Long before I ever knew all the names of the E Street Band, I was a fan of Cheap Trick. If you've been keeping track, and I have, there have been eight previous mentions of this band from Rockford, Illinois here in this blog. There's been a lot of talk, also here in this blog, about the staying power and continued cultural significance of Bruce Springsteen and his band. Those total more than eight. But it should be pointed out, or rubbed in the face of yours truly, that The Boss has been rocking since 1972, and while his world tour never seems to end, the same can be said for Cheap Trick. In Japan, they're still playing stadiums. Okay, to be fair they are the opening act, but they're still in the game more than forty years later.
Rick, Robin Bun E. and Tom are every bit as important to their hometown as Bruce is to the Jersey shore. On June 19, 2007, the Illinois Senate passed Senate Resolution 255, which designated April 1 of every year as Cheap Trick Day in the State of Illinois. Yes, I know that it's April Fool's Day, and I'm sure the band does as well. Which is precisely what drew me to the group in the first place. Acting on a tip from an upperclassman with whom I was in marching band, I went down to K-Mart to flip through the record section. That's where I found "Heaven Tonight," their third release featuring the single "Surrender." But before I even peeled back the shrinkwrap, I stared at the cover: On the front were the two seventies rock gods, Robin and Tom with their sleepy eyes and shoulder length hair. On the back, well let's just say that no one would immediately peg Rick Nielsen and Bun E. Carlos as part of one of the hardest rocking bands to ever dance that fine line between pop and rock. Before I ever heard a note, I was hooked.
And so it went, as I waited anxiously for news about the latest releases, and more importantly, tour information. I paid to see the Trick more times than I can count in those heady days of the late seventies and early eighties. I always came away impressed and hungry for more. Cheap Trick delivered, for my late teen ears, the musical equivalent of the Fast and Furious franchise for my son. Somewhere inside, I knew that these were not the preeminent musicians that I insisted to my friends they were. I studied music. I knew. But I never let on, mostly because of those photos. A band that could look like that and still rock that hard couldn't simply be dismissed.
It is worth noting that the first rock and roll show that my wife ever attended was the Cheap Trick show I took her to back in 1981. We were just friends at the time, which is probably why she felt so free to tell me of her lustful thoughts about Robin Zander. I understood that. She's a girl and all. I was, in the meantime, captivated by the guitar theatrics of Rick Nielsen. I was also curious how Bun E. managed to keep that cigarette dangling precariously from his lower lip as he bashed his two-tom set evermore furiously.
Bun E. no longer tours with the band. He's been replaced by Rick's son. They don't play arenas here in the States. They're a pretty big draw on the nostalgia circuit, however. These days I find myself thinking back to those daylong summer festivals that kept me sitting for hours in the sun, waiting for the moment when the rest of the bands had finished their sets and the black and white checkerboard mat was rolled out. That's where Cheap Trick did their best work. That's how I remember them. I can hear them now, and if I close my eyes, they still look goofy.