February 05, 2012

Teenage Scribbles: Cheap Trick

Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick, November 18, 1979
Pencil on ledger paper

In May of 1979, I was in deep thrall to Rex Smith, so my reaction to Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me” on Casey Kasem’s Top 40 was only about how catchy the song was. The “cute guys” in this band had been popping up in the teen girl magazines I read, so I knew they mattered more in Japan than here, but see Rex Smith to know why this introduction went no further.

In August, I did my first round of 12 albums for a penny via Columbia House, and Cheap Trick at Budokan was one of my choices. The sound of the shrink wrap coming off this album was, in retrospect, the trumpets sounding my entry into a new world. Inside the album was a 12-page booklet crammed with tons of photos, lyrics and notes from the band. The cartoonishness of Rick Nielsen and Bun E. Carlos intrigued me, but it was The Foxes that stopped me dead. There was no denying the dreaminess of Robin Zander, with that square jaw, big brown eyes and long blonde hair. But the bass player? Dark wavy hair, crystal blue eyes, hairy chest and a ski slope nose, looking like an idealized Michael Sarrazin.

I was practically salivating as I took this in, and wondering “Why the hell are they in teen magazines?” Because these were men – rock & roll men! All this hormonal upheaval and I hadn’t even put the record on the turntable yet!

Robin Zander, December 1979
Pencil on 3-hole punch paper

Other than Sonny & Cher Live, and Judy Garland at Carneige Hall, I’d never experienced live recordings, so hearing hyped-up Jap girls screaming at the bands’ every move was fun and infectious, and then there was the aural onslaught of Cheap Trick’s music. The guitars and bass roared in golden yellow and dark green waves, the drumming was just as precise and exciting as Blondie’s Clem Burke, and Robin Zander’s voice was elastic and powerful. The album replicated one of their shows; not counting Shaun Cassidy in 1978, I’d never been to an honest-to-god rock concert, so this album was like a Cliff Note’s version of what would happen once I finally got to one, which was very helpful.

The songs that captivated me - “Come On Come On,” “Look Out” (still my favorite song on the album), and “Big Eyes” - were flat-out pop songs, but with a tight, rock bombast that I’d never heard before. It sounded like classic early Beatles’ singles on 10 pots of coffee, and I LUVED it!

They were just as revolutionary to me as Blondie, but in a different way. Whereas Blondie introduced me to layers of lifestyle, art and kitsch outside the mainstream, Cheap Trick introduced me to a world of rock that was devoid of macho posturing and ham-fisted illusions of musical grandeur. Blondie was artsy, edgy new wave, Cheap Trick was hard rock with a showman’s flair, but both groups shared one vital trait: an unabridged dedication to pop music, melody as homage to their idols and inspirations expressed in wholly unique ways.

Ballad of TV Violence, August 1982
Pencil and marker in sketch book

Before summer vacation was over, I got Cheap Trick’s second album, In Color, and adored its big, hollow pop thunder way more than the live album. By Christmas, I had their 1977 debut album, and that was a transcendent moment I’ve yet to recover from.

Cheap Trick directed me up two other important avenues:
#1 Rick Nielsen on the December 1979 issue of CREEM kick started my life-altering love affair with that magazine.

#2 Tom Petersson and Robin Zander allowed me and my best friend, Wendy, to freely and safely express our burgeoning, post-puberty sexuality. We wrote utterly filthy, dirty short stories starring Robin & Tom, and this was accompanied by an enthusiastic series of nude drawings I did of both of them. Where the hell are those teenage scribbles?