The ’80s Pin Project: U2-The Unforgettable Fire

For an explanation of the 1980s Pin Project, go here.

I get it, sorta. A significant number of music fans do not love U2, and kind of I get why. Bono is a pompous ass, they say (the bastard, talking all “humanitarian issues and social justice” and asking people to get all thinky-like), and the music doesn’t “go” anywhere. It’s exhausting trying to make one’s way through their meaningful yet jangly lyrics, they say. Now they’re all just a bunch of fat-cat rockers in mansions, so playing the “angry young man” anthems that made their careers is a bit facetious at best. They are the Disney of rock. They are The System. They say.

Yeah, yeah. As much as, at this point, Bruce Springsteen is still a blue collar working man. Don’t get me wrong; from everything I’ve heard, Bruce Springsteen is as salt-of-the-earth as they come, and he’s not forgotten his working-class roots. But he’s rich as balls. “Baby, this town rips the bones from your back” doesn’t really apply to him any longer, unless that’s some odd payment option that’s been made available for him so he can fund his daughter’s show-jumping equestrian habit. And yet, no one seems to point sold-out fingers at The Boss. And I digress.

So. The Unforgettable Fire.

I probably wore this thing everywhere.

I probably wore this thing everywhere.

The Unforgettable Fire was their pre-juggernaut-of-spectacle, their big-but-not-quite-ginormous full-length album, the one right before they launched into the upper stratosphere with The Joshua Tree. (Musical timeline sticklers: I know there was an EP in between these two albums, but that didn’t launch their careers noticeably higher, it just maintained their Fire momentum until they hit Joshua.) This is the album that gave us the song “Pride (In The Name of Love)”, and who doesn’t want to pump a righteous fist at that tune? The tour that supported The Unforgettable Fire was the tour that saw them moving into 15,000 seat arenas instead of 5,000 seat mid-size venues. It was also the first U2 tour I had the opportunity to see.

AND IT WAS FANTASTIC. I’m pretty sure I never sat down, and that includes from the moment Lone Justice came out to open the show. My friend Bryan still reminisces in almost reverential tones about the glory of that double-bill. And about my rage at the people sitting near us who complained that the opening band sucked. There was no violence from me, mind you. Only hatred. Moving on.

The place: The Brendan Byrne Arena (a/k/a the Continental Arena and now, the defunct Izod Center), located in the sports complex in the swamps of East Rutherford, New Jersey. The date: April 14, 1985. How do I know the date?

I found the set list.

04/14/1985 Brendan Byrne Arena – East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA
Gloria, I Threw A Brick Through A Window, A Day Without Me / Dear Prudence (snippet), MLK, The Unforgettable Fire, Two Hearts Beat As One, Seconds, Sunday Bloody Sunday, The Cry, The Electric Co., A Sort Of Homecoming, Bad, October, New Year’s Day, Pride (In The Name Of Love),
encores: 11 O’Clock Tick Tock, I Will Follow, 40

For the record, that tiny snippet of “Dear Prudence” nearly drove me insane. This concert nearly drove me insane. I had bruises up and down my legs from dancing so wildly I kept banging into the back of the seat in front of me–happily, an unoccupied seat, as its owner was up and dancing too. I was hoarse for two days.

Fast forward to five or six years ago. George and I went to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (with which I had an enormous number of issues, but that’s an entirely different post) and–surprise, surprise!–one of the exhibits they featured was a film of U2, performing in 3D.  I was ready to see it alone because George is no U2 fan, and it was only 85 minutes long. Surely, I thought, he’d be more interested in eyeballing Les Paul’s guitars, or Iggy Pop‘s duct tape shorts, in that time, but no! I was wrong, and he joined me for the U2 movie. When we left, George was smiling, nodding his head. “OK,” he said. “I see it, I understand their phenomenon more now. I’m not willing to say I’m a fan, but I understand.”

Is there anything more I can ask for from him? I think not. Through the years, I have remained a U2 fan. I didn’t care that they dropped Songs of Innocence into my iTunes account. Yay, free music! I don’t care if Bono has lunch with the Pope. Yay, positive use of his incredibly public platform! I don’t care if they all have big houses now; isn’t that why people become rock stars, anyway? At the end of the day, I just want to dance, and if you can keep in your seat to “I Will Follow” then we need to have a talk.

That being said…the video of Edge walking off the edge of their stage still cracks me up.

If only someone could come up with some highly visible marking system that would delineate the edge of the stage in the dimly-lit concert arena…if only…

As an added bonus, here’s a video of Lone Justice singing “I Found Love”. Because U2 gets enough attention already, dammit. Sing it, Ms. McKee!

Central PA Living: Jerseytown Tavern

Snuggled into a northeastern corner of central PA, tiny little Jerseytown (pop. 184) is home to the Jerseytown Tavern, the (self-proclaimed) Bluegrass Capital of Columbia County.

The banner says so.

It’s true. The banner says so.

The Tavern is, basically, a house that’s been converted into a bar and restaurant, and from what I understand, the food is pretty good. Next time, we’ll go for dinner. Every Wednesday night, local musicians pile into this little road house and find a spot for themselves on their one small stage. With one condenser microphone between them. And they bust out some fiddlin’, banjo-in’, dobro-in’, guitar-in’, singin’, butt-shakin’, boot-scootin’ down-home bluegrass and old-school country.

What's that thing overhead..?

What’s that thing overhead..?

And they do it all surrounded by some of the strangest decor I have ever seen in a bar.

Look carefully over the guitarist’s head. That’s right. It’s a “hang in there” raccoon, painted onto the ceiling tile. Every other ceiling tile has some kind of adornment on it, like a chess board full of bizarre.

There’s this zebra.

Hey, buddy! Why the long face?

Hey, buddy! Why the long face? *nyuk nyuk*

And these floating space rabbits and bears. Are those rabbits wearing…is that lederhosen?


Wait until they bare their fangs. #TheHorror

Watch out, deer. We’re here to turn you into pants. #TheHorror

No, no lederhosen. They’re just wearing rompers. Boring floating space bunnies in rompers. But…why?

This one is my personal favorite. It’s former President Bill Clinton, playing saxophone.

Nice, uh...shorts. Bill.

Nice, uh…shorts. Bill.

The entire bar is covered in wood etchings. Dig the squirrel who guards my beer.

Thanks, Mr. Squirrel!

Thanks, Mr. Squirrel!

Bonus: They had some really good beers on tap.

And then…the wooden support post…there’s…uh…

Dreamy. Thanks to George for playing along!

Thanks to George for playing along!

OK, OK, the decor is fun and quirky and all but, there’s the music, right? We went there for the music. What about that?

Because that is how we roll in central PA.

Sing it, Mary.

Oh, we’ll be back.

See you at the Jerseytown Tavern, everyone!

The ’80s Pin Project: The Thompson Twins

For an explanation of the 1980s Pin Project, go here.

In a weird way, for me, The Thompson Twins define what made the 1980s music scene so…outlandishly 1980s. They wrote synth-fueled, harmony-laden poppy new wave, and… They wore zany clothes! They had absolutely frigging enormous hair! They lacked eyebrows! (Well, two of them did.)

Yes, really. Eyebrows. The Thompson Twins were a trio (of course: ZANY!) of unrelated folks (two of whom eventually married) (and are now divorced) who, at one point, were painfully poor. They wanted to do *something* unexpected with their eyes, to make the band more of a visual standout, but colored contacts cost money. Shaving, however, was (practically) free, et voila! Two of the three non-family twins engaged in regular eyebrow maintenance, and the look* for a band was born.

Kooky bunch of eyebrow shavers.

Kooky bunch of eyebrow shavers.

*as long as you add giant duck-billed hats, yards of baggy satin jackets and a treasure chest’s worth of ersatz pearls to that look.

I totally loved the album Into The Gap. I still have it, it still makes its way onto my turntable every now and again. It had their biggest hits on it, most notably the song “Doctor! Doctor!”. Don’t worry. I’ll include the video for that song, soon enough, but first! We discuss the Twins.

Also, please note: I know they released other albums besides Into The Gap. But I didn’t really care about those albums, except for a select song or two. Sorry, The Thompson Twins. It’s not personal.

Everybody I knew liked The Thompson Twins (or at least, grudgingly admitted they did not hate said Twins and if you knew my friends you’d realize that NEVER happens), and owned their very own copy of Into The Gap. It was a ginormous seller. Sold a bajillion copies world-wide. Generated a Thompson Twins world tour. Heavy video rotation on MTV! Caused young men to take an inordinate interest in long, skinny rat tails! And created a side business of swanky shwag, like the very pin I have pictured above. It was GREAT! In 1984-85 The Thompson Twins were riding high and yet….

And yet, they never got away from their supremely ’80s sound, which stopped being interesting by the end of the ’80s, and the group disbanded in 1993. I still have Into The Gap on vinyl, but I could never quite make the move to get it on CD, or leapfrog over physical media and get a digital copy. I could do that, I suppose (she said, with an unconvincing attempt at enthusiasm in her voice).

But the thing is, they are SO completely 1980s, it feels almost anachronistic of me to play them in any other media, which doesn’t necessarily happen for every artist in my collection. I have no problem with Katrina and the Waves in my iPod. How else am I supposed to bop around to my own private music collection that feeds right into my earbuds? But for the Twins…I don’t know. Digitizing their music feels wrong, somehow.

Maybe if I had a cassette I could play on a Sony Walkman…maybe that would feel more authentic to me. Right on, Thompson Twins! Right? Kind of? Know what I mean? Sort of? Hang on a minute, while I switch my cassingle and adjust my awkwardly-sized, generally inconvenient and kind of sweaty mini-headphones.

Truth: This is the exact model of Walkman that I used to own.

Truth: This is the exact model of Walkman that I used to own. Image from

Hahahahahaha! I said “cassingle”. Moving on.

I love The Thompson Twins, but they are my 1980s music equivalent of Han Solo frozen in a block of carbonite. Kind of grandiose and almost mythical, but ultimately, stuck pretty tight in one spot.

Nope. Not going anywhere. Image from

Nope. Not going anywhere.
Image from

Nothing about them progressed. Nothing about them moved forward. Putting a Thompson Twins album on to play is a great way to get an aural photograph of the ’80s scene. But it wouldn’t work in a Zumba class. Kudos to the Twins for not slipping into the nostalgia trap and trotting their old chestnuts out for a reunion tour. Stay in the carbonite, beloved Twins, where we can worship you at a distance and bedazzle your music in the glossy, soft-focus sheen of memory.

Here’s the video for “Doctor! Doctor!” which–quite sensibly–embodies everything that was happening in the 1980s video era. Big hair, moody lighting, superimposed giant piano-playing hands, harlequin masks, raggedy clothing, purple gloves, expansive hand gestures, inexplicable shots of fringe-drenched figure skaters…I never could make heads or tails of it and yet…

And yet, this video is frigging awesome.

The ’80s Pin Project: Katrina and the Waves

For an explanation of the 1980s Pin Project, go here.

There were plenty of female, pop-oriented performers who staked a claim on the 1980s music scene. Madonna is, of course, the biggie, the trailblazer, the trendsetter. Lots of pretty, blonde-ish, mostly forgettable singers danced along in Madge’s footsteps, ones like Stacey Q and Taylor Dayne. There was the sugar-sweet teen bop of Tiffany and Debbie Gibson, and infectious bubble gum from bands like The Go-Gos and The Bangles. Every one of these musicians were fun and dance-friendly, but (with the possible exception of The Bangles, and of course La Madge) suffered for the want of an individual musical fingerprint. 

I hate to sound like I’m being mean to The Go-Gos–God knows I enjoy “Our Lips Are Sealed” as much as the next guy–but they hardly broke new ground. And I feel for Debbie Gibson, because she seems like a nice person and I think she really tries in her music. But. Ahem. I digress.

In the midst of the vast array of ’80s-era, shellacked-hair and fishnets-bedecked chick pop, Katrina and the Waves came on the scene. What? Who? Driving drums? Great guitar hooks? Punchy horns? Where in the hell did this fit in?



Fronted by American-born Army brat Katrina Leskanich, Katrina and the Waves were a UK-based power pop band whose self-titled US debut album was full of well-crafted songs and Katrina’s soaringly huge voice. Was the album dance-able? Sure. But their music also flat-out rocked. Imagine if you took Joan Jett‘s energy and party-ready attitude and and stuck it in a blender with Southside Johnny, the frontman for New Jersey’s greatest rock & roll bar band ever, and then threw in some serious high-fives for good measure.

That? Hell yeah! That’s what I’m talking about.

I ~~~loved~~~ Katrina and the Waves’s first album. The fact is, I still do. I think it’s strong and holds up against time and changing musical sensibilities. And there wasn’t really anyone else doing pure, good-time rock and roll with a strong female taking the lead. At least, not like Katrina & Co., and not like the rock-pop fusion they put out on their debut album. There was Lone Justice, I suppose, though they were more country-folk-rock. The Pretenders clung to their punk roots; believe me, I’m not saying that’s bad. I’m just saying Katrina’s sound was different. As for performers like Pat Benatar…full disclosure. Pat Benatar has always been a little too strident for my liking. I wish her well, as I appreciate what she’s done, but if I never hear another Pat Benatar song again my life will be just fine.

I saw Katrina and the Waves way back in the day, opening for Don Henley at the Garden State Arts Center. (Yes, I saw an inordinate amount of shows at the GSAC. Moving on.) For those of you who know my reactionary dislike of The Eagles and might be surprised that I would go and see their drummer’s solo concert, let me explain: I had not yet worked in bars enough to have heard everything off The Eagles’ Greatest Hits, over and over again, sung loudly and off-key, late at night, by a thousand different patrons, from New Jersey to Boston, to Texas, and back again. Simply put, I hadn’t been taken to my Eagles limit. And I still stand behind Henley’s solo work. But it’s true, these days, I am like The Dude from The Big Lebowski.

It’s unfortunate that Katrina’s follow-up album bombed and the band sort of disappeared off the US music scene after that. I still have a copy of the second album–I think I kept it out of first-album loyalty–but I haven’t listened to it in years. They are not the first band ever to fall victim to the sophomore slump.

Is it possible that the song “Walking on Sunshine” has been out for thirty years? And that I’ve had this pin for thirty years? And that I’m…and yet, I remain 29, I’m not sure how that works. Good lord, time has a way of moving past a person, doesn’t it?

Anyway. Here is Katrina and the Waves, and the glorious “Walking on Sunshine”. I defy you all not to get up and dance.

See you at the next pin!


The ’80s Pin Project: The Alarm

For an explanation of what the Pin Project is, go here.

There was a crop of bands that sprang up in the 1980s that came to public interest because they were sort of like U2-2. Scotland’s Simple Minds was one of those bands, with a similar sort of ethereal guitar sound and moody lyrics. Midnight Oil were U2’s Aussie, equally strident counterpart. And there was Welsh band The Alarm

…oh, The Alarm…

I loved em, spiky hair and all.

I loved them so, spiky hair and all.

They were earnest and had harmonicas and found some great guitar hooks. And hey, they wrote a song about the Stephen King book The Standso they liked to read (because really, that book is enormously long) and that’s cool, dig?

Side note: I have read The Stand twice and thoroughly enjoyed it…mostly. The scene where the band of survivors escapes Manhattan Island, which has had its bridges blown and is cut off from the mainland, via the pitch black Lincoln Tunnel is one of the scariest scenes I’ve ever read. But GOD I hate how that book ends. And I digress.

The Alarm was one of those bands that were always on the edge of being The Next Big Thing. They opened for U2 (further cementing their “one of these things sounds like the other” reputation); they opened for Bob Dylan at the Garden State Arts Center (which is when I saw them). But then they sort of faded away, apparently the victim of creative struggles, lackluster support from their label, and some deeply personal misfortunes. It didn’t take long for The Alarm to end up on the “Where Are They Now?” pile. It’s sad when it happens, but unless you’re The Rolling Stones…it happens.

Note to the good people who administer The Alarm’s web archives: the Garden State Arts Center (now PNC Bank Arts Center) is in Holmdel, not Holmdale. Get on that when you can, ‘k?

Yes, mystified friends who know me, I went to a Bob Dylan concert. But The Alarm was opening! And it was such an odd double-bill that I had to go.

I have a fairly high nostalgia threshhold for The Alarm and their music, which still makes me want to fist-pump my righteous indignation, though I am afraid the music doesn’t hold up as well as I’d hoped. It feels so very…1980s. And a lot of their stuff wants for real dynamic movement. Like, The Alarm only plays at one volume, and that’s loud and ooh-ah-ah jangly. And strident. And not a little bombastic. Which can be exhausting. I mean, U2 cut their teeth on songs of political protest but even Bono and Co. manage to work in a song about a tortured relationship, every now and again.

Here’s The Alarm at their most U2-iest.

Check out those vocals! If Hogwarts [was real and] offered a class in vocally mimicking Bono, Mike Peters and The Alarm would have been at the top of the class. It’s impressive. A little unsettling, maybe, but impressive nonetheless. For reasons like this very song, The Alarm is impossible for me to discuss without invoking U2. Of course, if you’ve got reasons why I should rethink this, I’m willing to learn.

Enjoy the music! I’d love to hear any stories you’ve got about The Alarm.

See you with the next pin. XOXO

The ’80s Pin Project: Hooters, #1

If you’re wondering what in the heck this “Pin Project” thing is, please go here, then meet me back at this blog. ‘kay? ‘kay!

The pin that I pulled out of my little box of treasures (dumped into a bag, reaching in blind….”You certainly are being random, aren’t you?” asked George), was a pin–first in what will surely be a series–for the band The Hooters.

Oh my word, how I loved The Hooters.


Not to be confused with a certain wings-and-boobs-centric “family” restaurant.

What wasn’t to love? The Hooters of the 1980s were a five-piece power pop band out of Philadelphia. They were cute! They were dance-y! They were color-coded!

Cute, and harmless. What's not to love? Image from

Cute, and harmless.
Image from

The boys were all razor-cheeked and hairsprayed, and appropriately collared and slouchy. They made (make, actually, as they’re still together) music that fuses pop, ska, folk, and reggae. In the early-to-mid-1980s, this meant they created a decidedly different sound that stood out from the pop-synth ’80s electronic boom. Often their songs were flavored with unexpected instruments. They made a lot of use of the mandolin, which at the time was generally used by art-rock bands like Jethro Tull, or easy-breezy twee-folk like that given unto us by Seals and Crofts. The other instrument that set The Hooters apart from the ’80s power-pop pack was…

A melodica.

A what?


A melodica. Image from


A melodica. Maybe you know it better by its nickname.

A hooter.

(Side note to Hooters fans who call themselves “Melodicans”. Stop that. You are not “Melodicans”, and you need to get over yourselves. You are Hooter Heads. Deal with it.)

Indeed, The Hooters named themselves after an oversized harmonica and took early-1980s Philadelphia by storm. They broke nationally in 1985, after signing with Columbia Records and producing the album Nervous Night. It’s a well-constructed album full of pop hooks and great harmonies. It’s an album I will stand behind to this day. Mostly. With one caveat.

It is entirely true that on every Hooters album, there is one song that I find unilaterally unlistenable. Dreadful. I find myself asking if their producers were on crack when they let this song through, or maybe their producer has some kind of terrible secret about the band and makes them perform one abysmal song per album, one that is atonal and completely lacking in style, or hook, or musical sensibilities. On Nervous Night it’s their cover of Love’s “She Comes In Colors” (note: watch the Love video at your own risk; NSFW or kids). I love all the rest of the album, but that song, their cover? It makes me want to burst my own eardrums. We can talk about their other albums’ misery songs, “Hard Rockin’ Summer” and “Mr. Big Baboon”, another time. And I digress.

One of the highlights of my misspent youth was an invitation I received from a friend to accompany him to a listening party, celebrating the 1989 release of The Hooters’ album Zig Zag. Swoon! Do I want to go listen to the new Hooters album and meet the band in the process? Swoon! HELL YES! Here’s a little photographic evidence of me and swoony blond Rob, hooter-playing Hooter and scalawag, who asked the friend I went there with if I was single.

Please note: my suspenders? Are paisley.

Please note: we had matching poofy hair volume.

Eagle-eyed readers: yes, my suspenders were paisley. I blush at the sight of that acid-washed jacket. And I wish I’d known my collar was turning upward. But I digress.

As I was not single at the time, that ended my potential for dating said Hooter. In one of the least-expected coincidences I can imagine, I discovered that two different women I have become friends with over the last bunch of years were also hit on by swoony Rob. I will say this for him: I know these ladies. He’s got good taste.

Ahhh. The Hooters. Everyone I know, knows who they are. Most people have disavowed fandom of them; they’re not cool any more, they’re not color-coded, they haven’t really changed their hair and that’s kind of weird. (OK, I’ll grant that retaining ’80s hair is an unwise business decision in terms of staying pop-relevant.) It’s too bad, because their music is still fun. 1980s nostalgia isn’t always a bad thing. Not when the music is great. Imma leave you with “And We Danced”. If you’re looking for me, I’ll be be-bopping at the union hall.

I Love It When Two Things Come Together (in my head, anyway)

Hi blogosphere! It’s been a while. I’ve been insanely busy, which is both good and bad. Good, because some cool stuff has been going on. Bad, because I’ve barely had time to write and I’m chronically sleep-deprived. At least George has kept me reasonably sane and steady, so we have him to thank for that.

More on all this soon.  But first…

You know how sometimes you see two things and you want them to come together so very very much that you make it happen, even if it’s just in your head?  Yup, in the middle of that, right now.

The below video of The Badpiper–the world’s premiere heavy metal bagpiper with pipes that shoot flames–playing AC/DC‘s “Thunderstruck” has been having its way with my Facebook feed lately. Which, you know. Cool. I really do like bagpipes, and there ain’t nothing wrong with a little AC/DC.

Like, HOLY POCKETS THAT DUDE IS SHOOTING FLAMES NEAR HIS HEAD! Right? No wonder he’s got a mohawk. I wonder how often he set his hair on fire before realizing the mohawk was a practical styling option.


So I watched this and it was awesome, and then I thought, but wait. He could be playing better bagpipes, filled with even more flame-shooting deranged badassery.

He needs this set.



OMG OMG OMG. Can you imagine this thing shooting flames out its horns? The archetypal trauma alone would be worth the price of a ticket. For what it’s worth, I can picture it all in my head. And it. Is. Fannnnnnnntastic.

If anyone has other suggestions for appropriately mindblowing bagpipes, I’m happy to hear about them! Otherwise…soak in the idea of a little flame-shooting heavy metal goatpipe magic.

See you all soon!  XOXO

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