Dec 10, 2009

"if i were an excitable guy this would upset me to no end"

Nothing makes you feel quite as old, nostalgic, and sad as when icons from your childhood die. Especially people who you grew up with who were at the height of their youth and talent. This week Bruce Allen (lower right) from The Suburbs died at the age of 54. Not a name recognizable to most people. Note "The Suburbs" is capitalized. It was a band. They never made it big. Not by a long shot. Not for want of trying or talent. But there is a small subsection of people who grew up in Minnesota during the 80s that still listen to their music today.

They were for most of their fans the first reason to listen to music at all. That was my story. Never understanding the appeal of music on the radio, I passed off music as something that wasn't for me. Until a friend played Kraftwerk, Gary Numan, and The Suburbs. While the first two were unaccessible to me, The Suburbs were a local band. And they played all ages shows. They were a unusual blend of punk and pop and strange imagery and lyrics (much like The Pixies before The Pixies) and utterly mind blowing live concerts. And they had a logo (designed by Bruce Allen).

I'll never forget my first show. It was at a dinner theatre near the old Twins stadium. The name escapes me. It was one of these fancy places that catered to dying old stars and clientele who got 'dressed up' for their once a year "big" evening. Sequined and sparkly dresses de riguer for the women and suits, dusty from years of neglect, for men. This is where it all went terribly wrong. Back then a blend of punk and pop was deadly left of center. The fan base was decidedly not mainstream.

As about 6 high school friends and I sat down in our front row, red fake leather booth with a nice tableclothed table from which to sip cokes, the show started. There was a dance floor gap between the stage and seating. Designed primarily for people to shake their booty to Lawrence Welk. This space was immediately appropriated by pretty much everyone on the first level and become a mosh pit. I'm not sure they were called that back then and I had never see one before.

I then turned around to see how many people were left seated behind us only to notice that in the upper levels people were furiously tying coats together. They then began rapelling down the overhang so they too could jump in the pit. As I turned back I realized there were two people dancing on our table. And in fact every other table in the theatre. This lasted for about 1 minute because every table promptly cracked off it's support from the weight. Remarkably the theatres hired hands hauled away the tables quickly and without a protest. I was sure the cops would be filing through the theatre at any second.

The first song, I forget which, ended and at that point all but 2 of my friends just got up and left. Not even saying a word. They just left. It was too much for them. The rest of the show was more reserved from the crowd but the band took up the job of being crazy. Particularly one of the two lead singers who at every show seemed to be in a trance/stoned state. The one stunt I recall is him scaling 4 huge speakers stacked on top of one another. So high he could touch the ceiling of the stage as he sang; the speakers wavering back and forth in a manner that seemed to defy physics. After the show ended 3 people were passed out on the floor, overdosed. Ambulances awaited them outside as we all filed out.

I was clearly not in suburban Minnesota any more. This was an entirely new experience. Something I didn't know existed in the world. My universe expanded a little. Which was a hopeful feeling if anyone has lived in the suburbs or watched Dazed & Confused. And for that they'll always have a place in my heart. RIP Bruce.

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