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Wednesday, August 11, 2004


An impending trip back to Cleveland later this month (August 19-24) to visit family and friends has me replaying events of my youth living in the shadow of the nuclear bomb way back in the mid-eighties. For some reason, I’m being taken back to my time as an alternative rock kid, or as we were called (incorrectly) back then, a “punker”, and how my kind survived in small town Ohio.

Growing up in suburban Elyria, Ohio in 1984-86, the biggest thrill was hopping in my ’73 Maverick of many colors (a green hood here, orange side panel there, blue passenger’s side door there) with a group of high school friends and driving into the Big City – Cleveland – to go record and clothes shopping to all the indie and underground record and clothing shops in Lakewood and Coventry. Elyria had one mall – Midway Mall, a now-mammoth, sprawling home to Sears, JCPenney, and much more. But back in the day, all Midway Mall really had to offer was a Woolworth’s, a few smallish department stores and a Camelot Music location, stuffed with the most mainstream vinyl at the outrageous list price of $8.98. While you could special order, say, Split Enz “WAITA”, you had to wait a few weeks for it to arrive. And when it did, chances are it sat behind the counter for weeks at a time with your contact information taped to it, waiting patiently for a worker to deign to bend over, pick it up and call you to come get it. Not ideal.

So, as our little compact group of punkers’ tastes changed and got more sophisticated, we soon outgrew Elyria’s sole Camelot Music location and hungered for a new source of hip, esoteric vinyl. I mean, there was a copy of Echo & the Bunnymen’s “Crocodiles” out there somewhere and I didn’t want to wait for it any longer. Luckily, I began a part-time job at the local Wendy’s when I turned 16, and that introduced me to some new people outside of my high school experience who in turn would introduce me to life in the Big City. Two of these most influential co-workers were Tony and Brad.

Tony was a bit older than I, say about 22 years old, and he towered over everyone at 6’4”. He was long, lanky and had shaggy, long, fried-out metal head black hair that he had to tie up when in Wendy’s drag. Strangely enough, he was a metal head, with extreme taste for the blackest of black metal, including Venomm (TWO m’s!), Exodus and Slayer.

He also loved Tears for Fears.

Now, keep in mind, this is in 1985, just before Tears for Fears broke through into the mainstream with their “Songs From the Big Chair” album that included the hits “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” and “Shout”. At this point in their career, they were known only for that strange duo from the U.K. who did those funky “Change” and “Mad World” videos on MTV, if anyone knew of them at all. And believe me, it was a big deal if anyone in Elyria knew about Tears for Fears, much less was a fan. Despite his otherwise shitty taste in music, Tony and I bonded instantly over the beauty that was “The Hurting”. Having the same twisted sense of humor didn’t hurt either.

One of the first things you learn working at Wendy’s is the order in which condiments go on a burger. And believe me, there is an order that stands even to this day. When you are assembling a Wendy’s hamburger, the condiments are applied to the bun thusly:
• Mayonnaise
• Ketchup
• Pickles
• Onion
• Tomato
• Lettuce
• And then mustard on the meat itself.
Tony would usually work the grill, while I was stationed next to him assembling the sandwiches. We made up a fun little song to the tune of “Mad World” to help pass the time:
All around me are some Wendy’s patties
Buns and fry vats
Buns and fry vats
Mayonnaise, ketchup, pickles, onion, tomato
Onion, tomato
And them some lettuce

And I find it kind of tasty
I find it kind of swell
The burgers are delicious
But making them all is hell
I find it kind of funny
Cuz I find them hard to “ate” (that mangled English was my favorite part)
If you knew how we touched them
You’d be very, very
Mad, girl
Mad, girl

And so on. Trust, it was hilarious. Anyhoo one day, Tony asks me what I think of “Mother’s Talk”. I had no idea what the fuck he was babbling about.

“’Mother’s Talk’ is the new Tears for Fears single,” he explained. “Shattered Records got it on Monday.”

New Tears for Fears single? What? But, it’s import-only! And what the hell is a Shattered Records?

“Boy, you ARE from Elyria,” he said, shaking his head. “We’re both off tomorrow, so we’re taking a road trip.”

The next school day was one of the longest I could ever remember. I lived for music, so it was sheer torture knowing that one of my favorite groups had a new song out and the precious 7 inches of vinyl was sitting in a rack a mere 30 miles away. The minute the 10th period bell sounded, I was up, at my locker, out the door and down the street before it stopped. I was heading towards Mecca, and Tony the Wendy’s Working Metal Head was my guru.

Tony drove us up Route Two towards Lakewood. I was extremely excited, but I had learned to control my enthusiasm a bit more as I got older in a teenaged attempt to become cooler. We talked music the entire drive. Tony was glad to have someone else in Elyria that knew as much about rock as he did, even if his music buddy was six years younger and a high school sophomore. We turned off the highway at the West 117th St. exit and headed towards a smallish building with a red-painted wood exterior. It looked like one of those tiny neighborhood bars you see with no windows, except for a small one with a Miller neon sign in it. Only this window had a red neon sign that said simply, “Shattered.”

We had arrived.


Fine Folks

"...and by hubris, I mean overweening pride!" - Johnny's Greatest Hits

25 Year Loop
Fucking Woof
David Live
The Night Before
Jobriath Was First
She's in Parties
She's in Parties Pt. 2
Tales From the Dragon Club
Tales From the Dragon Club Pt. 2
Okay, California...You Win
How to Sell Used CDs

Previously on "Johnny Is a Man"...

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