Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Richard Marx Is Punk as F**K

I realize the title might elicit some extreme reactions, but before you completely dismiss me, hear my tale.

In the 90s, I was heavily steeped in the goth and industrial culture, crowd surfing and moshing to bands like Nine Inch Nails, Ministry and the like. In the 00s, I embraced post punk and indie sounds. But my musical evolution had a clear and distinct beginning: pop rock.

For a good chunk of the 80s I was an avid fan of Huey Lewis and the News, Bryan Adams, The Cars, Tom Petty, etc. In fact, up until 1988, I'd only been to three live shows and they were all to see Huey Lewis.

In August of '88 I was just out of high school and planning on going into the military. I was a naive little nugget and the world seemed like a very big place that I was about to be thrown out into, head first. I'd also really been enjoying Richard Marx's first self-titled album. Its first big single, "Don't Mean Nothin'" was on regular rotation in my car's cassette player, the volume cranked to the maximum my little Datsun B210 could take.  If you need a refresher, here it is:

Anyway, once I heard Mr. Marx was coming to the Ventura County Fair, I was in like Flynn. I lived in Ventura at that time and it was rare to have artists that I was interested in come up our way. I bought a pair of tickets, hoping to take a girl that I liked, but after getting the 'I like you as a friend' speech, I asked my friend Rob to go with me.

I'd been to a few fairs and I expected it to be an open, standing room only kind of situation. What we were greeted with was something that was closer to a roving evangelical revival tent; neatly arranged folding chairs with letters and numbers stenciled precisely on the back, a rope barricade separating the front row from the stage by a good twenty feet. There were would be no unruly behavior at this show, by god.

I hadn't noticed the pre-ordained seating notations on our tickets up until that point, so we took our seats near the far back on the left side, a distinctly deflated slant to our posture. We were still close enough to catch a glimpse of RM's stylishly feathered hair, but certainly not close enough to distinguish any actual expressions on his face.

He and his band came out on stage to a sold out and well-seated, well-behaved crowd. There was enthusiastic applause and a few people stood and cheered. They quickly seated themselves again when they realized that this wasn't going to be that kind of show.

Or so we thought.

Mr. Marx stepped up to the microphone with classic rock star enthusiasm. But the words that came out of his mouth were like nothing I expected and to this day, remains one of the most rock and roll things I've ever been witness to. He said something to the effect of (and I'm pretty sure I remember this almost word for word), "Hey! Good to be here. When I came out for sound check and I saw all the seating, I spoke to the management and said that I usually do the kind of show where people are on their feet and dancing. They said something about safety and regulations. But you know what? They're not up here with a microphone. I am. And I say, there's a whole lot of you and only a few guys down in front of me here. I bet that if you all get up and move forward and come through that rope, they'll get out of the way."

The security at the front of the stage did a double take. The crowd stood and cheered and moved forward like a human wave. The security got out of the way. The chairs were discarded, tipped over and forgotten. The rope was pulled down. The crowd pressed right up against that stage for the next hour to sing along to their favorite songs and rock and roll lived on for another day.

I haven't listened to Richard Marx in years. Really, decades. A few years ago, I came across his Twitter and I clicked 'follow'. I couldn't tell you why. Maybe it was a sense of nostalgia, maybe it was that I was curious to see what someone like him would tweet about. He seemed smart, funny, self-aware. He seemed like a good guy. Life moved on.

Where this story ends is today. As I write this, I just got home from making an unplanned stop at a fast food restaurant. There were extenuating circumstances and I had to eat in the dining area. I'm sitting there having my chicken sandwich and through the PA I hear a voice. I didn't think about it, not for one second. There was no questioning. I just immediately knew, "That's Richard Marx." I didn't recognize the song, so I brought out my smart phone and called up Shazam. The song was "Nothing Left Behind Us," from his 2008 album, Paid Vacation.

I'm not here to tell you that I thought, "Oh my god, I love this. What have I been missing all of these years?", because that's not what went through my mind. My musical tastes have moved on in the years since that show and I'll probably not go back. 

But I smiled. I felt good. Because his voice somehow tapped into some deep part of my brain, my 18 year old psyche that was still there. It wasn't conscious at all, I was just automatically transported back to that great memory of getting out of my seat and saying, "Yeah, screw these seats!"

I'm glad Mr. Marx is still making music, still doing what he loves. And I'm glad that 18 year old me is still in there.