Thursday, June 25, 2015

'80s CONCERT FLASHBACKS (Pt. I): Van Halen

(Pt. I)
Van Halen

When it comes to live concerts,
the real story rarely plays out
onstage. And throughout this
series, I'll be sharing several of
my most memorable personal
experiences and mishaps. An
excerpt from my 2012 book,
C'MON!, this kick-off story
took place way back in 1980. 

In June 1979, I brokered a backroom-type deal with my mom in order for me to finally attend a KISS concert. I agreed that after seeing KISS, I’d never again ask to go to another rock show. This was an easy sell for my mom, as I would have agreed to hack off my right arm in those days if that’s what it took to see my kabuki-faced heroes live onstage. And I had no regrets regarding our arrangement  until the next summer, when I learned Van Halen's Women and Children First world tour was coming to town.

By 1980, "Junior" wasn't the only
one whose grades were in the toilet!
In the summer of 1980, the ONLY band that could rival KISS in my world was Van Halen  the REAL Van Halen with “Diamond” David Lee Roth leading the charge in all of his shirtless, skin-tight spandex glory! Fortunately, when the Van Halen concert date was announced, enough time had passed since my KISS arrangement that my mom’s memory had become a bit foggy. As a result, she gave into my plea to see Van Halen more easily than I expected.

For reasons that now escape me, the concert originally scheduled for August didn't actually take place until November. I was beside myself with anticipation and nothing was going to deter me from experiencing the (latest) greatest night of my life. Nothing, that is, except for my own teenage stupidity.  

The ORIGINAL Van Halen - LIVE - for... $8.50!
(Ah, the "golden age" of rock and roll.)
Upon entering the famed Lakeland Civic Center that night, I recognized a girl I knew from school, who was sitting near the front of the stage. Jeanie was incredibly attractive and I’d had a crush on her for some time. She was not only beautiful, she was also a cool rocker chick. This rather alluring combination put her completely out of my league, and I knew it. However, that didn’t stop me from at least trying to make a connection. Jeanie seemed to attend every major rock show that came through Central Florida and I hung on her every related recommendation and observation. When Jeanie told me that REO Speedwagon was one of her favorite bands, they instantly had to become one of my favorites as well. When she strongly suggested that I check out The Pat Travers Band, I immediately bought their Heat in the Street album. Suffice it to say, my heart skipped a beat (or two) when I noticed her motioning for me and my buddy Doug to come over and sit with her at the Van Halen concert.

Eager to impress this rock and roll princess with my incredible coolness, I thought nothing of taking several hits off the Rasta-size joint that she passed my way, just minutes prior to the opening act, Talas, taking the stage. “Wow,” she confessed with total surprise, “I had no idea you were so cool!” “Yeah, well there’s a lot you don’t know about me,” I replied cockily  trying desperately to not drool on the end of her marijuana cigarette.

(Circa 1980)
As the house lights went down and the stage lights went up, my mind began to swirl and I suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of dizziness. By the time Talas was into their first chorus, I noticed the thunderous sound of the band becoming a jumbled wall of mush in my head and the bright onstage colors began to merge into one huge, crazy kaleidoscope-like image. Quickly, I lost the power of speech. Then I went blind. Then I went deaf. Then I passed out. Fortunately, Doug caught me before I hit the concrete floor and he literally carried me through the hot, steamy sea of people and up two flights of stairs to the safety of the arena’s concession stand area. As the cold blast of air conditioning hit my face and I took a mighty gulp of the icy soda that Doug had procured for me, I immediately snapped out of my drug-induced stupor. Fortunately, I was able to pull myself together in time for Doug and I to make it back to our seats, just as Van Halen was taking the stage.  

Bassist / vocalist Michael Anthony (L) NEVER
"forgot the f-ing words" and he'll always be the
KEY component of the authentic Van Halen sound.
Van Halen proved to be simply spectacular that night — amps and ramps, lights and tights — a massive mega-watt sight and sound assault. For an impressionable teenager who worshiped the rock idols of the day with unbridled passion, the experience of seeing Eddie Van Halen, shredding in the flesh and “Diamond” Dave, dancin' and prancin' in his prime brought me to the point of a near epileptic seizure. Little did I realize at the time, Dave would always, "forget the f-ing words."

I don’t know of anyone who has ever regretted making smart choices. And on this night, I'd certainly not made a smart choice. Had I blown my sacred Van Halen experience, especially due to my moronic drug use, I would have regretted it for years to come. Yet surprisingly, it took several more drug-related concert mishaps before I finally “got” what should have been a crystal clear message the first time. As a very wise man once stated, “Why do you think they call it ‘dope?'”

-Christopher Long
(June 2015)


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'80s Concert Flashbacks


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  1. Pretty sure I was there. VH was never my favorite band, but I went with some friends who worshiped them. I really dug their first album, but thought the sound had gotten a bit formulaic by this tour, and Dave's ego had gotten too big for me by then. I enjoyed some of the show, but I left half way through and took a nap in my friend's car until it was over.

    Good thing the show was moved from August to November. If I remember correctly, August and September already had AC/DC, Jeff Beck, and Black Sabbath at the LCC. (I caught 2/3, missed Beck.) I doubt my parents or my budget would have allowed me to squeeze in another show in that close of a timespan. Every concert cost me double or triple because I had to buy film and develop pictures.

    mj from sb

  2. This reminds me of becoming a Kiss fan when I was 9 years old in 1977, I went to a friend of the family's house and their teenager was in their living room listening to Kiss Alive II. Hearing the sound of hard rocking guitars, pyrotechnics and the sound of the audience, I was hooked.. I was pumped in 1978 when their made for television movie "Kiss Meets The Phantom of the Park" was on tv... Having only "Love Gun", I sat in front of the TV with my tape recorder, recording every song they played during the movie. In 1979, I begged my parents and my older brother to take me to go see Kiss. My brother went out and bought Kiss Alive II for me and told me that was the closest I would get to seeing them live.

    I don't remember what year it was, but the first concert I was allowed to go see was in Melbourne, in the parking lot in front of Tape Deck. It was Johnnie Van Zant, which a few of the local bands were the opening acts, the only two that have stuck in my mind are; Locals Only and Robin Chase, I don't remember who all else was performing that day.

    I have seen many incredible concerts, but I would have loved to have seen Kiss when it was the real Kiss... and Van Halen with Diamond Dave... At least now we have Youtube, but it could never replace the experience of being there...