I honestly can’t remember if I’ve ever written about tonight’s subject, or if I’ve just told the story numerous times as of late. Either way, the story I’m about to tell is one of my favorites.
When I was a freshman in high school, I remember having trouble sleeping one night. My brother was away at flight school and no longer living at home, so I’d inherited his water bed, some of his cassette tapes and a pink tropical fish known as a kissing gourami. I named the fish Floyd.
On the night that I was tossing and turning, I decided to turn on Pirate Radio (anyone remember it?) and consume some tasty tunes. I loved that station — and even though they’re off the air, I’ll always remember them fondly.
As an aside, the only thing they ever did to rub me the wrong way was play Vince Neil’s debut single post-Crüe, “You’re Invited (But Your Friend Can’t Come),” over and over and over again one afternoon.
Just when the song ended, they’d all crack up and talk about how great it was, and launch into another round of, “Oh, c’mon – let’s hear it again!”
They got a big kick out of Neil’s album, and while I liked the song the first time they played it, I don’t know that I needed to hear it ten times in a row. It might’ve even been more. I’m pretty sure I’ve not bothered to listen to that song in full since that day.
Anywho, back on track: my sleepless night.
I turned on Pirate Radio and, in the darkness of my room with my quietly sloshing, undulating water bed under me, I heard bizarre yet beautiful music coming from my bedside clock radio.
I wondered what I was hearing. The music was unlike anything I’d heard before. It lulled me into a trance-like state and I ended up falling asleep for the rest of the wee hours until my alarm went off.
The next morning, I called the radio station and asked what they were playing “around 2:15am.” The guy I talked to told me it was a song called “Ghost Beside My Bed” by a band called Altered State.
Altered state, indeed! My brain was still in bed and reliving those glorious sounds. Since I couldn’t drive yet, I talked my mom into driving me around to each Tower Records location in the area until I found their album (a tape, natch). I purchased it, brought it home, and proceeded to play it as often as I could: in my bedroom, in the car on the way to school, on my way home from school…I even wrote to the management at the label since the address was printed on the cassette sleeve.
I gushed about how great the music was, how talented they were as musicians and lyricists and how unique their sound was.
I was 14.
And I got a letter back. Not one, but three, in fact.
I think the first was a reply from the band’s manager. Not knowing how old I really was (but probably able to figure it out based on my trendy bubble letters written in turquoise ink on college-ruled paper), this person invited me (and therefore also my mom/driver/chaperone) to the band’s appearance in Huntington Beach, which I believe was in the bar area of the Red Onion restaurant on PCH.
Sadly, I think the restaurant has since closed. Ah, memories.
I had short hair for most of my younger years. To this day, I can’t stand to grow it out because it bothers me. I think I got dressed up as Annie each Halloween between the ages of 5 and 8 because not only was my hair short, it was also permed.
Thus, when I was 14 and invited to a bar that I didn’t belong in to see a band that didn’t know how old I was, my mom, my short, permed hair and I all showed up.
And they couldn’t have been cooler.
They spent time talking to me and my mom as groupies tried to get their attention. I vaguely remember the night, but I do remember feeling like a fish out of water. And I loved it. I left with t-shirt that they gave me, as well as an invitation to see them play up at the Roxy on Sunset.
I somehow managed to swap letters with the lead singer twice after that night. Nothing creepy, of course, just a guy in a band doing his best to cultivate a fan base (although I’m sure he wished he wasn’t drawing the 14 year-old crowd).
For the Roxy gig, I invited my best friend, Erin. My mom had planned to make an evening out of it and we were all supposed to eat at Hamburger Hamlet just down the street from the club. That didn’t happen (I assume because of traffic), so we chilled at McDonald’s.
I spent hours agonizing over what I’d wear. In the end, I settled on the same t-shirt and pair of plaid shorts that I’m wearing in most pictures from the late 80s and early 90s. I even busted out some radical blue mascara, shimmery pink lipstick and turquoise eyeliner for the occasion, because I was under the impression that would make my gnarly hair a bit more palatable.
And it did. We looked fantastic.
The show was tremendous, if only because the band had reserved a table for us all. Truth be told, I don’t remember much of the music itself — though I imagine it was everything from their album. At the end of the set, I heard the singer singing but there was no singer on stage — just a plush, thick black curtain that hung from the ceiling and pooled at the floor. I’d brought my camera along, but realized after arriving that if I took pictures there, I’d be the only one taking pictures. So not cool. I refrained, but the camera sat front and center on the table.
The final song continued, and I saw the curtain move a little bit. Ah! The singer was coming out.
When he did, my mouth fell open. Erin’s mouth fell open. I think my mom put one hand over my eyes, and one hand over Erin’s.
The man was wearing no clothes. All he had on was body paint, and everything was visible.
I don’t know that I’d ever seen anything like that before in my life. If I had, it was confined to a scene in a movie that I might’ve been exposed (get it?) to on accident, after which I was likely rushed out of the room in a flurry of activity.
But there was no escaping the scene before me. It was all out in the open. Erin covertly tapped the camera as if to say, “Dude, if you’re ever going to take a picture, now’s the time!” My mom spotted our sign language, grabbed the camera and shoved it into her purse.
Aside from the invitation we’d gotten to come up to the Roxy, we’d also gotten an invitation to meet the band backstage.
That never happened, as mom was so mortified that we high-tailed it out of Hollywood faster than you’ve ever seen a forest green ’79 station wagon go in its life.
Ever seen a Ford LTD burn rubber? I think my mom made it happen that night. As my friend Jeff would say, she “drove the t*ts” off that car and sped back to quiet suburbia — as much as one can safely speed with two girls in the car, that is.
I was in tears, because I wanted to see the band. I don’t know what Erin was doing, but my mom probably wasn’t amused at how heartbroken I was.
That was the last time I saw Altered State play. It will be burned into my memory forever — along with other things (parts?). One of the best nights of my life, I tell you.
I don’t know how I got to thinking about that awesome evening, but tonight I am thankful for my amazing mom who has put up with me and my shenanigans over the years. Some have been easier to take than others, but had it not been for her amazing spirit and what I like to think is genuine interest on her part to experience it, as well, I wouldn’t have half of the amazing memories I have today.