That's the thing about being a fan. You always are one. It doesn't matter what happens to that band you love. You've always got the albums, the memories, the connection.
That's the other thing about being a fan. You don't want just the albums and memories. You always want more.
The great cream colored beast growled as it started. Sitting inside the belly were the two. Neither too happy. Their lives were that of high school students. Not pleasant. But, they had the music. And it got them through those trying adolescent days.
Donnie Iris and the Cruisers have been a major piece of the "soundtrack of my life". They burst out of nowhere and landed on my good friend Teds' turntable with the 1981 release KING COOL. We were pretty much blown away. Soon we added the first lp, BACK ON THE STREETS, to the playlist. Again...we were bowled over. This was amazing music. It was pop, yet not too popular. It was rock, but not afraid to wear it's heart on a sleeve. It was music you could get familiar with. Make it part of you, or you become a part of it. It could hook you! It did.
The albums continued to roll out in the early 80's. After KING COOL came the short yet energetic THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY. The quirky FORTUNE 410 preceeded the garage attack of NO MUSS... NO FUSS. Then...nothing?!?
Hard to adjust to nothing. After all, we had spent many a morning in that huge cream colored beast of a station wagon driving to school trying to drown out the dread of the day listening to Donnie.
Many a night driving aimlessly through the streets, drinking Miller High Life, trying to drown out the boredom of the night listening to Donnie. That music was a huge part of our lives. An important part of life. And the connection between us and that music was burned deep.
Time went on though (it has a way of doing that). A "greatest hits" type release, OUT OF THE BLUE, appeared. Some good new stuff on there, but not quite the Donnie Iris and the Cruiser standard. A record called FOOTSOLDIER IN THE MOONLIGHT comes out. Again, not the same. Just not the same. Was it my youth? Was it in the past, far away now? I'd hoped not. It would not validate the effect that Donnie and the Cruisers had on my musical life. On my life in general.
Poletown! WOW. An album called POLETOWN came out. Donnie Iris, the Cruisers (the original bunch, Kevin Valentine, Albritton McClain, Marty Lee, and producer/songwriter/guru Mark Avsec), and an absolutely stunning batch of songs. The songwriting was mature and serious. The playing, loose, tight, loud, soft, and pure energy. And, of course, the voice. The voice is still THE VOICE. Donnie adding the emotion and pure honesty of that voice. The album staggered me. These guys still have got it. They never lost it. They never lost me.
The band began playing live a bit more around the area. Live they are a completely different monster. It may very well be the best way to experience them at this point. The band (Avsec, Lee, bassist Paul Goll, and drummer Tommy Rich) is as tight as can be. The stacked sheen of the records is stripped down. They become coarse, gritty, rock as rock can be. Donnie comandeers the stage, prowling, howling, and immersing himself, the band, and the audience, deep into the moment. It becomes part party, part ritual, and full on terrific rock.
LIVE! AT NICK'S FAT CITY, is the CD to have now. It truly captures the band in it's full essence. You can smell the beer and cigarettes. You can feel the heat of the crowd. You can experience live rock and roll the way it's meant to be. An amazing moment in time, captured endlessly.
It seemed only a matter of time before the band put out a live effort. But time can fool a person. The band waited until well into it's story to get this live set on tape for all to hear. And that was the right move. They seem to understand the music. They understand what makes them Donnie Iris and the Cruisers. They wear it so comfortably. And it fits them, and the fans, so well. Truly Amazing!
And I am back in the great beast, cruising the streets, Ted swigging a Miller, stereo basting "Ah! Leah!", "Do You Compute?", "Agnes". "That's the Way Love Ought to Be", "How You Gonna Mend It", and it's ok. I could go on (and on and on).