I was a radio junkie when I was a kid. I would rush home to listen to Casey Kasim on Saturdays, and late at night, I'd try to pick up the skip signals, pulling in stations from Chicago, Maryland, NYC and other exotic locations.
Check it out. She's gone. It only takes a minute. Remember what I told you to forget. Heaven must be missing an angel. Don't take away the music. Fool of the year.
Not exactly the typical soundtrack of adolescence for a lower-middle class white kid growing up in the 70's, but for me, it was the first music I ever lived for. The songs were all by the same group -- Tavares. Five brothers who sang exquisite harmony, Tavares were the lesser-known contemporaries of Earth, Wind & Fire, The Commodores and The Spinners. I heard "It only takes a minute" on the radio, I won their LP by being caller number 5, and the rest was history. I was nine years old, and Tavares sparked my nascent musical interests, and then lit them up like a flare. This was the first music that got inside my spine and made me want to do the white-boy shuffle. I knew all their songs and had all their records. I have no idea why they struck me like they did, but I think it was something about their ballads. I didn't realize they were the precursor to disco, or I may have dropped them right there. Disco didn't exist yet -- instead it was a type of R&B that made you want to jump around, and ballads that made you pine for the girl you were afraid to even make eye-contact with. At nine, I could get behind both of these things wholeheartedly.
In addition to being the first music I ever listened to, they also have the distinction of being the first live music I ever saw, and the first concert I ever attended. When I heard on the radio that they were coming to town, I badgered my mother into letting me attend. She listened to some of the music to make sure it was appropriate, then agreed, with reservations. I had to find someone to go with, I had to be dropped off and picked up at a precise time, and she would be the one doing the driving. I jumped on the chance, and called my best friend Mike to see if he wanted to go.
Mike had never heard of them, and in fact, I don't know if he even listened to the radio at all at that point. But he agreed to go, we got the blessing from Mike's mother, and then we waited not-so-patiently for the night of the concert to arrive. Our tickets showed up in the mail a few days later, and it was such a thrill to hold them in my hand. I must have examined them for hours. They were bigger than movie tickets, and had the name of the band written right on them. I was hoping to get an autograph.
The night of the concert, my mother pulled up in front of the venue and we got out. As she pulled away, something struck us as odd. There was something out of place, something weird, something that we didn't put our finger on right away. We stood there and looked around, trying to figure it out.
Almost simultaneously, we realized what the problem was. I glanced at my blond-haired, blue-eyed friend, and he was looking back at me, wide-eyed.
Leaning close to me so he wouldn't be overheard, he whispered, "Everyone is black."
"Yeah," I replied, in total awe.
We were the only white people within a quarter mile radius. The entire crowd consisted almost exclusively of black couples. There were no kids. And definitely no little white kids.
We attended a tiny elementary school, and I think there was probably one black kid in the entire school. This was the most black people we had ever seen in one place. We quickly walked inside, careful to avoid looking anywhere but straight ahead, and tried to find our seats.
As we were moving through the crowd, people noticed us. They were laughing, shaking their heads and pointing, and doing a fair amount of whispering of their own. "I think they're lost." "Yo, The Captain and Tennille aren't playin' tonight." "Hey, look at the little white dudes. That's some funny shit."
We found our seats and sat down. They were pretty good. Something like tenth row, but they were kind of in the middle. It was ok at first, since we had gotten there early, but eventually the seats around us filled up. We sat there, our necks on swivels, just staring at the people around us. People dressed in Tuxedos and glittery dresses, leisure suits of all types, short skirts, long skirts, tube-tops, fancy hats and everything in between. There was so much to look at, I think our senses went into overload. There was a ton of smoke in the air too, and not all of it smelled like cigarettes. So in addition to seeing my first band and my first really large group of black folks, I also got my first whiff of pot. Bonus.
The house lights went down, and the band started playing. The stage lights exploded into colors, and the brothers came out, dressed in identical white suits and sky blue shirts, instantly dancing. They moved as one, a syncopated machine on a Teflon stage, sliding and clapping with precision, spinning on queue. They broke into "Whodunit," and I was gone.
I was singing the words to every song, and even though I couldn't see very well because everyone was standing, I could make out enough of the stage to know it was the greatest experience of my young life. After about the 5th song, I started noticing the people around me -- mostly because they were noticing me.
Finally, a big, bald, black dude with a beard leaned over and yelled, "Can you see?"
"Not really," I yelled back. "We're too short."
He said, "We gonna get you to the aisle."
Before I realized what was happening, he had us walking on the backs and arms of the chairs, helped along by the folks in our row. When we reached the aisle, we jumped down. It was amazing. We could see the entire stage, and there was nobody in front of us. I couldn't believe I was actually watching the people who were responsible for "The Love I Never Had," a song I played incessantly during my first crush on a girl. We stood for a while, and then the security guy noticed us. He motioned for us to come down to the front, and we thought he would make us go back to our seats. Instead, he said we could sit on the floor right there in the aisle, dead-even with the front row.
So we did. For the entire show.
They played their concert, and ran off stage, and the crowd went crazy. A few minutes before the band came out for for the encore, the big bouncer came over to us and said the band had invited us to sit on the edge of the stage for the last song, if we wanted to. It was a dream come true, for me at least. I wasn't so sure about Mike, but I didn't care.
I’ve been to more concerts than I can count, but a first concert is like a first kiss, or losing your virginity. You never forget the first time, no matter how good or how bad it is. Those three moments are always with you. If you’re lucky, and they're all good, you get the hat trick.
So even though I helped usher in what was to be the Disco Age, I’m not sorry. Whenever I hear a Tavares song, I’m instantly transported back to the innocent age of nine, and that one concert, that one magic moment in time, when I sat on the stage with my idols and they didn’t let me down.
Check it out.