Matt’s parents took us to see Huey Lewis and the News in the summer of ’84. The concert was held at Blossom Music Center, a wonderful outdoor venue located outside of Cleveland. Although it has pavilion seating for those who want to spend some extra money to sit close to performers, the real treat of Blossom is the vast lawn area where concert goers can lounge on the grass and picnic under the stars while their favorite artists (hopefully) put on a good show. In 1984, Huey Lewis and the News were riding high on the phenomenon of their album, Sports. As Lewis had name checked Cleveland in their smash hit, “The Heart of Rock ‘n Roll,” the concert was sold out.
In preparation for the show, I had recently received two of the band’s LP’s in the mail, a portion of my first shipment from the Columbia Record Club. Having finally convinced my mom and dad to let me join the mail order music service, Sports and Picture This (the band’s previous album from 1982) had arrived just a month previous, allowing me ample time to become familiar with most of their songs. Matt had owned Sports since its release in the fall of ’83; he had been well versed in every song from the album long before “I Want a New Drug” or “If This Is It” became staples on the radio and MTV. Since the two of us were as close as brothers, often competing against one another, I naturally gravitated toward Picture This. This is how it worked between us: we’d latch on to the same artists, but each would favor different albums in that artist’s catalog. This would lead to long debates about what was better. In this case, I thought Picture This was the superior album. I still do. Unfortunately, Matt isn’t alive anymore to dispute me.
One of the reasons I appreciated the Picture This more is that it contained the songs that first introduced me to Huey Lewis and the News. The pop classic, “Do You Believe Love,” the first-rate “Hope You Love Me Like You Say You Do,” and the fast driving “Workin’ for a Livin,’” an ode to the woes of the working stiff eking out an existence that features some killer harmonica playing by Huey. Before buying the album, I had recorded this song off of the radio. Matt and I would listen to it in my basement, imitating the side to side rocking action that Huey, lead guitarist Chris Hayes and rhythm guitarist Johnny Colla did in the music video. This stage antic has now become a cliché, but when we were 13 and 14 it was pretty cool.
The night of the concert was filled with excitement. Upon arriving at Blossom we were directed to park near the front entrance in handicapped parking; Matt’s dad had Multiple sclerosis. I thought it was so cool that we were able to avoid the hassle of the crowd. However, after watching how difficult it was for Matt’s dad to walk out in the open, without anything to lean on besides his cane and the strained shoulder of his wife, parking close didn’t seem so cool anymore and the hassle of a crowd was minimal compared to be afflicted with a debilitating disease.
Once through the ticket gate, we rushed to buy concert T-shirts, a souvenir from our last big experience before Matt and I entered high school. We had been through so much in elementary school and junior high; I couldn’t imagine what great times we’d have once we became real teenagers. Matt went with something modest, a white T-shirt with Huey Lewis in his signature pose of lowering his Ray Bans. I chose a purple shirt with the band’s triangular logo silk screened in silver. It was kind of flamboyant, but I really liked that logo. Wearing the shirt, despite its obnoxious color, made me feel like a true fan, not some Johnny come lately who only knew the hit songs. Sad but true, but I was a music snob even at age 14.
A stand up comic, Dr. Gonzo, opened the show, giving the night the feel that this concert was just another bar gig for the band. Indeed, despite the fame and fortune Huey Lewis and the News amassed, their sense of humor and blue collar work ethic always made them appear to be more of a bar band than arena rockers. The comedian’s light humor warmed up the crowd and by the time the heartbeats of “The Heart of Rock ‘n Roll” signified that the band was about to take the stage, the audience was primed for a night of solid entertainment.
We rushed down to the cement area just outside of the pavilion in hopes of getting a better view, but also to have room to jump around to the music. The News played through their string of hits, including “Bad is Bad” and “Walking on a Thin Line,” while also interspersing fan favorites like “Some of My Lies Are True,” “Change of Heart” and “Buzz, Buzz, Buzz.” A highlight for me was their a cappella cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “It’s Alright.” By the close of the show, Matt and I were rag tired and drenched with sweat from the humid late summer heat of Northeast Ohio.
However, the concert wasn’t complete until one last number was performed. Huey and the boys came out and blazed through an extended rendition of “Workin’ for a Livin.’” Of course, my best friend and I immediately began mimicking the guys on stage, indifferent to whatever stares or chuckles we may have drawn from the adults standing nearby. We didn’t care; we were young and having the time of our lives. Once the final cymbal crash faded away and the band members waved for one last time, the lights came up and it was time to leave. We returned to Matt’s family, made our way back to the car and began the long drive home.
A few weeks later, high school began. Matt and I began forming new friendships and started dating girls. With these new relationships, he and I drifted in and out of each others lives for nearly three years. Still, the deep bond of childhood was too strong for us to ever really grow apart. Although there was so much going on in our lives, whenever we did hang out, we picked up as if not a day had passed. It truly was a brotherhood. Midway through high school, we had left our love for Huey Lewis and the News behind, searching for more adventurous, alternative sounds to engage us.
I must admit, though, that there were many times, as we navigated the treacherous waters of high school and early adulthood, that I’d look back at the innocence of the summer of ‘84 and the pure joy the music of Huey Lewis and the News brought to us, wishing that things were that uncomplicated again.
Sometimes I still do.