I remember this night as if it were yesterday.
Check out the skinny tie and the three buttons.
In the mail today!
A flashback to those glorious, goofin’, pogo jumping, slam dancing early the 1980s.
I saw this band at the Southern Illinois University (SIU) Student Center at the beginning of the 1980 fall semester, (shortly after I saw David and the Happenings perform at an outdoor party in Lewis Park) and the band would be one of a half-dozen New Wave acts I would see that semester along with The Pretenders, The English Beat, Ultravox, and Polyrock.
I bought the album at Plaza Records in Carbondale but it was never reissued as a CD until recently through Wounded Bird Records.
Although a bit dated, it has held up quite well over the years. Although Wilk comes across as sort of a cross between Elvis Costello and Warren Zevon, the music takes one back to those early days of New Wave when a farfisa beat and saxophone ruled.
It’s going to get a lot of playing time on my iPod.
A classic Ultravox song, “Passing Strangers” from their 1979 album Vienna.
I saw them in concert thirty years ago on Halloween night at SIU (Southern Illinois University).
For 444 days, from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981, 53 Americans were held hostage by militant Iranian students in the U.S. Embassy in Teheran that would soon be part of the American vernacular as the Iran Hostage Crisis.
It wasn’t America’s first major policy blunder in the Middle East that allowed the Embassy to be taken over, but it did call attention to how foreign policy in the Middle East was not always understood or addressed regional issues effectively. Most of the crisis centered on two individuals the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Ayatollah Khomeini. Although The Shah had been overthrown earlier in the year, when he journeyed to the United States for medical treatment at the Mayo Clinic (a journey discouraged by the U.S. Embassy in Teheran) The Shah’s visit intensified Anti-Americanism among Iranian revolutionaries and spawned rumors of a U.S.-backed coup.
The seizure of the embassy was planned as early as September. Interestingly, Khomeini did not know of the plan beforehand. Initially, the students only wanted to occupy the embassy for a few hours or even a few days to have their message heard around the world.
Around 6:30am on November 4, the ringleaders assembled approximately 500 students. At first, they only wanted to make a symbolic gesture, but when it became clear that the guards inside the embassy were not about to use deadly force, the plans changed and the students broke through the gates.
One of the more disturbing photos to quickly emerge from this takeover was the photo of the bounded and blindfolded embassy workers and military personnel who were parade in front of photographers.
In November of 1979, I was a sergeant serving in the United States Air Force at George Air Force Base in the High Desert region of the Mojave Desert, just outside of Victorville, California. I had been in the Air Force since June 1976, and it had been a rather peaceful military service—in those three years, there had only been one major international crisis that affected the U.S. military, the August 18, 1976 Panmunjom Ax Murder Incident.
There were a lot of rumors circulating on base that we might be the first Air Force units deployed, if the crisis escalated given that the 35th Tactical Fighter Wing, known as the Wild Weasels was an important fighter wing that had proven itself in the Vietnam War.
Every night, after the crisis erupted many of us watched Ted Koppel and ABC’s Nightline for the latest updates of the crisis.
It also created a surge of patriotism in the States, but at the same time it would also come to symbolize America’s mishandling of Middle East diplomacy that still resonates today. Although the U.S. sought a diplomatic solution to have the hostages released an ill-fated rescue mission—Operation Claw Eagle on April 24 (just two weeks before I was discharged)—that ended in disaster when a helicopter crashed into a C-130 tanker aircraft only intensified the vehement Anti-Americanism.
The hostages would finally be released, on January 20, 1981—twenty minutes after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president. It is thought the hostage takers waited until Reagan was president to punish President Jimmy Carter’s support for The Shah.
When the hostages were finally released and arrived back in America, they were given a hero’s welcome and a ticker tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes in New York City. That didn’t sit too well—this hero’s welcome—with some Vietnam veterans I knew. In January 1981, I was a student at Southern Illinois University (SIU) in Carbondale, Illinois. When it was announced that there was going to be this hero’s welcome for the hostages, the owner of the American Tap, a popular bar in Carbondale decided to have a Veteran’s Party to honor Vietnam War veterans, many who were attending SIU.
The aftermath of the Iran Hostage Crisis reads like a Tom Clancy novel with a number of conspiracy theories (like how it was a secret CIA plot), not to mention a actual historical events like the Iran-Iraq war (with the U.S.-backed Saddam Hussein), the Iran-Contra Affair (Iranians, Contras, and Ollie North) and in many ways, that takeover 30 years ago, still resonates loudly today with the current and sometimes shaky U.S.-Iran relations.
If you are one of those music aficionados who prefers their lyrics to be on the cerebral side of things without compromising too much foot-stomping danceability, you could also count on the Talking Heads to deliver both.
And you never had to worry about them not making sense.
Take their 1979 hit, “Life during Wartime” that might have seemed to tap into the punk rock/new wave Zeitgeist, but instead comes across as more of a “funky cautionary tale” about foreign terrorists living in American suburbs.
I still remember when I picked up a copy of Fear of Music and slapped it on my turntable. First of all the album itself was really hip—all black and embossed with a pattern that resembled the appearance and texture of diamond plate metal flooring. Then there were such tracks as “I Zimbra,” “Air,” “Electric Guitar,” “Cities” and Mind”– songs for a generation and all creatively produced by Brian Eno.
However it was “Life during Wartime’s” nightmare visions of civil insurrection (and perhaps terrorism) in the United States as well as allusions to an apparent guerilla movement (“Heard of a van that is loaded with weapons/packed up and ready to go/Heard of some gravesites, out by the highway/a place where nobody knows”) that really grabbed me the first time I heard the song. Without question, these were some powerful lyrics jolted listeners in the waning disco era. And when the singer laments that he can’t go to night clubs anymore because he has to live underground, he sings “this ain’t no party/this ain’t no disco/this ain’t no fooling around” which became a catchphrase for punk and new wave.
At the dawn of the Reagan era, “Life during Wartime” might have seemed like a post-punk apocalyptic paranoid nightmare; today, in a post 9-11 world though, it had tragically become a reality.
On a personal note, it was one of those albums that when I listen to now reminds me of a defining moment of my life, not to mention the direction that my musical tastes would be taking me. It was early 1980 and I was debating whether or not to get out of the Air Force. At the time I was stationed at George Air Force in the high desert of California (just outside of Victorville) and I was thinking about reenlisting for another four years or perhaps going to college.
One day, while I was in CBPO—an administrative building for the base—I happened to see an advertisement for Southern Illinois University (SIU). The Air Force and SIU had some program called Students in Uniform for military personnel who wanted to study aerodynamics and even had a recruiter/advisor on base. I was interested in film and having already done some checking on SIU’s cinema and photography department, I stopped in to see the SIU advisor who put me in touch with SIU and helped me with the admission process.
Two months later, I got my acceptance from SIU—one week before my orders were cut for helicopter mechanic school at Shepard Air Force Base—and decided it was time to get out. Had I received my orders first, who knows what would have happened—I might have ended up making a career out of the Air Force.
Instead it was off to SIU.
And the rest is history.
It was a little over a year ago when I first wrote an essay about an email I had gotten from David Siegfried, the former lead singer of David and the Happenings, a band that I seen a couple of times in Carbondale, Illinois as well as Chicago.
I thought it was cool that David had stumbled across my blog one day and had read the first essay I had written about his former band and then sent me an email. Other than my very good friend Paul Collin who I met the first year I attended SIU (Southern Illinois University) David was the only other person I corresponded with from SIU.
After I wrote that blog some other Carbondale alums that knew David stumbled across my blog and soon people who had not seen each other in years were re-connecting. That essay was bringing a lot of people together and the chance to share memories and to catch up.
Now there’s going to be a Carbondale Reunion of sorts at the Smart Bar in Chicago on March 6 for many of these same people who re-connected courtesy of my blog.
On December 8, many people around the world will take time out again to remember the anniversary of the death of John Lennon.
“Where were you when John Lennon was shot” became just as poignant a question as the one posed by another generation when people asked, “Where were you when JFK was assassinated?” 17 years earlier.
For myself, I was a student at Southern Illinois University when I heard the news that fateful night in December 1980. I had been studying for finals in my dorm room in Freeman Hall, an off-campus dormitory, and didn’t think much of the block of Beatles’ songs being played by the local college radio station I had tuned in.
Only when I walked upstairs to the TV room to check the score on the Monday Night Football game when I learned of the news. Howard Cosell broke away from his usual play-by-play of the game to announce to the millions of viewers that Lennon had been shot.
I ran back downstairs and burst into my friend Paul Collin’s room to tell him the news.
“Now I know the world is coming to an end,” Paul said as he sunk down in the beanbag chair he had been sitting on, “someone shot a Beatle.”.
We tuned in the college radio station and listened to one Beatle song after another, too stunned to say anything.
And it did seem like the world had, at least for the moment, stopped. For the next few days, it seemed that the whole world was in mourning. It didn’t make any difference where you were, there was bound to be someone who had either grown up with the Beatles or who had been touched by Lennon’s music.
Even if you hadn’t been into his music or a fan of the Beatles, the fact that an entertainer, a musician—a person who tried to advocate peace through his music had been gunned down was tragic enough to make one stop and take stock of their own life.
What was it that brought so many different people together, then—when they gathered at Lennon’s Dakota apartment or other places to leave messages, flowers, album covers, candles and the like in memorial—and now, when people again gather around the world to remember? What was it about Lennon’s life and his subsequent death that affected so many people around the world? Why did his death in 1980 fill so many people with such an incomprehensible sense of loss?
Without question, Lennon’s death was the loss of an icon for a generation.
We always feel robbed and cheated when one of our icons, one of our generation’s spokespersons is taken away from us. Although one can argue that it’s unbefitting that he has been elevated to some cultural sainthood status, his contributions to modern pop culture, not to mention history as a Beatle and as a solo artist cannot be ignored.
Above all, Lennon’s life and the music he created represented not only this whole idea of rock and roll rebellion, but also to a much larger extent, the social and cultural consciousness that touched a sensitive chord in us all. Whether it was one of his and Yoko’s “Bed Peace” events or one of their “War is Over” posters, Lennon was dedicated to raising our social consciousness. His music became a medium to address these issues and perhaps explain our own social consciousness through his songs. Just listen to “Imagine.”
His death touched us all, and perhaps reminded us of our own mortality.
On the other hand, would we still be gathering and remembering Lennon, though, if he hadn’t been gunned down, if he had, say, died of a drug overdose or committed suicide, or even died of natural causes? Would such a death have had that much more significance? Would he have been just another rock and roll casualty?
The fact that Lennon was murdered in the prime of his life made his life and death that more significant. Likewise, he had just re-emerged from this self-imposed exile with a new album at age 40—proof that even forty-year-olds could still rock and roll. When that album came out in the fall of 1980, I think he was probably the most sober he had ever been in his life and that can be seen through some of the hopefulness and love (no matter how hurt he was he always managed to tell us all about the importance of loving oneself and others)
One more reason, which made a generation feel robbed, when he was gunned down outside his Dakota apartment that fateful night in December.. Whether you agreed with his politics, his self-righteous cant, understood his avant-garde leanings or not, Lennon influenced our collective cultural consciousness and raised our social awareness.
Lennon was different. He broke the rules and we forgave him. Lennon wasn’t always a smooth cookie, like many humans, but part of it was the role we put him in. He wasn’t comfortable with it. His friendship with Harry Nillson towards the end was a classic tale
Of course, there was always the music, too. Twenty-eight years after his death, his legacy, not to mention his music still resonates.
He wasn’t a Mother Theresa, a Princess Diana, or a Martin Luther King. He wasn’t a doctor who devoted a lifetime finding a cure for cancer or AIDS. He was just a musician, an artist who gave us all something just as important: the hope and the dream of a better world.
What do we really remember in the end? Is it just the passing of one our icons? Or, is it something more? I think the answer lies in our need for some connection with are own permanence, are own mortality.
Remembering Lennon is our own memorial for our permanence and humankind, and our hope for a better world.
Jeffrey at 50 – Fifty albums that changed my life and rocked my world
“We walked in the cold air
Freezing breath on a window pane
Lying and waiting
A man in the dark in a picture frame
So mystic and soulful
A voice reaching out in a piercing cry
It stays with you until”
Prior to Ultravox’s concert at SIU on Halloween night 1980, I had not listened to the band very much. In fact, I had just bought their album Vienna a few days before.
On a week that started with seeing Kansas in concert, changing my hairstyle, getting my ear pierced, buying some vintage clothing, and buying a ticket to the Ultravox concert, I also had time to give Vienna a few spins around my turntable so I would at least know some of the music they would play come Halloween night.
And what I heard and listened to, I liked a lot.
A few people in Freeman Hall—the off-campus dorm I was living in at the time—who were hip to New Wave music like my very good friend Paul Collin had raved about just how good a band Ultravox was, at least raved about their earlier stuff when John Foxx was the lead singer. Now Midge Ure fronted the band and some people didn’t think Ultravox was going to be as good as it had been with Foxx.
There’s no question that many fans of Ultravox wondered what would happen to the fate of the band after John Foxx left. Vienna laid to rest any doubts that the band was another casualty of the post-punk era. Indeed, Ultravox would carry the torch for many New Wave era bands.
In many ways, when I listen to Vienna these days, it feels like a snapshot of the new wave scene in 1980—an amalgam of styles and audio experiments filtered through a definite pop sensibility. The songs on the album resist any form of labeling. From the opening ethereal and hypnotic instrumental piece “Astradyne” to rocking tracks like “Sleepwalk,” “Passing Strangers,” “All Stood Still,” the songs are just as eclectic in style as they are in substance. And if there were a Top 10 or Top 25 list of classic new wave tracks, “Vienna” would be at the top of that list.
Musically, Ultravox would set a standard for the use of synthesizers and a unique style of music in this New Wave era. Although Eno and Kraftwerk had been doing it for years, Ultravox made it more accessible with their pop infusion and sensibility.
Before this style of music turned on itself in electro-pop overkill, Vienna reminds one of a time when bands were still experimenting and pushing the parameters—and perhaps that is why today it has become a classic. There’s no denying its place in rock and roll history, not to mention at the zenith of those songs from that early New Wave era. A lot of great stuff was coming out around this time. When musicologists and fans look back on the years 1979-1980, Ultravox will always be one of the more important and influential bands.
Of all their albums in the post-Foxx Ultravox, Vienna rates better than the others.
Twenty-nine years later, it’s just as hypnotic and powerful as it was back then. It is an alluring innovative album that holds up well. Just today I listened to “Vienna” on my iPod and I was transported back to the autumn of 1980, going to SIU, hanging out with friends like Paul Collin, and getting into all kinds of music. It was a very special time when music from that era was redefining my life.
We walked in the cold air
Freezing breath on a window plane
Lying and waiting
A man in the dark in a picture frame
So mystic and soulful
A voice reaching out in a piercing cry
It stays with you until
The feeling has gone only you and I
It means nothing to me
This means nothing to me
The music is weaving
Haunting notes, pizzicato strings
The rhythm is calling
Alone in the night as the daylight brings
A cool empty silence
The warmth of your hand and a cold grey sky
It fades to the distance
The image has gone only you and I
It means nothing to me
This means nothing to me
This means nothing to me
This means nothing to me
How I ended up working for a band that had briefly tasted fame (as another band) in the 1970s cannot be told without first looking back at an exciting time in a local music scene. At its most basic and rawest grassroots level, it is what rock and roll has been and will always be about: the musicians and bands playing the bars and club circuit.
The Jerks was comprised of three former members of the legendary Illinois Valley band Buckacre that in the 70s had recorded two albums under the guidance of Glyn Johns and had opened for such performers and bands like Jimmy Buffet and The Outlaws. When Buckacre broke up in the late 70s, two of the band’s founding members guitarist Al Thacker and drummer Dick Verucchi formed a new, hipper band (along with bassist Dave Morgan and guitarist Al Schupp) in tune with the resurgence of live music in local bars.
For a brief period in the 80s, The Jerks, which played mostly New Wave, covers and classic 60s, rock were one of the Illinois Valley’s (an area located along The Illinois River, approximately 90 miles southwest of Chicago in the north-central part of the state) most popular bands drawing enormous crowds wherever they played.
Originally called “Hamburger and the Works” when some people thought the “new wave” music covers they played made them sound like jerks, the name stuck. (Maybe these people who called them “jerks” were some bummed out Buckacre fans.)
The first time I saw the band play at Friday’s Saloon in Peru, Illinois was one cold, wet autumn night in late October 1980.
I was home for the weekend from Southern Illinois University (SIU at Carbondale) and had heard about this band that was quite popular in the Illinois Valley. To be sure, a few days before I came home there was a feature article about The Jerks and other bands in the News Trib, the area’s local newspaper, which among other things described this “resurgence in rock and roll.” Moreover, the reporter of this article pointed out that many local bands were playing the local bar circuit again after disco started to die out in the late 70s. The Jerks, along with other bands like Longshot (whose lineup also included other former members of Buckacre, Dick Hally, Darrel Data, and Les Lockridge) were generating a lot of excitement in the local bar scene in the Illinois Valley.
A few months earlier, The Jerks had been the opening act for The Ozark Mountain Daredevils at Illinois Valley Community College that also had a lot to do with the resurgence of rock and roll in the Illinois Valley. Many people remembered the “Buckacre” days and supported both The Jerks and Longshot.
That weekend I went down to Water Street (appropriately named Water Street because when the Illinois River crested whenever there was a lot of rain or flooding, the street was usually under a foot or two of water) in Peru where one of these bars, Friday’s Saloon was located. It was located in a cluster of buildings at the far end of the street, (past a few factories and other industrial complexes) which also included the Delta Queen and The Red Door Inn, a popular Illinois Valley eatery (now since closed). Rumored to have been a “speakeasy” during Prohibition, Friday’s had become a popular hangout for younger crowds (many who could get in without having their ID’s checked) and was the “official home” of The Jerks.
I guess that’s what made the place special, located on Water Street along the Illinois River, past all these factories. If you were to stand in the street (which at one time had been a brick street) and look east you could see these factories rising up underneath the Peru Bridge (U.S. Route 51, a major North-South artery—before U.S. 39 was completed—ran across the bridge). At night, and especially when it was raining there was an almost surreal aura to the place. This was a working-class neighborhood and I suppose it was only fitting that the three bars located on Water Street—Friday’s, the Delta Queen, and Murphy’s Bar (which had been a grocery store years before) rocked on the weekends.
Whenever The Jerks or Longshot played Friday’s it was an exciting time to be down on Water Street. During the heyday of this “resurgence of live music” in the Illinois Valley, people would be lined up outside waiting to get in. Inside, it was just wall-to-wall people. You had to fight your way through the crowd gathered around the bar to an adjoining room where the bands played. When it got too crowded inside, many people walked across the street to the Whistle Stop, a passenger train car that had been converted into a bar and waited until the crowds thinned out.
I went down to Friday’s early on that Friday night—a little too early because The Jerks had not even taken to the stage yet. The bar was not too crowded; there were only a few people sitting at some tables near the stage. One person in particular stood out. He was standing near the entrance to this second room. I didn’t know it at the time, but the man was Bruce Kowalski, a.k.a. Bob Noxious. He had his own radio program Alternative Opposites at a local radio station and was known for doing a wicked rendition of “Gloria” with The Jerks. Later, when we got to know each other, we would end up hanging out a lot.
I left early that night before The Jerks even played. However, I was back down at Friday’s the next night, and this time I got there later when the band was playing. For the rest of my life, I will always look back on that night as when I re-discovered rock and roll. I guess it is true what they (whoever they may be) say when the cosmic tumblers click and everything falls into place or maybe it was even an epiphany of sorts because after that night, my life was never the same.
Actually, I had already been really getting into the college music scene at SIU since I started attending classes there in the summer of 1980. SIU was always considered by many to be one of the nation’s top, albeit “unofficial” party schools and when it came to some of the musical acts, which played there, SIU, was bar none. There were always some big-name bands playing either at the university or in some of the bars. That autumn alone, The Pretenders, Elton John, Jeff Beck, The English Beat, and Off Broadway had played on campus; concerts by Kansas, Ultravox, and Polyrock (playing at the legendary bar T.J. McFly’s) would follow in the weeks to come.
I had met some friends for dinner at a Chinese restaurant in La Salle before heading down to Friday’s. With a couple of Mai Tai’s under my belt and a few bottles of beer I was primed for the night and ready for about anything. By the time we got there, the place was packed and jumping. While my friends tried to get served at the bar, I just followed the music, weaving my way through the crowd.
The interior of Friday’s Saloon was long and narrow with a bar that ran the length of the room. Actually, Friday’s was two rooms—part of the wall had been knocked out to make an opening into this adjoining room that was on the right. After pushing and fighting my way through the crowd, I entered this second room that was just as crowded as the first one. The air was heavy with smoke and perfume. A large group of people was standing in the back while others were sitting at tables on either side of the room. The dance floor was packed.
On a small stage at the front of the room The Jerks were playing a cover of a new wave hit by the English band The Vapors. The band was good, but it was the energy of the crowd, which really struck me as I stood there in the back and listened to the music and felt all this energy and excitement.
With a pounding, staccato backbeat and driving guitars, The Jerks were playing high octane rock and roll that had—judging from the way the speakers were swaying back and forth from the vibration of all the dancers on the crowded dancefloor—energized the crowd.
It was then that I noticed one of my old friends from high school, Chris Vasquez who I hadn’t seen in over four years, dancing near the front of the stage. While we were probably not the best of friends when we were in high school (we had only hung out just a few times) we were in a few classes together. Later I would discover that we had once hung out when we were in elementary school.
Suffice to say that night I ran into Chris at Friday’s was the beginning of a very strong friendship that has lasted to this day. We have had our differences now and then, but I can honestly say that Chris has always been able to count on me over the years, even when some of his other “best” friends have turned their backs on him. Who knows, if I had not gone down to Friday’s that night and bumped into Chris we might not have ever become as close as we have.
Chris had already been a regular at Friday’s and following The Jerks whenever and wherever they played in the Illinois Valley. He was just itching to have his own band—and he would in less than a year.
That night, and a few weeks later when I came back home for Thanksgiving hung out at Friday’s again, I could see why The Jerks had become so popular. They were the epitome of any bar band “playing out” weekend after weekend. In the case of Verucchi and Thacker though, they had already tasted success when they were with Buckacre and I often wondered if this popularity was bittersweet for them to return home and play many of the small bars they had played in before? On the other hand, maybe there was still some of that Buckacre magic left and that is why they remained so popular.
Between songs the band would joke and talk with the audience—usually Dick or Alan. Dick was a riot when it came to joking with the audience. He was very personable and well liked, which was also true for Alan. Dave and the other Al were more on the quiet side, perhaps still in awe with the reputation and musical precision Dick and Alan brought to the band.
When I came back home again for Christmas, I was out every night The Jerks were playing. I’ll never forget the day before Christmas Eve when the band was playing at Murphy’s. A snowstorm had hit the area and the streets were practically deserted. There was hardly anyone out that night, but with The Jerks playing, Murphy’s was hopping.
As much as I liked Friday’s when The Jerks played there, Murphy’s was actually a better venue for bands. It was just one big room with a real stage in the back. There was plenty of room to dance and the bands that played there sounded better. The problem with bars like Friday’s and Murphy’s though was the owners really didn’t know how to run a bar and take care of the bands that played there. Sure, the bars made a killing at the door when bands like The Jerks and Longshot played there.
I always found it interesting and perhaps a little ironic that on more than one occasion when both bands were playing on Water Street at Friday’s Saloon and Murphy’s Tap on the same night, some of the guys would walk to the other bar, when their band was on break, and listen to the other band play.
When I think about it now, that one night back in October 1980 would change everything; at least how that night took me down another path that I would end up following for the next couple of years. As ironic and surreal as it may sound, meeting The Jerks changed my life. Had I not gone home that weekend who knows what might have or might not have happened?