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Beauty and the Beat, Go-Go’s

IRS, July, 1981

Track Listing: 1.  Our Lips Are Sealed, 2. How Much More, 3. Tonite, 4. Lust to Love, 5. This Town, 6. We Got the Beat, 7. Fading Fast, 8. Automatic, 9. You Can’t Walk in Your Sleep (If You Can’t Sleep), 10. Skidmarks on My Heart, 11.  Can’t Stop the World

We were trapped. It was a time when stubborn calendar pages toyed with our haste, so opposite from their complacent willingness to submit to the frantic blur that defines today. It is this impatience of youth that forces us to wade through the swampy hours in an amazing race to arrive at checkpoints. It begins with junior high, where the seeds of confidence are first planted and watered before they begin to sprout (burst) through the soil of high school’s whispering halls, budding into a driver’s permit, and then flowering into the full bloom of the license itself, the rose on the vine. Soon, prom night festivities and graduation’s clichéd-castle speeches kick us to the curb where we are off on our own, heading down interstates (or runways) into a university’s exciting embrace. We inch closer and closer to a new and all-important frontier: a liquor store checkout with our ticket to adulthood planted firmly in pocket. No fake ID here. We pull it out of the wallet, all the way out, proudly announcing, at long last, our arrival.

One such checkpoint along the way is your first live concert, so impossible to forget: Go-Go’s at Poplar Creek, early summer, 1984; warm-up band was INXS (who we didn’t even know at the time). Mike’s parents let him take the ’74 black La Baron Imperial Crown Coup out on his own, oh my. This was another first, no bicycles tonight. Although I was still a few months away from grabbing hold of my own brass ring down at the Secretary of State’s DL facility, I certainly wasn’t balking at the chance to ride shotgun without Mom or Dad or big brother at the wheel like they did so many times before when they drive us to a movie theater or mall. Not tonight.

So wouldn’t it figure that on this night of nights—my first ever concert—we’d get lost on our merry way? Such a milestone really didn’t need the added drama of a wrong turn. Does the race ever end? Could it be that our night out on the town as big shots in the Chrysler cruiser—look Ma, no hands!—would be brought to a screeching halt by something as silly as a wrong turn? As if fate was intervening, refusing to let our adolescence off the hook that easy.

Would we even make it at all?

I remember passing Santa’s Village. Perhaps our detour led us to the North Pole. By the way, did you hear? They recently tore that kiddie amusement park down. It is now as gone as Old Chicago. The old rides—The Yo-Yo, Tilt-a-Whirl, The Himalaya, the Galleon Ship Ride, the Frog Hopper, the Balloon Ride, the Giant Slide, and the Dragon Coasters—are all gone now. Poplar Creek too, of course, has long since vanished from the face of the earth. That very stage where we would later snatch our diplomas—the same stage where Belinda and the girls rocked our world (or so we hoped, if we could ever get there)—gone.

But whoa, whoa, whoa, not so fast. Last we left our fearless teenagers-in-transition, they were still desperately lost on the way to the big show. Would they make it on time? Was all the anticipation for naught? Tune in next week for another episode of … no, no, of course, we made it or what kind of memory would this be? We even made it with time to spare (something that seems to happen less frequently in the perpetual rush of the future).

There we were, ready to take our seats in Row 12 (something like that, memories tend to lose clarity) before INXS even took the stage as Act I. We were off to the far left of the stage, sitting directly in front of an imposing assortment of speakers. Who knew?

What? Huh? (It was loud!)

What damage that show must have done to my hearing, ranking up there with the Neil Young and Crazy Horse/Sonic Youth/Social Distortion show at the Rosemont Horizon (now called All State Arena). But a Go-Go’s show? Ear-splitting? Who knew it would be rocked out like that? We were on the front lines of an all-out assault. Yeah, we knew going in that these girls had energy. That was their gig. So the accompanying decibels shouldn’t have come as such a surprise. They had the beat. But the volume was simply shocking. Back then, I knew nothing about earplugs or the potential for hearing loss. Even if I did, it wouldn’t have mattered as we were firmly entrenched in the foolishness of youth.

But this memory isn’t limited to how loud the show was. There was so much more to it than that. The Go-Go’s were fun in the sun. The music had one purpose and one purpose alone: to slap a smile on your face and make you move to the beat. The songs were beach balls that bounced up and down in the bluest of skies, punched to and fro, one fist to the next.

And it didn’t end with the debut album either. Their party was just beginning. One album later, as if to further secure their grip as the girls of sand and smiles, they water-skied in tight formation straight into our living rooms during the infancy of MTV’s video boom, reminding us that vacations were all we ever wanted, a sentiment that still rings true today. How could you not appreciate the vibe of a ride in a convertible, top down?!

As for the concert, there will never be another one like it. Can’t be. Life just doesn’t work that way. There can only be one first. As for the epilogue? The Go-Go’s broke up. And Reunited. And broke up again. The Chrysler is long gone, probably in pieces in some junk yard. And as for us, it takes airplanes for us to see one other now, all grown up in our adult lives.

There have been a zillion other shows. Can’t possibly remember them all, at least not with the ease that paints the details of this one. It was my first. It will always be my first. And that’s the beauty of this beat. A memory, fond as it is secure.