concert in college had sha na na warming up for john sebastian. this was way back before sha na na was just a cruise ship cliche. they played their old rock tunes, got everyone fired up and all had a great time. crowd control was pathetic, so by the time sebastian came on (just him and a guitar), we were sitting at sha na na’s drum kit behind him on the stage. he did one song and changed from acoustic guitar to electric. (he wanted everyone to be quiet and listen.) the crowd still wouldn’t calm down. he played another song or two and left in frustration. it wasn’t exactly brilliant programming on the part of whatever student came up with it. the next show i saw was linda ronstadt warming up for johnny winter. at least they were in a more logical order.

    771 chars

  14. Kim said on March 30, 2006 at 11:11 am

    Nancy — My husband and I took a trip in the Way Back Machine and saw X on their reunion tour a few months back. They were great, and John Doe’s pipes were smooth as ever. But let’s just say I couldn’t stop thinking how the woman in front of me — the one in a short maroon qiana bridesmaid-style dress, grey knit support hose, motheaten sweater held together with two remaining buttons and various bits of costume jewelry, and wearing orthopedic-style heels — had been Mrs. Mortensen. Then I started to imagine her at Henry’s PTA meetings or soccer games. Glad I’m not getting old, too!

    588 chars

  15. mary said on March 30, 2006 at 11:13 am

    Ahem. The LA contingent must weigh in on Exene’s offspring.
    She divorced John Doe in 85 and married Viggo Mortenson in 88, when their son was born. She was (it’s so easy to name drop here in LA; so cheap) my neighbor.

    220 chars

  16. nancy said on March 30, 2006 at 11:22 am

    Everyone was your neighbor, Mary — the Nobel-sperm-bank kid, and now Exene. Plus, you’ve waited on Danny Kaye and Mr. T. When I was little I used to ask my parents why we couldn’t live in California. Thanks for reminding me why.

    Oh, and Kim — Exene’s physical dissipation is only more proof that nature is a bitch. I saw a photo of Anita Pallenberg the other day, and even though she’s no more or less wrinkled than Keith Richards, you can say the latter’s look like an action-packed life, fully lived, while hers just make her look like a crazy old bag who should have quit smoking at 19.

    594 chars

  17. brian stouder said on March 30, 2006 at 11:41 am

    Mary rocks!

    I like her remembrance of crossing swords with Queen Leona Helmsly best

    86 chars

  18. Adrianne said on March 30, 2006 at 12:08 pm

    OK, opening acts that absolutely blew away the main event:

    Nance, I saw that same “Frampton Comes Alive” tour in 1976 at RFK Stadium in Philadelphia, and while dear Peter sucked big-time, the opening acts kicked ass: J. Geils Band and Lynrd Skynrd.

    But my best one: Bruce Springsteen opening for Chicago at the Spectrum in Philadelphia in 1974, and getting booed off the stage. He hung it up after about three songs. Talk about tragic miscalculations!

    457 chars

  19. alex said on March 30, 2006 at 12:12 pm

    My first concert was Sister Sledge, Heatwave and GQ at Ohio State in 1979. It was also my first visit to the Kismet — 17 years old and they didn’t even card me. I don’t remember the dance floor so much as the depredations in a very dark room in the back.

    255 chars

  20. mary said on March 30, 2006 at 12:45 pm

    …and Tim Roth was the assistant coach of my kid’s soccer team.

    64 chars

  21. Jim said on March 30, 2006 at 1:16 pm

    I realize this is completely off-topic … but is anyone else bothered by Jill Carroll’s comments on her captivity? She says she was treated very well, never threatened, etc. If that’s the case, why didn’t she just get up and leave? Perhaps because they threatened to kill her if she did? I am very glad she is free, but something about this doesn’t smell right. Being held against one’s will for three months is not being “treated very well.” Am I being overly suspicious? Is my nose for news losing its sense of smell?

    526 chars

  22. nancy said on March 30, 2006 at 1:24 pm

    I think what she means is, she wasn’t physically abused, raped or otherwise mistreated while a captive. It’s sort of like crashing your car into a tree and walking away with a sprained wrist. You say, “Wow, I sure was lucky.” In other words, it could have been much worse.

    272 chars

  23. Jim said on March 30, 2006 at 1:42 pm

    I understand what you’re saying and you’re probably right. Perhaps I’m just nitpicking. But being held as a captive IS mistreatment. It’s one thing to say they didn’t beat her, rape her, etc. — ok, got it. But obviously there was a threat of violence. She was denied her freedom through an act of violence. Yet, she seems to be pleading on behalf of her captors:

    Asked what message she wanted to send to the United States, she said firmly, “I was treated very well, it’s important for people to know that. (from NYT)

    I’m still not getting it … what am I missing?

    577 chars

  24. nancy said on March 30, 2006 at 1:47 pm

    Just off the top of my head, I’d say she doesn’t want to feel even remotely responsible for any payback violence against Iraqis. Face it — in an insurgency, the bad guys don’t wear uniforms. She may have spent a great deal of time listening to her captors talk about what the war has done to their country, and to non-combatants. We’re not talking a black-white thing here; the whole war is one big gray area.

    I look forward to whatever she writes about her experience.

    474 chars

  25. Dorothy said on March 30, 2006 at 2:23 pm

    Jill might not have been mistreated, but one of the videos they released during her captivity showed her weeping while talking. I think the sound was muted. But I agree with Nancy – I think it’s her love of the Iraqi people she was friends with that is making her make the statements she made today.

    And I want to be Mary for just a few weeks. Her Brushes with Greatness sound endlessly fascinating.

    405 chars

  26. Laura said on March 30, 2006 at 2:53 pm

    Dorothy Says:

    “And I want to be Mary for just a few weeks. Her Brushes with Greatness sound endlessly fascinating.”

    Elvis Costello borrowed my pen once. He didn’t return it.

    192 chars

  27. Dorothy said on March 30, 2006 at 3:15 pm

    I waited on Val Kilmer’s mother in the quilt store where I used to work one Thursday night.

    I gave David Letterman a quilt I made just before the show started when I attended a taping in August 1987.

    I shook hands with Robert Picardo at a music concert at Starlake Amphitheatre where he was appearing. The concert featured the Pittsburgh Symphony doing music from Star Wars, 2001 A Space Odyssey, Star Trek, etc. I told him I’d rather shake his hands and say hello than get an autograph. I think autographs are overrated.

    That’s the extent of my own Brushes with Greatness.

    587 chars

  28. Kim said on March 30, 2006 at 4:07 pm

    I agree with Nancy about Jill Carroll, and want to add that if I were in her shoes I’d damn sure keep my American mouth shut until I was back home. I think her behavior is a combination of grace and self-preservation. Smart girl.

    Now, can we turn this thread into a brush-with-greatness fest? Danced w/Mick Jagger (a real runt, but boy can he move for a senior) at a private birthday party for a film director I did not know. In L.A., Mary, of course.

    454 chars

  29. brian stouder said on March 30, 2006 at 6:09 pm

    Brushes with greatness.


    I once went to downtown Ft Wayne when Jerry Brown was coming to town. I noticed where the security was massing , and headed there – and when he arrived, I shook his hand! (the hand that touched Linda Ronstadt…woo hoo!) I’ve shook hands and said hello to several race car drivers and Lincoln scholars (Harold Holzer is a hoot to talk to); and I shook Senator Luger’s hand once at the air base at Grissom, on the occasion of the showing of a B-2 stealth bomber there (Spirit of Indiana, if I recall) – he’s even shorter than he looks on teevee –

    and I once attended a new year’s eve party at Madam Telling Tales’ home!! It was a genuinely marvelous evening, even if my then-wife made me depart before the midnight hour

    763 chars

  30. Jim from Fla said on March 30, 2006 at 6:23 pm

    I once performed a concert for Richard Nixon (along with the rest of “The North Side High School Marching Redskin Band”)!

    121 chars

  31. alex said on March 30, 2006 at 9:28 pm

    Brian —

    Governor Moonbeam was in the Fort? The hand that touched the Stoned Pony presumably where the sun never shines? I kneel to you.

    I’ve had no brushes with greatness, unless you can call walking behind Woody Allen on Oak Street in Chicago hand-in-hand with his daughter Soon-yi and surrounded by body guards during the height of the incest scandal which also coincided with a big Knicks/Bulls game. Unfortunately, I was in the company of a total starfucking maniac who called out to him and scared his entourage into zagging across the street and away from us.

    There were probably a few other celeb moments in my otherwise dull life if I can summon some sparks in the synapses. Let’s see. Socialite Abra Prentiss Wilkinson getting out of a shamrock-green Lincoln limo with the personalized plate “ABRA.” (That’s how I knew it was her.) Ummm, shit. Oh, and the Chinese dyke comedienne who’s show got canned because she wasn’t waiflike enough, I ran into her once too.

    982 chars

  32. Scout said on March 31, 2006 at 8:27 am

    Strawbs – Oh how I loved them. If you can find an album, I highly recommend a listen, they were ahead of their time.

    Some of the best music ever was from the 70s – Supertramp, Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, Frank Zappa, Uriah Heep… give me a minute in my garage with my old albums and I could name quite a few more!

    318 chars

  33. kathy said on April 1, 2006 at 12:25 am

    I waited on Bette Midler & co. at the Olympic Restaurant in Ann Arbor in 1974 (I think). She was wearing a little babushka and her whole entourage was as fun and gracious as could be (they sang the theme from the Dobie Gillis show right there at the table). This was in marked contrast to the hordes of drunken louts that customarily frequented this place at 1 a.m. I saw Jerry Lewis at the Duke University hospital in 1987. My husband drove Henny Youngman in from the Detroit airport for some benefit some time prior to 1986 and on the ride into town, made him laugh. In 1978 we spent the most boring afternoon imaginable entertaining Bobby Vinton’s mother and Bobby Vinton’s aunt in our very living room in Detroit. My brother in Arizona is the exterminator for somebody famous, but I forget who.
    Down here in southeastern Ahia they say you are “allowed going” instead of “allowed to go.” I have NEVER heard that anywhere else.

    947 chars

  34. Cathy said on April 1, 2006 at 6:26 pm

    I, too, recall the Kismet. After a dear friend came out to me, he thought it would be a good idea for me to join him at the Kismet (BTW, Nancy, I believe he was a UA classmate of yours). When he told me he wanted to dance, I thought he meant with me… but I was wrong.

    271 chars