Preface: Maybe I have a strong internal calendar. I seem to remember a lot of key dates in my life ; I remember way more birthdays than I have a right to; and if I hear it’s the anniversary of something or other, it always seems to be more interesting to me than to the people around me. Whatever. Some people know important things; I know anniversaries. Anyway, 30 years ago this month I saw what still stands up as my favorite concert of all time — The Who at the Checkerdome in St. Louis. As I’ve thought about that show and all of the events that surrounded it, it occurred to me that that whole year of 1980 was one of the most significant in my life. I selected and started attending a new, out-of-state college; I cast my first presidential vote; I turned 21; I flew for the first time, and saw the ocean for the first time; and, most importantly, I met the girl I would end up spending the rest of my life with. So I decided I’d devote a few pages of this blog to the year of 1980, sort of following along as it happened, with the benefit of 30 years of hindsight. For those who shared at least part of that year with me, I hope this brings back good memories. If not, the money-back guarantee applies. All posts in this series will be in the category “1980,” for those playing the home version of our game. -js
The spring of 1980 found me living at my parents’ house, after 2-1/2 years at the University of Missouri. I’d left Mizzou at the end of the fall semester in 1979, with plans to finish my schoolin’ at a smaller college somewhere. First, though, I was going to take a semester off.
My friend Geoff was also back at home after having left Mizzou, but he had already started his second college stint, at CW Post in New York city. We had a literary friendship — we typed dozens, probably hundreds of letters back and forth, mostly, but not exclusively, talking about whatever music we were listening to. Music was a critical element of our friendship. We each “discovered” the Who’s Next album at about the same time, a thousand miles apart and almost a year before we met each other, and we both, I think, remain firm in the belief that it’s the greatest rock album of all time.
Who’s Next was released in 1971, but by 1980 the band had seen more than its share of catastrophes. First, drummer Keith Moon died in 1978. A year later, the Who went on tour (with a new drummer) and a general-admission crowd in Cincinnati surged forward before the gates opened, crushing 11 people to death. Despite the tragedy, the band put together the second leg of its U.S. tour for the spring of 1980, and St. Louis was included in this round. Geoff and I conferred: he would come to St. Louis for the show, a first Who concert for each of us.
He flew in on the Friday before the Monday concert. I picked him up at the airport in my dad’s Plymouth Valiant, and we drove down to Columbia for the weekend. It was probably the best drive to Columbia I ever made. I had a boombox cassette player and we both had tapes of new music we were listening to–in particular I remember I had made one tape that had the Police on one side and the Clash on the other.
We drove to our old stomping grounds at Mizzou — Loeb Group, a pair of smallish dorm buildings on the north end of campus, where many of our mutual friends were still in school. There followed a weekend of mostly-forgotten revelry.
Mostly forgotten, that is, except for one afternoon — though I can’t remember if it was Saturday or Sunday. It was one of those beautiful late-April days that the Midwest gives you every once in a while. The quadrangle between the Loeb Group buildings was filled with college kids playing frisbee or just sitting on the steps, soaking up the sun. There were a half-dozen of us hanging out inside, in the room I had once shared with my roommate, Bob. I distinctly remember hearing a strange, muffled sound, but thought little of it, until Scott — who was Geoff’s old roommate — came into the room with news: there had been a car crash outside. That didn’t excite us a whole lot, but when he specified it was a white car, that caught my interest: the Valiant was white, and I’d parked it next to the quadrangle. A couple of us went outside, and sure enough, my dad’s car had not only been hit, but slammed up onto the sidewalk—all four wheels.
I went down to inspect the damage. Not only was the Valiant crunched, but it had also been knocked into the car behind it; a distinctive red Opel GT, whose owner, our friend Lisa, was in the room with us at the time. So we sent someone in to get her as well. The police were there by then; I guess the responsible driver was a woman who was crazy-drunk, although it was mid-afternoon.
Both of our cars were totaled, as of course was the woman’s car. That left us with a couple of predicaments: first, how to tell my dad. When I called him, I don’t think he believed, at first, that I wasn’t somehow responsible for the accident. And secondly, how to get back to St. Louis in time for the concert Monday night? We ended up doing what countless college kids did in those days, and maybe still today — Go Greyhound! It wasn’t quite what Geoff had bargained for when he came back to the Midwest, but we did make it back in plenty of time for the concert, the details of which we’ll discuss in a later post.