It’s the fall of 1987.
There’s a new kid on the school bus. An Army brat, if I remember, or maybe the son of a frequently-transferred corporate executive. He was at our Catholic high school for such a small amount of time that I barely remember his name.
Yet, wearing a leather bomber jacket and aviators that morning on our trip down I-95, he was instantly the coolest person in my immediate social circle.
His parents took him to SHOWS.
I was about to turn 15, I lived three miles away from the Tower Theater, and I had never been. He had just moved to town a few weeks earlier, and he had already seen three gigs there.
He told us he’d just seen a great band, who played two sold-out nights at the Tower: Squeeze.
Hourglass was riding up the charts that fall, and it would turn out to be Squeeze’s highest-charting single in the States. Right after their Tower gig, they played Madison Square Garden. My then-future colleague, David Dye, gave away their concert tickets on Q102 by challenging listeners to sing the entire tongue-twisting chorus on live radio without messing up.
My household wasn’t very musical, despite my father’s commitment to playing the French Horn in a drum and bugle corps. They got me a pretty decent stereo system for Christmas, but my collection was still sparse until I started using money saved from my summertime flea market stall to buy 45s at Wee Three Records.
“Hourglass” on vinyl and “Babylon and On” on cassette led me down a rabbit hole of fandom that wouldn’t even diminish in 1991 when I met the very exhausted, very burned out band at a hastily-assembled industry meet-and-greet before their show at Cornell’s Bailey Hall. Our college radio station’s Reprise Records representative gifted me the only piece of record company swag that’s stayed with me through every move from college through adulthood:
There is no reason this flower pot should be intact after nearly three decades in my care. I am not a careful mover. At any rate, I wouldn’t get to see anyone from that lineup perform live again for another 24 years.
I didn’t even know it back in 1987, but Squeeze had already broken up and reformed a bunch of times.
As documented in Difford’s autobiography and in Tilbrook’s documentary, the pair wrestled with various combinations of addiction, anxiety, and depression during their career. That spilled over into relationships with the rest of their bandmates, their labels, their spouses, and just about anyone else in earshot. It’s a perfect bit of British understatement to suggest that Difford dramatically blowing up the band right before a 1999 tour was just one of “a few wobbles.”
Fifteen years of solo projects and space later, the two teamed up to write some new songs for a sitcom project.
The pair toured America as an acoustic duo, stopping in Collingswood in 2015 for their “At-Odds Couple Tour.” (It’s no coincidence that Lori and I chose Collingswood as our new home two years later. The Scottish Rite Auditorium in our little town’s “Theatre District” attracts some strong acts who prefer working with independent venues, and that added one more big item to the “pro” column.)
I figured it’d be a one-off, but I was wrong. They assembled a great lineup and toured America as Squeeze again in 2017. On the back of that tour, they returned to a set of even larger venues in 2019. A few weeks back, Lori and I caught their tour stop at the Parx Casino in Bensalem.
(I’ve got another blog post in the back of my head about what the burgeoning casino industry has done to help independent musicians—but at the risk of putting a lot of vulnerable artists and audience members in proximity of a whole bunch of triggers.)
At a technical level, a more astute music critic might write the performance off as a victory lap for a heritage New Wave act with a cult-like fan base in the States.
I found their performance revelatory.
2019 turned out to be one of the most difficult personal and professional years of my life. In fact, after shouting that I’d be getting louder at the beginning of the year, it’s taken me more than nine months to get another post up on my personal blog. And it will take me even longer to write about the events of those past nine months in a way that you might find constructive.
For now, let’s just say that I absolutely needed to see and hear the evidence that things can turn out okay after nearly everything falls apart.
The through-line of Squeeze’s catalog—the misadventures of socially-awkward, well-intentioned, sometimes-addicted-and-inconsiderate dudes who somehow still find love—speaks to me now in a way that I couldn’t possibly comprehend back on that school bus. And the experience of that night has already informed the planning for the work that comes next.
P.S.: I’m taking a week away from work and screens, in general. There will be lighthouses involved, so I might still be on Insta a little. When I come back, I’m announcing the Exciting Thing I’m working on for the rest of 2019.
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