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They're Tearing Down Vet's Memorial, part two - by Ricki C.

They’re Tearing Down Vet’s Memorial is a continuing series in Pencilstorm.  It will run once a month throughout 2015.  For an intro and explanation, please see They’re Tearing Down Vet’s Memorial, part one, January 2015.

Triumph and Brownsville Station / February 24th, 1979

In February of 1979 I was working 40 hours a week in the warehouse of the K-Mart store on West Broad Street in Columbus, Ohio; serving as a roadie for Willie Phoenix’s then-current band, The Buttons; and writing for Focus magazine, Columbus’ bi-weekly music publication.  (Ahhh, the 1970’s: when every decent-sized city in America could support its own music magazine.) 

The Focus job was a pretty easy gig.  It didn’t pay that great, but there were perks: you got a lot of free records and occasionally got paid to go to rock concerts.  This Triumph and Brownsville Station show was one of the latter.  In February of ’79 I was already well-aware that Triumph was beneath contempt, but the Focus editor pitched the show by dangling a chance for me to interview Cub Koda of Brownsville Station after their opening set.  And here’s the deal: I had WORSHIPPED Cub Koda and Brownsville Station since the first time my best friend Dave Blackburn and I laid eyes on them back in high school in 1969 or ’70, when Brownsville played the old Agora Club on High Street.

Brownsville Station was Dave’s and my own little local version of The Who: Brownsville hailed from Ann Arbor, Michigan, and played Columbus like a local band.  Dave & I must have seen them six or seven times in 1970 alone – at the Agora, at the Valley Dale ballroom, opening for the likes of Ted Nugent and Alice Cooper at Vet’s or other venues – and without fail Brownsville Station were a spark-spitting, incendiary rock & roll organism of the highest order.  They had a sense of humor, they put on a rock & roll SHOW, they dressed great, and they rocked like fever.  They were kinda like The MC5 if you substituted rock & roll FUN for radical hippie politics & heroin.   

So, to make a long story short (editor’s note: as if that’s possible in a Ricki C. piece), by three minutes into the between-sets interview Cub Koda and I were laughing along like old friends: reminiscing about past Columbus shows, reiterating that “The West Side Is the Best Side,” commiserating over the then-current dismal, post-punk state of rock & roll, etc.  At some point I was vaguely aware that Triumph had started their set, but Cub and I were at that point deep in discussion about the finer points of Bo Diddley vs. The Sex Pistols and couldn’t just stop right then, ya know?

Anyway, about a half-hour after we had started hearing the leaden thump of Triumph’s set thudding through the concrete Vet’s Memorial dressing room walls, Cub said to me, “Aren’t you supposed to be reviewing this show?”  “Yeah, yeah, I’ll get out there pretty soon,” I replied, “those Canuck lunkheads aren’t going anywhere, literally or figuratively”  Koda and I laughed, toasted whatever we were drinking at that moment and kept talking.  (By the way, you know you have seriously punted your professional journalistic standards when the opening act starts calling you out on missing the headliner’s set.)

I caught the last twenty minutes of Triumph’s set, tolerated the encore, confirmed with some of my West Side reprobate rocker buddies that I hadn’t missed anything in the previous hour, and went home happy with the memory of hanging out with Cub Koda, one of my genuine rock & roll heroes.  I slept late, then kicked back  Sunday afternoon and knocked out however many words on the Brownsville Station and Triumph show on my trusty Smith-Corona manual typewriter.  My best line of the review was “These guys wouldn’t know rock & roll if it fucked ‘em in a closet.”  (In time, it came to be the only line the Focus copy editor took out of the piece.) 

Never in a million years did I think Focus would actually run the review.  By then the paper had gone bi-weekly on its way to going out of business, depended mightily on record company advertising to pay the bills and was largely pretty booster-istic in its coverage of local & national acts.  (NOBODY got a bad rap in Focus.)  I turned the review in basically because you were expected to pay for your ticket to the show if you didn’t do the absolute minimum and at least COVER the event. 

Tuesday March 6th I was at work at K-Mart and one of the kids from my warehouse crew came in from lunch with the new issue of Focus.  He was laughing and said, “This review you wrote is great.”  I thought for a second and said, “I don’t have anything in this issue.”  “This review of Triumph and Brownsville Station isn’t yours?  They put your name on it.”  My stomach dropped, “THEY RAN THAT REVIEW?” I said, grabbing the paper away from him.  “Oh my God, I was just kidding, I never for one minute thought they would actually run this.”  

A couple of nights later the Focus advertising manager called me at home and said that RCA Records – Triumph’s label at the time – had called and threatened to pull all of their ads from Focus permanently if the paper didn’t apologize for the review and run a retraction.  “Well run a retraction,” I said, “I have no ego invested in this.  I can’t believe you ran the review in the first place.  I only turned it in so you wouldn’t charge me for my ticket.  I’m not gonna write an apology, but you can disclaim all knowledge of the review.  Put it all on me.  I have no problem with that.”

Rather spunkily – given his usual junior-league Rupert Murdoch Mr. Businessman leanings – the Focus editor wrote back to RCA, saying “We stand by our story.”  RCA pulled their advertising from the next three issues and then it was back to business as usual.  So, to summarize: I missed 80% of the show, still reviewed & badmouthed it, got our advertising pulled, and I still got paid.  I miss the 1970’s.  I miss Vet’s Memorial. – Ricki C. / February 22nd, 2015.

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Honorable mentions, February Vet's Memorial shows attended by Ricki C.

Blood, Sweat & Tears and Canned Heat / February 19th, 1969 (Ricki's first date, ever)

Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent and Brownsville Station / February 7th, 1976

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band / February 16th, 1977