By, Joseph Roddy
I was lucky enough to spend my formative years split over two decades, the first of which being the 80’s. It was a time of bouffant hair for women and the male members of heavy metal bands alike. There were some holdover rock stars from the 70’s still sporting their leather pants and ironed locks but mostly it was bubble gum pop and one hit wonders ruling the radio. Yes radio. Back then most people still listened to the top 40, blasting it in their cars or from a boombox while doing chores, and thus became informed as to the hip music of the day. Back then, if you were lucky, you had an older sibling who could introduce you to what came before, the real cool music. I had both an older brother and an older sister but I still almost managed to ruin one of my important firsts, my first concert.
In the summer of 1988 I was thirteen years old. I remember being at the neighborhood pool with my two best friends and being excited about the fact that we’d spent our allowances to buy tickets to a concert that following week. One of the lifeguards working, who obviously didn’t have much faith in our musical tastes, overheard us talking about it and asked, “You guys are going to see AC/DC?”
We looked at him confused. Where was this coming from? Who would go see AC/DC? Weren’t they some heavy metal devil band that only bullies and burnouts listened to? I had not yet made the association between their name and their many classic hits I’d heard my whole life.
With a confidence that came from some unearned place, my friend answered, “No, we’re going to see Tiffany!”
“Ah, that makes more sense,” the lifeguard replied.
It was then, in that judgmental, unflinchingly disapproving statement that I knew I had chosen the less cool venue to spend my money on in the eyes of certain older kids. But it didn’t matter. I knew we’d have fun watching Tiffany move around the stage in all her jean jacket glory, all the prowess of a bedazzled mall idol. After all, she had huge hits under her studded belt. “I Think We’re Alone Now”and at least one other subsequent single had topped the charts over the last year. And there must be some other songs, I thought. I was sure they’d be great too. How could they not be? And how could AC/DC have possibly been more cool?
The day of the show finally came and my mother drove me and my two equally musically uneducated friends to the auditorium downtown. When we arrived, we thought it strange that there weren’t throngs of fans parking and making their way inside. No, what we found instead, once we reached the doors, was a notice that the event had been cancelled and a woman in a booth ready to refund our money. I seem to remember there hadn’t been enough tickets sold and the concert was not going to be rescheduled.
Instead of attending my first all-ages show, I took my refunded money and went to see a terrible movie that passed for mediocre at the time.
I would like to say thank you to Tiffany and her managers for having the sense to cancel, saving my friends and I what surely would have been a hefty load of embarrassment in later years, having to admit who we had seen at our first concert. It was a close call. I would also like to say thank you to the lifeguard at my neighborhood pool for helping me doubt my musical tastes and possibly saving me from purchasing tickets to another similar show, perhaps one by Debbie Gibson or featuring the musical stylings of the family ensemble, The Jets.
I soon started collecting and listening to albums by songwriters with a bit more angst and something to say and creative musicians who could play well.
My first real concert came a couple years later in high school when I went to see Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ at the Anderson County fairgrounds in South Carolina with my brother. He also liked the band and we had a great time at the outdoor venue.
Some might not recognize the name, but D’n’C’ has been big the south for the last 25 years and is still putting out great music. Since that first evening in 1990, I’ve seen the whole band play a number of times and also the lead singer and chief songwriter, Kevn Kinney, perform solo shows.
I met Kinney once in college and told him how I loved the band’s version of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” on their self-titled album that had come out that year. I walked away feeling as if I had insulted the man by not mentioning one of their new original songs instead. I had the chance to speak to him again in 2012 after a D’n’C’ show in Charlotte, NC. I told him how seeing the band was my first concert experience. I then reminded him of our conversation some years before and apologized for not mentioning one of the songs he had penned instead of a cover.
He looked at me and smiled and said, “Man, I hope you haven’t been carrying that around all these years.” Obviously I had been, just like the first time I’d seen his band live with the magic kick of their guitars and Kinney’s nasal but noble voice belting out lyrics.
I can’t remember if I got my first CD player before or after that first concert. I think maybe that Christmas after. Around that time, audio cassettes were going the way of the dinosaurs and I got a new stereo with a top loading CD Player. My brother gave me my first disc to accompany the gift. It was AC/DC Live and I played it loud.
In the years since, I’ve been lucky enough to see many of my favorite bands play in venues big and small. From Pearl Jam to R.E.M. to Springsteen and from The Shins to Dashboard Confessional to The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Some were already legends and some were just starting out and I have wonderful memories of them all.
And for the record, Tiffany’s version of “I Think We’re Alone Now” is still catchy and brings back memories of a different path I may have followed.