Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Only Thing My Dad & I Ever Agreed On: Rick Nielsen And Cheap Trick!

As Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen turns 72 today, I am once again given opportunity to praise Mr. Nielsen for his contributions to popular music, yes, but also to world peace. You see, growing up in the Robbins household, I found myself at constant loggerheads with my dad.

In many ways we were much the same (we both played drums and dug garage rock), but on the few key issues where it really mattered to my pops (pitching in with chores, getting decent grades, arriving home before curfew), I just could not make it happen for him and that was a great source of strain in our relationship.

In hindsight, I could and should have paid more attention to such things, but, then again, that would have just made me him and not me...as I would later go on to become the guy who released an album called Rules Get Broken.

I could never get it through his thick head that I wasn't showing disrespect for his authority, I was shirking ALL authority. Trust me, as curfew time approached, I asked myself "Do I stay here on this boat in the middle of this lake with my girlfriend and get in big trouble ORRRRRRRRRRR do I go home now and avoid all confrontation?" and, wouldn't you know it, willingly locking myself in a box always lost.

Thankfully, through those combatant times, there was one thing that brought peace between warring factions: The music of Cheap Trick, but, more importantly, the musical and visual aesthetic of one Rick Nielsen.  

You see, my dad's workshop was right outside my bedroom in the family basement, so, if the man wanted to work on his black powder pistols, he was going to have to listen to my music. I knew this, of course, but, unbeknownst to him, I would make a point to try to play something that fell somewhere close to his rock & roll comfort zone.

The only way I could tell what bands of my era dad liked was if he wandered over, knocked on my door, and asked, "Who is that?"

With Cheap Trick, though, it was something different. He actually let my younger brother and I play their music IN THE CAR, ON HIS STEREO SYSTEM, which was normally reserved for driving we kids absolutely crazy in the back seat with all of that old school blues (John Lee Hooker), new school blues (Canned Heat), Janis Joplin and Joe Cocker.

I happen to love all of those artists NOW, but, as a kid, it was literally MY JOB to hate everything from my parents' era and there was no one more repulsive to my mid-80's sense of cool than sweaty Joe Cocker...and that was before I had ever seen the man perform.

Yet, somehow, here we were slowly rocking down the back roads of Michiana in our wood panel station wagon on the way to one of two shopping malls LISTENING TO CHEAP TRICK.



Not only that, you see, my dad had actually requested that we bring the 8-track tape upon which my brother and I had recorded a radio broadcast of a Cheap Trick show from Providence, Rhode Island in 1980 and, believe it or not, that tape never left the car.

In fact, "somebody" accidently forgot to remove it from the tape player when we sold the "Wood Panel Monstrosity" later on, at which point my dad and I both got in the NEW family monstrosity and hauled ass to the buyer's house to retrieve it.

At one point we got pulled over by a state trooper for doing 125 mph the wrong way down a one way street - in a school zone, no less - but, when we calmly explained the situation to the officer, he gave us a warning AND a police escort.

Small towns, huh?

When my brother and I, along with an entire car-full of our friends, wanted to go see Cheap Trick on their 1982 One On One tour, who gladly chaperoned us?

And when the tour came back through the area six months later, who came with us to the show?

In fact, over the years, my dad was responsible for making sure we got to see Cheap Trick anytime the band came within three hours of our address and, for that, I will remain forever thankful.

When my dad began struggling with serious health issues right around the same age that I am now (mid-fifties), there were many times during my days in L.A. that I would come home to a tearful phone message from dear ol' mom informing me that dad had been hospitalized once again and that "it didn't look good".

On one such occasion, shortly before his passing, I called home to discover that dad was neither at home nor in the hospital. Instead, he'd checked himself out of INTENSIVE CARE and gone to see Cheap Trick.

That's right, the man literally got up and out of his death bed, snuck past the nurses, and went to see Rick Nielsen and the boys bring the noise at a local club when most of us would have been flat on our backs and pressing that button for more pain meds.

In Cheap Trick and, more importantly, in Rick Nielsen, my dad found a kindred spirit with the same love for the Stones, the Blues and the damn Bowery Boys, which he just wasn't going to find anywhere else in my record collection, to be honest.

With my dad gone almost twenty years now, those memories of losing my shit at a Trick show only to turn and see him standing a few seats down with a shit-eating grin on his face are some of the best memories of him that I have and for that I will always have Rick Nielsen and Cheap Trick to thank.

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