Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares stories of memorable
rock 'n' roll encounters that took place in our local environs. This
week, Lee witnesses the nearly next big thing and has a fling!
Alex Chilton and Andy Hummel of Big Star, the great Teddy Pendergrass, the sweet Kate McGarrigle, the
powerful Ronnie James Dio, the mischievous Malcolm McLaren, and the
unassuming Pete Quaife of the Kinks are some of the more notable losses
the music world has suffered so far this year. Yet when Knack frontman Doug Fieger succumbed to
cancer back in February, it attracted but a few headlines. That's
understandable, because Fieger made his mark well over 30 years ago, and after initially capturing the
charts with their hits "My Sharona" (later parodied by Weird Al Yankovic
as "My Bologna"), "Good Girls Don't," and other infectious offerings
from that prime power-pop era, he and the band rapidly faded from the
scene. Despite an attempt at a comeback in his later years, Fieger's fame
essentially ended in the early '80s.
I worked for Capitol Records during the Knack's short but explosive emergence, and it was exciting for a record label that had ushered in the Beatles a mere 15 years before. Indeed, Capitol harbored hopes that Fieger and company might repeat the phenomenon. True, the belief in a second coming was not uncommon; all sorts of artists exploited that desire. But with the Knack, hope and hype crossed paths and nearly came to fruition.
They had the look, the vibe, and, to a certain extent, the sound that could deliver on that promise. During a Capitol convention in L.A., the band was performing at a Sunset Strip nightspot. Taking the stage dressed in stark black and white, they replicated grainy images of the Fab Four, all attitude and exhilaration, and each with a distinctive persona. Fieger was the most prominent, striking his stance as John Lennon reincarnate with a combination of cool, confidence, and swagger. It was obvious he was both infatuated with and indebted to Lennon, and he admitted as much backstage after the gig. He pointed to his Beatle boots but also expressed a desire to match the euphoric excitement the quartet had created a decade before. Fieger also bore a distinct physical similarity to the late Beatle, particularly in the clean-cut rocker guise Lennon bore prior to his scruffier later years.
Capitol was also touting Duran Duran as rock 'n' roll saviors at that time. Sure, many people dismiss the pretty boys as all glitz and glam and lacking in substance, but the first two albums -- including hits "Girls on Film" and "Hungry Like the Wolf" -- were smartly tailored and hook-heavy. What clinched it for me were the two Florida shows I witnessed, in Lakeland and Hollywood, especially the grand entrance they made as the curtain rose and they emerged from the rear of the stage. Naturally, the little girls went gaga, but even I, a straight middle-aged guy, was duly impressed by their musical magnetism. Happily, they were nice chaps as well, though as seemed to be the rule among the young English outfits, somewhat shy. Still, they were only too happy to oblige our requests for backstage photos, and that particular "me with" photo still graces the wall of my music room.
There's a quick footnote to my Knack episode that resides in the fact that I can claim a personal connection. When I was in L.A. for that Capitol convention, I had a fling with my boss' assistant. (He later told me he didn't appreciate her straddling my leg during one of the promo meetings.) Being that I was married at the time and she was hoping to take our connection to a higher level, I had to tell her that sadly our relationship couldn't come east. I later heard that she had hooked up with the Knack's lead guitarist, Berton Averre, and eventually had a baby by him. The fact that a girl whom I broke up with went with a rock star as her second choice was a bit of an ego boost. For once, it seemed, a rock star was taking his lead from me!