My First Concert
By David Bash
In early 1972, The Carefree Sugarless Gum Company (remember them??) had a contest where they asked junior high schools within a 50 mile radius of New York City to send in as many of their product’s wrappers as they could, and the school which sent in the most wrappers would receive, as their prize, an appearance by none other than The Grass Roots! Even though by 1972 their best days were behind them, we the students of Clarkstown Junior High School in New City New York still dug them, and wanted to win real bad, so we fervently sent in as many Carefree Sugarless Gum wrappers as our little hands could get hold of…and wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, we won! But stop the presses, because this is not a Grass Roots story!
A few months pass, and then the big day comes. That morning, our Principal gets on the intercom and tells us students “this afternoon you’re all going to the auditorium to see a concert by The Grass Roots-also playing are The Raspberries”. Everyone in my class looked at each other with puzzlement, as if to say “who??”, because in May of 1972 none of us had heard of The Raspberries; “Go All The Way” wouldn’t be a hit for a few more months, and none of us were hip enough to have heard their debut album, let alone bought it! So, we’re all waiting with baited breath to see The Grass Roots, not even thinking about this other group who were going to play as well, and our anticipation grew with each passing hour. Little did we know what we had in store for us that afternoon!
Finally the time comes for us to go to the auditorium. When we get there, we see a white piano and a bunch of amplifiers and guitars on the stage. For many of us, this was our first look at real live instruments-yeah, they kind of look like what we’d seen on TV-and they sure looked cool! A few minutes later we were treated to an unexpected pleasure: the appearance of none other than the world famous DJ from WABC radio, Cousin Brucie, who gleefully went into his DJ rap (“how are you all doing?” etc…) and introduced The Raspberries, who were received by our polite applause. Four guys come onto the stage wearing white suits-matching suits, just like The Beatles! One of them, “the blond guy” (methinks it was Dave Smalley), shouts “hey, you wanna hear a dirty song?!” Asking a bunch of pubescent and soon to be pubescent kids that question is like asking Donald Trump if he would like another billion, and of course we all let loose a rowdy “Yeah”!
The next three minutes plus were among the most pivotal of my music experience; the “dirty song” was none other than “Go All The Way”! I had never heard a melody like that, nor had I heard the kind of musical shifts that would ultimately be known to me as “amazing chord changes”. I remember thinking two other things: 1) that singer has funny hair, and 2) what’s so dirty about this song? My ignorant 13-year-old self had no idea what it meant to “go all the way”, and even if I had known, it might not have mattered as to my ears it sounded like Eric Carmen was singing “go-ooo away”, which made everything all the more perplexing as the next line was “just hold me close”, leaving me thinking “hey, make up your mind, already: do you want her to go away or do you want her to stay?”. Silly me! At any rate, I was floored, mesmerized, and pulverized by the sheer power of that song, and at the end of it I turned to my friend Tom and exclaimed “that was great!”, to which he said “what???”, and I replied “what???” in kind, because the noise had practically deafened us (in retrospect, the noise level was probably no louder than your typical IPO show, but to our concert-virgin ears it seemed like the auditorium had exploded!
Unfortunately, it’s at this point of the proceedings that my memory banks begin to fail me and alas, I can’t remember any of the other songs The Raspberries performed, or how many (ironically, one of those songs could have been “I Can Remember”, the magnum opus from the Raspberries’ debut album). I do remember that, prior to The Grass Roots coming on stage, Cousin Brucie gave away a copy of The Raspberries album to a girl in one of the first rows of the auditorium, and invited her onstage to receive it. Someone else (a label rep, perhaps?), asked her to scratch the sticker on the front cover and tell everyone what it smelled like. “It smells like raspberries”, she exclaimed! Marketing genius that went unrecognized by the naïve among us.
Not long afterwards The Grass Roots came on, and although they did a fine job and we enjoyed singing along to their many hits, it was clear to almost everyone in the room who the real star of the show was! We left the auditorium buzzing, and couldn’t stop talking about how The Raspberries blew away The Grass Roots, even as we waited for our school busses to take us home (as an aside, I remember overhearing part of a conversation, where a guy was telling his friend “no man, Cousin Brucie doesn’t like the songs he plays on WABC-he loves The Stones, man!!”). I didn’t know it at the time, but that day was a coming of age for me, and although my desire to attend concerts lie dormant for awhile, those of you who know me certainly realize that once it did manifest, it did so with gusto!