Sunday, 27 December 2015 21:35

The Who at The Checkerdome in 1980

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The gift came from Contemporary Productions and it was like drawing 4 aces in a game of poker, only to follow that hand with a royal flush.  The Who were coming to The Checkerdome and 100,000 people and I wanted a ticket to the show.

Through the 1970s and '80s, our only strategy to get decent seats was the choice of which outlet throughout the St. Louis region we were gonna pick to camp out. From dusk to dawn at the record shop or box office, we held onto a small patch of cold concrete until the newcomers arrived in the morning. As time got closer, the friendly atmosphere with the sleep-deprived gave way to pushing and shoving from the newly energized arrivals. Newcomers jostled for position by shoving the overnight campers against the entrance. Around 1981 the idea of a line ticket came into fashion with the retailers - and with it — the mob mentality went away.

Before computerized tickets, for some concerts there was another way to get those multicolored and glittered pieces of paper. All you had to do was to put a check or money order in an envelope, slap a stamp on it, and sent it off to a P.O. Box number. A week later, you and those thousands of people who placed their order took a deep interest in the stack of mail that landed in the mailbox at home. Back in the analog age, they called this method a mail order.

When The Who tickets went on sale, my final days at Cape Girardeau were approaching. I still occasionally hung out with Betty at SEMO. One of those times she invited me to her house in a suburb of St. Louis. She wanted to introduce me to friend who used to sneak a movie camera into rock concerts. As I entered the house, there in the middle of the living room was his projector. I do not recall ever seeing a movie camera at a concert and didn't know what to expect from a silent movie of a rock concert. For the occasion she opened a bottle of homemade sunflower wine and as we sipped the wine, the room filled with the sounds of Fleetwood Mac from the stereo. The lights went off, and as the projector whirred, closeups of Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham and the rest of the band imprinted into my consciousness. After that movie was over, he put on another reel, switched the record to Genesis. On the screen we watched footage of their concert in St. Louis. Up until that point, I had photographed a number of concerts, but this guy took recording the events to the next level.

Around that time it was when I first heard the commercial on KSHE in the basement of my parent's house. The announcement for The Who at The Checkerdome didn't have the low-toned voice on steroids that became a hallmark for rock ads in the 1980s.  This voice had distinct British accent that informed the listener in a matter-of-fact way.  The sound of the commercial managed to fuel my desire even more to see the band. I called Betty and we hatched a plan to get seats. There was no waiting in line. Tickets were mail order so we both agreed that the best place to drop our envelopes was in a mailbox off of Market Street in front of the main post office in St. Louis. Within a few days I drove across Poplar Street Bridge and found a mailbox right in front of the mammoth post office. Although Betty and I mailed the envelopes in the same mailbox, they were deposited at different times on the same day. We each ordered four tickets. The deal was if one of us got tickets, it would guarantee we both would attend. If we both received tickets and whoever got better seats, we would both sit in those seats.

It was several weeks before she contacted me. She was excited. "JOHN, I GOT TWELTH ROW!" After the split second the news registered in my brain, a jolt of adrenaline hit me like a match on gunpowder. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't even imagine sitting so close to the band. I reminded her "If I get better seats, we will use my tickets and sell yours." The place held 20,000 people, so what were the odds of getting better seats than 12th row? The next day an envelope arrived in my mailbox. I tore it open and looked at my tickets. I also had 12th row, seats 1-4 in section C. I called her and asked what seats she had in the 12th row. She told me 5-8. I was in shock. I was walking on cloud 9 and cloud 10.

On the day of the show, I took my Minolta with a 50mm lens. With the show being in May, I was able to put on a flannel shirt over a t-shirt. I hung the body of the camera from my shoulder and concealed it under my arm, while the lens was stuffed down my pants. Usually I tried to make sure I had the camera body on the opposite side of security. I figured they would be less likely to reach over with the pat-down. Fortunately it worked on that day. Betty's friend with the movie camera also sat with us, but he wasn't so lucky. Security discovered his camera and made him take it back to his car. For him the night was over. He sulked through the show.

Being on the main floor that night was totally different from my previous experience. The crowd and security at Van Halen and Rush in the 1978 and ’79 were more amped up with a constant mass of bodies shoving back and forth. At The Who, security was actually friendly. I dashed down the aisle to the 5th row and snapped a quick photo before retreating back to my seat. Later my friend motioned to security to allow me to do it again. The big guy in the red shirt escorted me to the 3rd row and waited for a few seconds as I snapped another picture. The second photo was the best pic of the night.

The band blazed through portions of 15 years of their catalog before launching into "Won't Get Fooled Again." The recorded sound of the synthesizer sent the crowd rushing to the front of the stage and for the remainder of the night I was a few feet from Entwistle and Daltrey. At the wall I snapped the last of my pictures. In the viewfinder was Daltrey seemingly above me with his scream at the climax of the anthem. Entwistle, dressed in a brown suit, stayed motionless with the exception of his nimble fingers. Townshend gave one of the many leaps for the night. Haze from flashbombs enveloped the stage and interfered with the clarity of the last of my film. "Heatwave" and "Long Live Rock" closed the show. The last photo I took was Townshend and Daltrey side by side during "Long Live Rock." After the show I annoyed my friends with the tale of my good fortune. "THEY WERE RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM!!" I yelled into ringing ears with the remainder of my voice.

One more concert and SEMO was history. On my last day I bought a scalped ticket for Triumph at the Kiel Opera House. A show that had more flashbombs than Fay Wray screamed in the original King Kong. That fall, I transferred to SIU Edwardsville. I lost track and never heard from Betty again. The only thing I remember about her was her wanting to be a forest ranger. Our only attraction to each other was our taste in music.