“Hey, are you going to the rock concert?” That’s the way we talked back in my day. And parents scratched their heads, just as they do today, confused by all that teen lingo and how it didn’t even sound like the English language.
And if you said, “Yes, I am going to the rock concert,” you would have to prove that you attended said rock concert buy purchasing the band’s tour shirt.
The tour shirt had the band’s logo on the front and maybe something that had something to do with their latest masterwork, or some sexually charged drawing (objectification at best, or at worst, that one t-shirt Guns n’ Roses had of the girl in the alley with her panties around her ankles looking like she was the victim of an assault with the spraypainted words “Guns n’ Roses was here” or some shit…kids actually wore that to my high school and administrators didn’t do anything, and if they did, it was more about the almost nudity rather than the rape, but I digress!) or more often than not, just a bunch of pastel lines and squigglies and Mondrian squares with the rock group’s logo somewhere in this day-glo nightmare. And on the back of the tour shirt, there would be the band’s logo, with the name of the tour, and then all the names of the cities and the dates and venues in which they performed and you would look at the back of that shirt, and get just a twinge of the ol’ hometown pride when you looked and saw and exclaimed, “Hey! Orlando! Citrus Bowl! Take that, Jacksonville! No Billy Joel for you! Hahahaha!”
You should have seen my alma mater on the next school day after the rock concert. 2000 teens in a building only meant for 800, and my God! Was I the only one who didn’t make it to see Genesis?! Look at all these Genesis tour shirts worn on the backs of all my fellow teenagers stomping, shuffling, weaving through these overcrowded hallways. Black t-shirts with fluorescent green. Was it the “Invisible Touch” tour? I’m not exactly sure and it’s not worth googling. Is “Invisible Touch” even a Genesis song, or is it a composition from their hitmaking drummer, Phil Collins? Again, I’m not exactly sure, and it’s not worth googling. But there were so many of those tour shirts, and there I was, not in a tour shirt, most likely in maybe the black Zeppelin Swan Song shirt (with the runes on the back and everything) or perhaps the blue WDIZ (“Orlando’s home for quality rock and roll!”) t-shirt with the left breast pocket for to put your Marlboros (even though I didn’t smoke, didn’t hang out at “the wall,” which was where the smoking headbangery kids all hung out before and after school due to being just on the other side of Sand Lake Road from good ol’ Lake Brantley (go Patriots!) and those kids, they all had Genesis t-shrits. Why didn’t I?
I didn’t because by that point I fucking hated Genesis, and like so many rock groups who had been in existence since the 60’s and 70’s, they seemed to just exist in name only–compromised artistes deep in debt to the record labels or something and so hit songwriters were brought in to rescue their careers and/or keep them relevant in the midst of all this Madonna and Run DMC and hair metal and synthpop. It’s impossible to put into words what a horrible time the years 1986-1990 (hs years) were for music. Hardcore and punk rock and all that seemed like music for asshole bullies–I mean, there were real deal honest to Jeebus skinfuckingheads in my school (ok, not that honest, but it wasn’t for lack of trying) who sieg Heiled and everything and they even got in a huge fight with black teenagers in a nearby field around that time. And besides, I liked “real music” because I played drums in the marching band and needed to hear bands who could actually play and sing and had things to say about the world like Led Zeppelin’s earnest messages about squeezing lemons and Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” (“Because that’s how I feel, Lake Brantley! You’re all just another brick in the wall.”) and, oh yes, The Doors. We looked to the past because the present was mostly garbage–and the classic rock stations like DIZ still proudly boasted that they would play “the new rock,” but the new rock would be like The Smithereens. Yeah. Great.
But the old bands would come back, and they’d put stuff out, and you’d hope it would be good, and you’d want to believe that it’s good and then you’d sit there in your dumbass knee-jerk teenage brain and go, “No. This isn’t good. ‘The Flame’ by Cheap Trick is not good. Fuck. What happened to Cheap Trick? They were one of the first bands I ever liked as a little kid, and now? What the fuck is this ‘The Flame’ bullshit?” Heart…Moody Blues…Starship….Boston…to say nothing of bands who at least had some you know heaviness to them like Def Leppard or Judas Priest or even Ozzy…everything was so damn cheeeeeezy…Rob Halford singing, “We don’t need no—no! no! no!–parental guidance here!” Yeah. Take that, Tipper! Fuck, man. What horseshit. Iggy was doing duets with Kate Pierson. Lou Reed…too young for that just then, and “New York” wasn’t exactly the proverbial gateway drug.
Enter The Pink Floyd into this MTV shitshow.
That line from the kid in line for the rock concert in “This is Spinal Tap”–“Heavy metal is deep. You can get stuff out of it.” While not heavy metal, that’s how I felt about Pink Floyd. With nothing but MTV, the radio, and trips to the Altamonte Mall or Peaches Records and Tapes (or, even more likely, the cassette selection they had at the Albertson’s supermarket on 436 in Apopka, which is where, much to the dismay of Dad, I blew all the money I earned scrapping drywall for him on all the Led Zeppelin albums on tape), Pink Floyd was the weirdest thing around. Sound effects! Recordings of people talking! Synthesizers! Gongs! Pompeii! Acid! To think about it now….these identifying with all these limeys as I reclined there in my teen Florida bedroom, and there was a swimming pool right outside and aside from that nowhere to go and nothing to do and no way to get there even if there was something to do (oh, to be 15 again…pshaw)….to identify with art schoolers who came out of the Swinging London scene, and not just Pink Floyd, but to identify with “Quadrophenia” and “Led Zeppelin II” and to even identify with anything churned out of the music industry…how did that happen? How could we possibly have anything in common except for lowest common denominator shit like the need for love and sex and acceptance and figuring your shit out and what does all of this mean, anyway? But it was more than that, it was having the imagination to try and picture a reality so different from the reality I lived. How far could I get from suburban Florida? England? Great. (Which might be our subterranean cultural exchange program, if you think of how all these bands had similar thoughts and imagingings while in their bleak 1950’s post-WWII homes listening to Little Richard or the blues of the American south.)
I loved it. Floyd. They took musical risks. They tried new things. They had so much to say. It was so complex and lush and layered and scary and unafraid to be depressing, unlike all those Top 40 odes to cold hearted snakes, and the like.
That said, as the rumors began to surface–would they? Could they?–that Pink Floyd were reuniting, it was the absolute best news. Those of us who drew spectrum triangles with the light coming in from the left and ROYGBIV shooting out of the right on our Trapper Keepers….did ya hear? A new album! A tour! No Roger Waters? Whatever!
The album was released. I got it for Christmas. It was called “A Momentary Lapse of Reason.” Ooooooooo! What a Floydian title! What do you think it means? Is this another concept album? The song premiered on DIZ–“world premiere video” on MTV–“Learning to Fly,”–“and I think those of you who really enjoy David Gilmour’s guitar work are gonna love this one” promised the Lucky Striked raspy contralto of the only/token female classic rock dj, and we heard it, and…ok..it was good! Yeah! Great! It sounded like Pink Floyd, alright. That guitar tone. Enough whooshiness and ethereality…that “space cadet glow.” It’s a hit, boys!
But deep down, we knew. This would not be a “classic” by any stretch, and like so much of this era–from the Ramones albums of that time to the last two Replacements albums to so much of the “college rock” to Van Hagar’s stabs at Lennonesque lyrical idealism–this wouldn’t last. There were the videos… “Learning to Fly,” “Dogs of War,” “On the Turning Away.” They weren’t “Astronomy Domine.” Like so much of that time…so much overproduction and excess…the kind of excess employed when one knows they are polishing the proverbial turd.
To pick up on something discussed earlier: I have friends who, when each new Rolling Stones album comes out, or have come out for the last pert near 30 years, will engage in a riff on the theme of, “It’s their best one since [“Sticky Fingers” or “Exile on Main St” or “Tattoo You” or “Some Girls”]…yeah…it’s really good…it’s not bad…you just gotta give it a few listens, and…aw, who am I kidding? Not you. It’s not that great.” That’s what so much of going to high school when I went to high school was like. C’mon, guys! You know a group like Yes would never put out anything crappy! Hahahaha….so yeah, “The Delicate Lapse of Thunder” or whatever fuck that album was called…it was better than most of what was out there, but you’d see these videos, and 3/4ths of the post-Syd Pink Floyd were there and present and accounted for, but there were all these singers and sesh musicians and the guy who was featured more prominently in these videos than Richard Wright even was this saxophone player with the stupidest mullet hair the 80’s ever wrought. I bet that dude is ashamed of that hair nowadays. As well he should be. Not to stereotype, but he just looked like one of those musicians someone like me has always been predisposed to dislike…like keyboard scarves were invented for cats like these, and they sincerely use the word “cat” to describe a fellow musician, and sincerely use the phrase “tasty lick” and this was in a time when it was cool to dress like Arsenio Hall.
But no matter! They were calling this Pink Floyd, and this was the closest our 80’s teen asses were ever going to get to Pink Floyd. What the hell do we know about law suits and counter lawsuits and song rights and whatever beefs Roger Waters had with his former bandmates?
I don’t recall buying the tickets. I know we didn’t camp out or even wait in a line that was the least bit memorable. There was a kiosk at the dear old sweet old Altamonte Mall. It would be four of us–me, Pat, John, and Lance.
Lance was probably my closest friend at the time. We played in the drumline together and were both obsessed with The Who. He was a year older, was from New Hampshire. (Everyone was from somewhere else in Florida) We’d go to his house and one of the first things he’d say to his mom was “Hey Mahhh! Weh ah thah devil dawgs?” (A New England accent…not Boston per se, but close, and my spelling ain’t doing it justice.) and she’d counter with “Laiiince. I’ll getcha moah devil dawgs when I get to the stoah….” and we were so far from what we thought were our homes–exiled in this weird place when I should have been living in Peoria!–and all of us emigres stuck together…and there was also Pat, who I got to be better friends with as Lance moved more into the burnout/hair metal clique and I “went punk,” as the after-school special classified it, and Pat inherited his family’s brown Dodge cargo van and christened it “The Battle Wagon” and it was perfect for piling in all of our friends (and girls!) to go to New Smyrna Beach and act like the idiots we were…and for a minute he had made what he called “pedestrian kill signs” on the side of his van, silhouettes of the “pedestrian xing” person in a row to resemble how World War II airplanes had mini swastikas or rising suns to tally how many enemy planes they had shot down. Pat got me into Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and gave me rides to school and to the mall, and we did goofy shit like pull into the school parking lot listening to “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees at full-blast in a scene filled with lowrider trucks with the bass booming the latest Two Live Crew masterpiece, or “Corporal Clegg” by Pink Floyd and we had some dorky dance we’d do when the kazoo part kicked in. And John was in the marching band with Lance and I but was about to quit to be a track and field runner and we parted ways sooner than later as he got to be “too cool” and razzed us for being “band buddies” instead of doing something more worthwhile with our time like running around and round on an oval track. (Decades later, I was “friends” with him on FB for a day or two until I realized he had turned into one of those Obama-hating tea party joyless ding-dongs and promptly unfriended him without any care or sentiment whatsoever.)
My parents…I was the oldest, and the “rock concert” was uncharted territory for them. They were a little concerned. This was also a time when some still saw rock and roll as something threatening rather than the soundtrack to passive consumption….news programs would seriously devote time to alleged “backwards messages” on albums, for instance. Satan was real, and was speaking through one Ozzy Osbourne. And my mom did find the Pink Floyd song “Mother” to be a bit disturbing. She was a bit dismayed on how I spent way too much time listening to “The Wall.” This is Florida! Get out in the sun! But there really was nowhere to go.
Let’s say there’s a Parents Spectrum where on one end you have the bad mom who lets her kid and her friends drink and smoke weed in his room “because that way at least I know where he is” and the severe Southern Baptist parents who forbid anything more extreme than lukewarm coca-cola. My parents were somewhere in the middle, but leaning more towards the southern Baptists. Because, you know, at the end of the day, they were 37 when this story takes place (37!), and Pink Floyd had been around for almost twenty years by that point, and even in the mid-80’s were pretty fuckin’ ubiquitous. But yeah. While other kids’ parents from that era were contending with their kids blasting “Too Drunk to Fuck” from their bedrooms, mine had to deal with the Floyd. I remember my Dad, responding to my Mom’s concerns by saying, “Well, I’ve heard they’ve won a lot of awards for audio recording.” Very clinical. It was enough to mollify Mom, but they did ask if Pat’s parents would talk to us before we left, since Pat was driving us into the ugly heart of urban danger that was Orlando, Florida. Maybe we were young enough to warrant this talk, maybe not, and I don’t even really remember what his Dad said as we stood on the driveway by the Battle Wagon…some riff on peer pressure and not drinking and driving and to make like Nancy Reagan and just say no if some unsavory characters try to sell you this crack stuff I’ve been reading about in “US News and World Report.” We were teenagers and therefore weren’t paying attention.
In the van, Citrus Bowl-bound. Lance and John are lamenting that they didn’t have any “TF for our P,” and eventually my genius mind figured out that they needed some tinfoil for the marijuana they purchased. I wanted nothing to do with it, and I’m not kidding and–spoiler!–this isn’t going to turn into a “baby’s first drug experience” story, as much as it perhaps obviously should have been–Pink Floyd and all.
And when we do get there, it starts to rain. Not a drizzle or a “steady downpour,” but like that Florida torrent of huge-dropped nonstop near-hurricane precipitation. It doesn’t faze us and the idea that the concert might be cancelled never crosses anyone’s mind. I buy a tour t-shirt, natch. Can’t wait to wear it to school! We get our seats. Upper deck. The stage is down there, way below, to our left. But we can see the circular movie screen with all the lights around it. Oh man! It’s gonna be so weird and crazy and awesome!
If memory serves, the people behind us had panchos or plastic covering of some kind, and they took pity on us and got us under their shelter. To think about that now…I get cranky and irritable if I have to wait more than two minutes to get a beer at the bar at a show, but that cold-enough Florida flash-floodesque rain didn’t bother me in the least. And what also sticks with me now is the image of Lance and John trying to smoke what was most likely the shittiest kind of dirt weed through rolled-up Reynolds Wrap, trying to keep the magyvered pipe smoking in the midst of all that rain. I don’t think it even worked for them.
Finally, Pink Floyd–aka Gilmour, Mason, and Wright, along with a whole coterie of backup singers, percussionists, and that goddamn mullety sax player–took the stage. Cue the stadium cheering—ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!–and cue the music, and cue the light show and the images of clocks and people walking in slow motion and the land and the sea and the sky and eyeballs and animation and bricks in the wall and pigs on the wing and diamonds shining on crazily and how I wish how I wish you were here, and as regards to the latter, one must ask, would they wish Syd Barrett had been there? In Orlando? In the rain? In the 1980’s music industry? I don’t mean to sound glib here in the sense that they lost their friend to drugs and we’ve all lost friends, but what I mean is: did David Gilmour even wish he was there? If the big bucks hadn’t been involved…what then? It took many years to comprehend the disconnect they felt that inspired “The Wall,” after starting out in Swinging London, playing shows, not concerts–because in shows as opposed to concerts, the energy a mutual exchange and an active experience and it isn’t the we-play-and-you-cheer fascism that really is so inherent to concerts, and “The Wall” (and David Bowie) seemed to be the first to really see that connection in terms of what’s needed to get masses of people off their feet and screaming, not so much in terms of message but in energy, in the lights, in the alternate reality created, and perhaps even in the cult of personality. An energy that, when unleashed, can bring tens of thousands of people together to take off their shirts and sing along to the songs and hit a beach ball and be happy, or used to riot and break the windows of the homes and businesses of The Other…and much much much much worse.
And Dear Lord: From our way-the-hell-up-there seats, I could recognize the mullet of that sax player.
A bed flew over the crowd from one end of the stadium to the other. And this image in the rain stuck with me: The “Animals” Pig on the Wing–flying around above the audience members who managed to get onto the football field itself. Lights from the pig’s eyes–shining down upon them, and they responded by raising their hands in triumph and screaming and waving to the pig. The Pig-on-the-Wing, by the way, had huge balls. I recall that being discussed amongst those of us who showed up to Brantley with the Pink Floyd tour t-shirt, and it was teenage crackled voice and greasy-pimpled har har funny–“Didja see the balls on that pig?”
No, even then, I had zero illusions that this version of Pink Floyd were going to uncork some vintage deep cut off of “Obscured by Clouds.” No “Nile Song” or “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk.” It was a Greatest Hits Gig, just like The Who’s would be when I saw “them” about a year later at Tampa Stadium. We wanted to see the hits, and we wanted to tip our proverbial caps to them, as raindrenched as all of us were. It felt like going through the motions, even then. They didn’t veer off from how the songs went in the studio, which made them releasing a live album from this tour really odd, because it just sounded like a more bombastic live band playing familiar songs coupled with the background of the stadium cheering.
When it was done, David Gilmour thanked us for attending the show under such wet conditions. He was very polite, like how John Cleese would say, “Thank you” in Python sketches. It was very unlike the all-too-typical, “OH YEAH! HOW THE FUCK YOU MUTHAFUCKAS DOIN’ HERE TONIGHT IN MUTHAFUCKIN’….OR-LAN-DOOOOOOOOOOOH!” on-stage spiels we had grown accustomed to.
The night’s entertainment complete, there was noplace to go but home. Home to Altamonte Springs…the mall, MTV, WDIZ, algebra, World History, flamadiddles on the snare drum, Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, Cheers and Night Court. There would be other concerts–The Who, Rush, the first Lollapalooza–but the concerts gave way to the shows, and there was a huge difference and I preferred the latter, and I still do.
To think about it now is to think about a time when so much was a foregone conclusion, something that wasn’t questioned. Watching hour after hour of television, for instance. The spectacle of it all. Superstars. Sex symbols. To really have no clear conception of a reality outside of high school and the suburb surrounding said high school. To think about it now, after decades of playing literally hundreds if not thousands of shows (and only two concerts), and how nothing is a foregone conclusion and I don’t have nostalgia for that sense of certainty, but I understand why people do.