In the world of Canadian major-league rock and roll, if Rush are the Toronto Blue Jays and April Wine are the single ‘A’ Vancouver Canadians, Triumph would be the triple ‘A’ Ottawa Lynx: Three decent musicians good enough to make it to the bigs who never put up good enough numbers to stay in the show. The musical equivalent of Crash Davis. They did have one really good season, though: the release of Allied Forces in 1981. Who couldn’t relate to the story of the girl who pulls the covers over her head in hopes that the DJ’s going to play her favorite song in “Magic Power”? I was that kid.
Yet, in ‘81, I was caught up in the Journey Escape PR. The only person I knew who owned Allied Forces was a kid named Pat Lopriore, one of the coolest, nicest kids in the school. Unfortunately, an after-school fist fight we had (which ended with me getting pantsed by some taunting kids and a humiliating, tear-filled walk home) severed any close bond the two of us might have had. Moreover, back then you lived with an album until you knew every nuance of your favorite songs. It would be a couple years before I convinced my folks to let me join the Columbia House Record Club and I began to understand that music could be a disposable commodity (because, really, who actually gets Sammy Hagar Live 1980 unless it comes free with seven other albums?). I played Escape until the record needle began to gag each time it came close to the vinyl. After that, I dove right into The Kinks’ State of Confusion. It wasn’t until the seventh grade that I began to appreciate Triumph’s formulaic mainstream rock and roll. It wasn’t “Magic Power” that I played over and over, though. It’s the song that opens side two of Allied Forces, “Fight the Good Fight,” that still affects me and makes me feel 13 again.
You’ll be shocked to learn that in seventh grade, I was an awkward, geeky kid. Taller than most of my classmates, with big Conan O’Brien hair and Coke-bottle glasses that covered the top half of my face, I was a lanky guy who wore hand-me-downs and was intimidated by girls. I acted like a smart-ass to cover up my lack of self-confidence and I used my (limited) skills as a drummer to win over people and feel good about myself. It was a funky time. Hormones raging, voice changing, hair sprouting in new, strange places. As the girls strutted around school wearing skin-tight jeans and polo shirts with the collars flipped up, who could think about anything but the opposite sex? Already, there were the guys bragging about how far they’d gotten with their girlfriends on the school playgrounds or in the city parks after school. It seemed that everyone was playing spin the bottle and knew what a girl’s lips tasted like…except me. Fortunately, I had the basement and my brother’s drumset to work out my feelings of inadequacy.
It’s strange that the feelings I came away with from that period are those of loneliness and rejection. I had good friends. In fact, there were a couple of guys I hung out with for almost that entire year. Thom and Bob grew up together. I met them when I was bussed to a new school that year, and the three of us clicked. Whenever I could, I’d hop on my crappy bike and ride over to their neck of the woods. We would hang out in Thom’s basement playing Intellivision and “Top Secret”; play football in the street, which led to a bevy of skinned knees, conked heads and broken glasses. I still have some nasty scar tissue above my left eye from a collision with a stop sign. And Bob’s house had all of the coolest gadgets: A projection TV. Cable! A VCR! ColecoVision! Also, Bob had an older sister in high school and she was hot.
She was a hard rocking, high school blonde who listened to all of the cool bands like Def Leppard, Billy Squier… and Triumph. She was always cool to us, though I think it was more tolerating than being friendly. Now I’m not saying that this older sister was the reason I asked to tape Allied Forces. But I do know that I took her Allied Forces LP home with me soon after a sleepover when she was walking around the house in a long TV shirt and I caught my first glimpse of a girl’s nether regions covered only by white underpants.
After I laid Allied Forces to tape on some old TDK lying around the basement, I gave it a listen. My first impression was, “Holy crap! This is LOUD!” That aggressiveness brought out something I hadn’t experienced before. Not necessarily anger, but a clenched passion. It was the kind of energy I wanted to use when playing the drums. I wanted to be as loud and powerful, but still musical, as Triumph’s drummer, Gil Moore. While I did listen attentively to side one, it was the choral opening of “Fight the Good Fight” and the acoustic guitar that really stopped me in my tracks. I would say that “Fight the Good Fight” is as good as any rock anthem out there. The rest of Triumph’s catalog may not hold up, but this one song, from the musicianship to the lyrics to the slick production, is their shining moment. And I was determined to learn it on the drums.
I grew up in the shadow of my older brother, Budd. He was an exceptional drummer. Never missed a beat. His five-piece black Rogers drumset sat in the basement, and I loved to climb behind it and play whenever I could. I had learned the relatively easy Journey songs (except that damn “Don’t Stop Believing”) and picked up most of the garage band songs Budd played. But he wasn’t into Triumph, at least, not around me. Learning this song would be a real achievement, one that I could call my own.
The sense of pride I had while learning “Fight the Good Fight” built what little confidence I had. Behind that drum kit, I could do things none of my friends could. I could feel special. It didn’t come easy, though. The section between verses, when drummer Gil Moore is playing sixteenth notes on the cymbal against steady beats on the tom toms, must have taken me a week to learn. I had to jump up and rewind the tape to that section, then run back to the drums just in time to attempt the section again. This would go on four or five times in a row until I grew tired or someone (most likely my dad) pounded on the kitchen floor as if to say “play something else, for Christ’s’ sake!”
The song was one of the first to point out to me that rock music followed the same rules of the classical and marching band music upon which I was raised. Moore and bassist Mike Levine never overpower lead singer/guitarist Rik Emmett; they permit his inspiring lyrics to come to the fore, gradually building in power and emotion. The greatest moment in the song occurs in that brief section leading into the guitar solo. The drums feel like a mountain shaking and the guitar strums a massive power chord. It isn’t hard envisioning thousands of fists raised in unison. Finally, Emmett rips into a magnificent solo. The emotion of the lyrics seeps into the intensity of his playing and the tune grows bigger and bigger until that final verse.
Damn. It still gives me chills now.
Still, the song would be nothing without the lyrics. While most of Triumph’s songs seemed to cover the same ground, on “Fight the Good Fight” they hit it out of the park. I can’t think of many songs this hard-rocking that do their damndest to inspire and lift their listener. For seventh-grader, unsure of himself, walking around with the notion that he wanted to be a writer (a career, mind you, that most people told me to consider a fallback), hearing someone tell me to follow my heart, to never surrender, to fight the good fight — it gave me hope. And hope is a rare treasure. You grab it whenever and wherever you can and lock it in your heart.
The summer following seventh grade, Thom, Bob ad I drifted apart. Nothing bitter occurred, we just started down different paths. We’d say “hello” in the halls or slap high fives at parties, but the friendship was never as it was back in ’82 and ’83. Some friendships are like that — fleeting, small town excursions on the freeway of life. As I continued my journey to adulthood, Steve and I began to forge a brotherhood that endures to this day, and Matt and I returned to that comfortable place we’d always be able to get back to after long periods of not seeing each other. Sometimes I miss the innocence of that era, that age of discovery. I am lucky, because I’ll get to watch my own children go through something similar in the years to come. I will do my best to be attentive and supportive when they appear bewildered and struggling. And if I’m looking for some inspiration as to what to say to them, I need only recite these lyrics: Nothing is easy, nothing good is free/But I can tell you where to start/Take a look inside your heart/There’s an answer in your heart. Better yet, I’ll just pull out the song and let them experience some of Triumph’s magic power for themselves.