Old Rockers Never Die…
Music has always been a big part of my life. My earliest memories were really centered around two things: KNBR AM Radio and the Petaluma Fairgrounds. This will come as a shock to some of you- and certainly to anyone under 30- but prior to about 1990 KNBR, the sports king in Northern CA , was once a soft rock station. It was on constantly in the house and car as I was growing up, and since we had no TV in our house, it was all I listened to until I was of an age to make my own decisions about what I listened to. I could go on about how I rebelled to flip the station to KNEW, then a country station, but that’s not what this post is about.
Anyway, my formative years were filled with what Pandora now calls “Yacht Rock”. Classics like England Dan & John Ford Coley’s I’d Really Like to See You Tonight ( the one that goes “I’m not talkin’ bout the linens… and I don’t want to change your sheets”… what???) Or how about all the songs that are fun for an 8 year old to sing along too??? Afternoon Delight! Muscrat Love! The Pina Colada Song! No problem in the 70’s for a toddler to sing out loud about a nooner, beastiality or infidelity. Nowadays someone would call Child Protective Services, once they turned down “Blurred Lines” on their iPod. For a fun little trivia game, can you name who sang them and for 20 bonus points the REAL name of the Pina Colada Song? But, as usual… I digress.
The other foundation for my musical history was the Petaluma Fairgrounds. You see, Grandma Sally was elected to the Board of Directors of the Sonoma-Marin Fair for several years in the late 70’s/early 80’s. While this was not nearly as prestigious as one might imagine (just kidding, Mom!) it came with certain perks that live on to this day. First off, way back then, we had a family box in the grandstands. That’s right SoCo locals, concerts at the fair used to be held in the grandstands that now service the Petaluma Speedway! Sure, it wasn’t exactly the Cow Palace (yeah, that used to be a big deal too), but at least it was front row and came with 8 folding metal chairs.
The first show I can remember was Pablo Cruise. Sad, but true. Other memorable moments include Henry Winkler (The Fonz) driving a “race car” in some shenanigans or another and our hometown hero, Danny Norwood, running his latest beater in the much anticipated Demolition Derby. But the biggie was Eddie Money. Ahhh, The Money Man… If memory serves he rolled into Petaluma (circa 1983-ish) shortly after recovering (read rehab) from wrapping his motorcycle around a tree or something. Once an NYC cop, Money had all the essentials for a great rocker: hook songs, great story teller and chicks dug him. To this day his album (kids, an album is… oh, never mind!) “No Control” ranks in my Top 5 of all time, with the under appreciated “My Friends, My Friends” as my personal favorite. Hey, it’s MY list!
Part of the aforementioned perks we here at The Parks Manse enjoy is that mom still gets a nice little stack of tickets to the fair, complete with parking and an invitation to the opening Gala wine tasting and awards ceremony. Don’t roll your eyes at me… the baby quiche were to die for and the beer was cold! When Sally SG (stands for Super Grandma) asked if we wanted the passes I paused to see who was playing the show. There was Edward Joseph Mahoney! Should have been a no-brainer.
Some will tell you all my decisions are made that way. But here I had to pause. You see, a few years back Eddie came to play the fair in his home region. I couldn’t wait! But it took about four bars into “Where’s The Party?” to realize that this was not the Eddie I remembered from my formative years and on into college. He was so bad that his drummer had to sing the high notes in most of the songs. It was at best uncomfortable, if not really sad.
So, with much trepidation and expecting the worst, Laura and I hit the fair (and the all you could eat carrot and celery sticks buffet) and waited for the Money Man. Truth be told, I didn’t want to go at all. But Jackson had been gone for 10 days on the East Coast, on his own for the first time, and was due to arrive into Rohnert Park around midnight. The only thing I could think of that would be more uncomfortable than watching the further demise of one of my musical heroes was watching my wife climb the walls waiting for the plane to touch down. What we got was most unexpected.
Oh don’t get me wrong… he was awful. I mean death warmed over, could’t carry a tune in a paper sack bad. There were times we couldn’t figure out if he forgot the words, ran out of breath or just didn’t feel like singing right then. There were some good things. His band killed. The set list was perfect. But then it started dawning on me…he really didn’t have to be good anymore. It’s not that he wasn’t entertaining…he was funny in a goofy old man sorta way. Witty at times. He was almost a spectator at his own show! And then something amazing happened…
He stepped to the front of the stage and in the clearest, most lucid voice he had used all night he talked about his song “One More Soldier Coming Home” and that sales from all t-shirts would go to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. He spoke with passion and conviction. He sang that particular song in that same voice from the 70’s and 80’s that made him the legend he once was and made us remember the reason we still came out to see him. It was clear that he wasn’t really the doddering “has been” that he appeared to be. He might have been bored after 40 years of singing the same 20 or so songs. But when it mattered to him…he still had it.
After a few more classics, he and the band left the stage for just enough time for us to cheer him back on and just a smidge before we would have given up and gone home. As he came back on, his encore led off with My Friends and it was that same clear, gravel voice of days past (can you have a clear and gravely voice???) or maybe that was just in my mind. I know this much. We left with a smile on our faces. It was a great hour and a half. He played everything we expected and let us know why he was still dragging his 65 going on 85 year old butt on to the stage night after night. I will go see him every time I can until he shuts it down for good.
Jackson made it home safely and Laura is giddy. I am too, but I hide it better. So the summer can officially start. Football practice starts next week, Holy C rap! My kid is going to play football. Oh yeah, for those of you that didn’t immediately wikigoogle the answers here you go… The Starland Vocal Band, Captain and Tennille and Rupert Holmes. The Pina Colada Song is really called Escape. You may buy me a beer when you see me as those answers have won me many a bar bet over the years and I expect you to use them the same.