While driving the other day, an old Night Ranger song came on the radio. For those who’ve never heard of this 80’s iconic hair band, you’re better off. As embarrassing as it was, I turned it up loud and sang along. My kids rolled their eyes in disgust and embarrassment. My mother did the same, so I’m entitled.
Memories of my brother and I driving north on Highway 1, from Carmel, CA, to Seattle, WA, flooded the mind. His Night Ranger tape (yes, tape) was stuck, forever wedged in the cassette player of his ’81 Oldsmobile Cutlass LS. The entire 18-hour, two-day trip I must of heard, “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,” a hundred times. It was a gradual torture my older brother frolicked in.
Hearing this made me think of my quest to see Night Ranger live as a young teenager that was thwarted because I was unable to purchase tickets during their popular and sold out venue. Concert tickets were only available in-line ... not online. Computers were a mere budding interest. Fans waited in line for days, camping out to increase their chances of seeing their favorite bands.
I remember begging my mother to see Billy Squire at the Cow Palace, an indoor arena located near San Francisco. Mr. Mister was opening. Tickets were $16. My best friend, Rebecca, and I weren’t old enough to drive, yet we managed to persuade her mother to make the 90-minute trek to the bay area. After a half-dozen phone calls between mothers, permission was given only if we promised to “behave like young ladies and make good choices.” Yeah, right. I think we’d promise to attend church every Sunday, with no attitude, if it meant seeing Billy Squire live.
Our outfits were selected and exchanged between our closets weeks before the anticipated event. We nervously held our tickets, waited in line and eventually walked through the pearly gates of the thumping arena. Everyone looked so grown up, older, experienced in the 80‘s concert etiquette.
As we walked toward the main floor, we managed to squeeze as close to the front as possible. Whiffs and traces of illegal smoke, rank body odor and alcohol breath seemed to greet us with each passing concertgoer. We bathed in the energy of the music and those around us. We jumped, danced, sang so loud our throats ached. Billy Squire pranced around the stage (which he was so famously known for), singing into the microphone while sweat dripped from his forehead.
When the concert was over and lights came on, Rebecca and I looked at one another and unanimously decided it was the best experience of our sheltered little lives. The only bodily harm was a black eye from a thrown elbow and a burned finger from a handheld lighter.
About four years ago, while living in Chicago, I read Night Ranger was playing in a little dive bar outside Chicago. The temptation was too great. I convinced my girlfriend to tag along, offering to pay the $22.00 for her ticket.
The floor was sticky. Beer (like the ticket) was cheap. The clientele was exactly what I had expected. It was 1984 all over again, yet the bellies bulged and wrinkles were more obvious ... even in the dimly lit, smoke-filled room. The mullet hair styles had transformed to thinning bald heads. I felt like a fish out of water, looking around in awe at what I once saw as attractive.
Instead of a packed, sold out international stadium, the aging Night Ranger audience barely filled the wooden dance floor. As I looked around, I noticed everyone had the same intention as me. We all wanted to see a favorite musical headline from the past, reliving and repeating the sounds from fast cars and contagious keg parties.
We never forget our first concert or bands we wished we saw. If you come across a favorite headliner from the past, go. Warm up the minivan and drag a friend that understands your freakiness and secret appreciation of a washed-up 80’s gig.