Back in the mid- to late ’80s, before Bob Marley, David Byrne, and I had even met the eventual mayor of Bootleg City, otherwise known as Robert “The Eventual Mayor of Bootleg City” Cass, we went to our fair share of rock shows. Marley had already been dead for a few years, but he still managed to be the life of the party wherever he went, and Byrne was living large, not to mention dressing large, in his big suits, so we never had a problem scoring tickets to the shows we wanted to see.
One particular Christmas, the three of us had tickets to see the Cars on their “memorable” Heartbeat City tour. We rolled up to East Rutherford, New Jersey’s Brendan Byrne Arena, which was only a few years old at that point, excited to see Ric Ocasek, Benjamin Orr, and the rest of the boys. Marley was wearing an Izod sweater, which was ironic for reasons I couldn’t quite understand, though many years later it finally made sense to me.
Here’s the thing about the tour being “memorable”: The Cars came onstage that night in Jersey and dove right into “Hello Again.” Clever, but there was something wrong, and I quickly put my finger on it — they were just standing there like friggin’ statues! For all I knew, they could’ve been battery-operated robots pretending to play over prerecorded songs, but since I liked the Heartbeat City album quite a bit, I wasn’t that upset about the band’s lack of stage presence.
Byrne was a different story, though. A consummate professional when it came to the art of live performance, he was understandably livid about the Cars’ approach. During “It’s Not the Night,” he motioned that we should go to the concession stand. Leaving Marley behind to watch our seats — he didn’t protest — we made our way past the merch stand, where I saw a cool Cars wallet I wanted to purchase.
Byrne wouldn’t hear of it. “We’re not giving one dime to those rock and roll corpses who call themselves entertainers,” he barked, attracting the attention of the security guard nearby. I gave the guard a nervous smile, letting him know that things were okay and we were just discussing our enjoyment of the Cars and their unbelievable live show. But Byrne wouldn’t stop. “Mark my words, ’cause I’m never wrong — you’re going to see these shysters without Ocasek about 20 years from now calling themselves the New Cars, and they will not have that ‘new car’ smell!”
“Byrne, that’s preposterous to even think about,” I said. “Are you also going to predict that Todd Rundgren will be Ocasek’s replacement? Huh, Nostradamus? Are you?”
“Don’t taunt me, Wardlaw — I’ll kick your ass!”
At the concession stand we bought eight bags of peanuts, which I was okay with since I love eating peanuts in the shell, but Byrne was a different story once again.
“Take a bag and give one to Marley. Let’s start throwing peanuts at these jokers!”
Attempts to reason with the head Talking Head regarding the distance of our nosebleed seats from the stage were futile. I found myself hurling peanuts at the concertgoers sitting in section 109, which was as close as we could get to the band.
As you can probably guess, someone got upset, and somehow security managed to track us down — we were thrown out of the Brendan Byrne Arena before the Cars even reached the halfway point of their set. The man responsible for our quick exit? That would be the future mayor of Bootleg City, Robert “The Self-Proclaimed Future Mayor of Bootleg City” Cass. (We were an oddly prescient bunch back in the ’80s, weren’t we?)
I have fond memories of that time, and if you didn’t get to see the Cars on the Heartbeat City tour, then you’ll really enjoy this performance of theirs at the Summit in Houston, Texas, on September 11, 1984.
Those were the days!
It’s Not the Night
Touch and Go
Good Times Roll
Moving in Stereo
Just What I Needed
A Dream Away
You Might Think
My Best Friend’s Girl
You’re All I’ve Got Tonight