The Venues of my Youth: Tingley Coliseum

In this country, going to your first Big Show is a rite of passage. For a pair of decades at least, almost every youth in northern New Mexico passed through the gate and became Experienced at a crappy barn of an arena called Tingley Coliseum.

By John Phelan – CC BY 3.0

The building was not designed for music. It was a hollow box with a concrete floor surrounded by something like 10,000 seats not designed for comfort. In some arenas like that, the powers-that-be would hang fancy acoustic thingies that would mitigate the echoes. Other places would at least hang heavy tapestries from the rafters to catch some of the echoes. Tingley didn’t even bother to hang moth-eaten airline blankets. If you liked the note the guitarist played, you would have ample opportunity to experience it several more times, as it mixed with the following notes to create sonic quicksand.

But Tingley was (is? I have no idea) where the bands played. It was such an unquestioned truth that when the Thompson Twins played Popejoy Hall (a lovely place for music) I found it exceedingly strange.

Ah, Tingley. The Experienced among us know there are two ways to enjoy a performance in an acoustically-hellish barn: from the seats or from down on the floor. Some might say that you are not truly Experienced until you watch an act from the floor. I’m not that hardcore.

My first Big Show featured .38 Special and Jefferson Starship. It was, as the Arena Rock critic Charles Dickens said, “the best of shows, and the worst of shows.” It was loud. Oppressively, crushingly, my-ears-hurt BUT HOLY DANG I CAN FEEL IT loud. I was not particularly well-versed in .38 Special’s oeuvre, but a couple of the songs had been getting radio play and not long after this gig they were the main attraction, not the opening act.

Then Jefferson Starship played, and more than once I thought, “hey! I know this song!” Then I learned about the obligatory encore, after a suitable period of shouting.

Among my friends, opinion of the show varied. One friend said, “.38 Special was rocking so hard I didn’t know how Jefferson Starship would match it. But then they blew them away.”

Me, I think the Good ol’ Boys sounded better that night. From this distant perspective, I think their music was just better-suited for the venue. Simpler. Happier in the mud.

My next Tingley Experience was Kansas, the Point of Know Return tour – or maybe the tour after that. I was excited; but they canceled. Welcome to show biz.

In my college days, only a two-hour drive from the venue (welcome to the Land of Enchantment) I saw a variety of bands. Bands big enough to play in arenas but small enough to stop in Albuquerque. (I learned later that it’s really useful to have a connect-the-dots stop in the middle of nowhere to keep the tour generating cash.)

From the seats I saw Golden Earring (“Radar Love”) open for Rush; I saw two horrible choreographed bland-metal bands open for Aerosmith (who didn’t distance themselves from the opening acts that much) (an abbreviated version of the puking story you can find elsewhere); I saw Cindi Lauper pump her WWF connections while trying to keep those on the floor from killing each other.

But even by the hardcore definition, I am Experienced; I have been to the floor. I have been close to the stage, in the crush of sweat and anger. The funny thing is, I remember the sweat and anger much better than I remember the bands. Or it might be more correct to say, I remember the sweat and anger, and I remember the bands, but they are disconnected. I have no idea which band it was when the guy started to push his way in front of me and I resolved to make that as difficult as possible. Pretenders? Yes? Kinks?

Probably not the Kinks. That was an undersold concert.

Another show. Here’s where the sweat and anger is most disconnected from the band. I was on the floor. The crowd was rowdy. The obligatory encore was executed, including of course some Big Hits held back from the regular part of the show because the first encore is really just another short set. The band left the stage, and the shouting and chanting commenced.

Usually this is a staged drama, with each actor playing a part. The band was not inclined to do any sort of REAL encore, so the harsh stadium lights came on. The surge of anger at that moment was real, and thick; you could taste it in your mouth. People — all the people on the floor, as a single mass — shifted one way, then the other, and the noise rose. The lights went back out and the band played a couple more songs. You’d think I’d be able to remember which band that was.

Huey Lewis did their obligatory encore, and the crowd kept chanting. He stuck his head out from behind the curtain and spun his finger around his ear: “You guys are crazy!” They came back out and did another set, very informal, just playing around. It was a treat to watch. The pop stars were being musicians! One of my favorite Tingley moments. So don’t go talking shit about Huey where I can hear you. Dude loves to play; the fame and fortune are a side effect.

It was the Yes performance, which surprisingly included no potentially-deadly rush to the stage when the doors opened, and had no opening act. When they brought the massive light bars down over the stage while the bass started that hammering riff in Starship Troopers (am I mixing up my songs? I could look this stuff up but I’m not going to), that I got my first total rock and roll overload. Fortunately breathing and heart beat happen without conscious direction or I might not be waxing so pleasantly nostalgic right now.

There were other bands — musically, The Pretenders might have been the best show I saw there — but this is about the venue. A terrible venue. A seminal venue. The sort of place every First Big Show should be Experienced in.


Bandamax World

I’m at a local eatery that The Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas and I have dubbed “The Office”. Mexican food and plenty of it; great quality for not much money. On the TV in front of me, inaudible, is a show called Bandamax. It is a music video show. Almost all the videos are date-night stories — heartfelt songs (judging by the facial expressions of the singers) where regular-guy men with unbelievable singing skills work out relationships with super-hot women.

They are romance stories, songs of regret, revenge, and remorse. Men with hearts on sleeve, women with bare arms and ample cleavage. And sousaphones. Sousaphones where you would never expect to see a sousaphone — on the beach, on a deserted island, at a late-night motorcycle rally. Bandamax world is a wonderful world, as long as you like sousaphones.


Looking for the Joke with a Microscope

I was thinking about the movie Repo Man the other day, and a song got stuck in my head. I mean, really wedged in there.

“It could be worse,” I hear you all say. “The soundtrack to Repo Man is epic.” And it is. I could have “TV Party” running circles in my brain, or “Pablo Picasso”. But no, the song that keeps popping back up in my head is not on the soundtrack, even though it is an integral part of one scene. Someone even gets beat up for singing it.

Yep, I’m Feeling 7-up.

Foreigner Live in Wendover

On one of my more recent road trips, I was a little saddened to pass a billboard proclaiming that the giant band Foreigner was playing in (I’m pretty sure) the border town of Wendover, NV. It seemed like a long way down from where they had been.

After some consideration, however, I realized that a group of guys still making a living doing what they love is in no way sad. Maybe they pulled all their retirement money up their noses, but I’d like to believe that even former superstars love their craft, and just want to play. They wouldn’t have reached the heights they did without that passion.

But then, after more consideration, I got a little sad again. When was the last time you heard a new Foreigner song? They’re out there, rockin’ the house, but creators have to create. Certainly the boys in the band have had new ideas in the last couple of decades, but nothing new has reached the masses. Have they ceased to be artists? Have they really been reduced to being a tribute band for themselves?

Open message to Foreigner’s agent (and the agents for countless other bands): Now is the time to strike. Let the showmen become artists again, and let them tell their story. I bet it’s a really good story.


Bowie Thoughts

Ziggy-Stardust-ziggy-stardust-8526918-497-584By now pretty much everything there is to be said about David Bowie has been, but sometimes sorrow, like wine, needs a little time to mature. David Bowie was never my favorite musician, and some of his songs don’t appeal to me much at all. Others, well…

I got Ziggy Stardust on cassette in the Safeway in Socorro, New Mexico, and while I’d heard plenty of Bowie before, and I’d even heard some of the songs on that album, I’d never immersed myself in his music the way I did as I played that tape at high volume while I drove across the desert. Big, buzzy guitars, lyrics that didn’t quite make sense in a poetic sort of way, all wrapped up in showmanship.

Many years later, I wrote a story that opens with a man in a spaceship, floating far above the world, a story I called “Tin Can.” Was I thinking of “Space Oddity” as I wrote it? Not really. But the song was there, part of my science fiction education, a story about loneliness as much as anything else. It’s a vibe that you can find in most of my favorite stories. There’s a little bit of Major Tom in all my favorite heroes.

My guilty pleasure: “China Girl”. I don’t hear that one mentioned in the eulogies that have sprouted up everywhere. Perhaps it just landed at the right time in my life, or perhaps I’m the only one on Earth with the taste and sophistication to appreciate it. That song’s kissin’ cousin, “Let’s Dance,” really doesn’t do much for me.

Recently, semi-accidentally, my sweetie and I watched Labyrinth. It’s… not very good. It sounds like all the dialog was re-recorded in the studio and without any regard for the environment the action was taking place in. Mr. Bowie, well, he does not succeed in rescuing the show. But I’m glad I watched. It was the last time I will experience David Bowie without the knowledge that he is gone, without wondering what he might do next.

And so we move on, flying through space, looking for something, not sure what, that was here a minute ago but doesn’t seem to be where we left it. That’s the hole we didn’t even know David Bowie was filling. He’s still here, of course, but everything he did is now tinged a little blue.


The Letter I Just Sent to emusic

The following is what I wrote at the end of the “why did you cancel your account?” survey at emusic:

I’ve been with emusic for a long, long time, and frankly I think things got worse as you succeeded in getting deals with major record labels. Prices kept going up, and the new pricing structure is frustrating. Necessary for getting the big labels, but then I discovered that I don’t much like the music the big labels are putting out. And when ’80’s arena rock bands show up in the ‘alternative’ section, you know that keyword pollution is starting to cause real problems.

So it has become harder to find actual good music (editorials are a huge help, so keep that up), and more expensive to experiment. I can’t take the risks I used to; downloading an album by a band I didn’t know is much more costly these days. So I’m not making as many happy discoveries as I did years ago.

emusic may still be the best online music service, but at this point the commitment to spend a set amount each month is just not justified.

Still, thanks for all the great tunes I’ve downloaded over the last decade-plus of membership.

A Message to Target

Tonight I discovered myself humming a Christmas song. ‘Tis not the season, but sometimes these songs get up in there. Notably, this was not a traditional Christmas song, but one that was on a Target ad a year ago. I’ve mentioned it before, but I really liked the album and I thought it was exploitation of artists done right. I was saddened that Target had not continued the tradition this year.

I’ve told a lot of people that, but it occurred to me that I hadn’t told Target. So tonight I set out to do that.

I’m pretty sure this message will not find the intended recipient. After a shit-ton of clicks, wading through a system that assumes that if I want to sent a message to the corporate monster it’s because I have a problem with a particular transaction, I thought I’d found the place for general observations. I left the following message (wretched capitalization preserved):

Man! Tough to get here. I just wanted to say that your 2011 Christmas album was awesome in a jar and I was bummed this year that you didn’t do it again. I sang the praises of the Target christmas on my blog last year, and when my sweetie played the songs this year I knew that the season was upon us. I’d be oh so grateful if next year you brought us another batch of fresh and clean christmas songs. I’m not blowing smoke to say that it could be part of a new christmas tradition. macy’s has the parade, Target has the christmas album.

In that context, Target wins. C’mon Santa, bring me the music!

I submitted the message and the reassuring message came back: Thank you. Your email regarding help with Store Email has been submitted successfully.


Apparently I had not found the right department after all. So now I say it here, as loudly as I can: Target, you have a shot at a really great holiday tradition with your name all over it. Don’t be afraid. Bring us the Christmas songs that would never be written otherwise. After a couple of the bands you feature go big, people will start wondering who’s going to be on the Target album this year. Buzz like that is magical, to you and to the musicians. Put your ads on them, but cover the musical spectrum, even more fearlessly than you did the first time. And have fun. Like you did before. Fun shows.