Friday, September 5, 2014

Unearthing Old Memories Thanks To The Internet

The Internet, much like automobiles, firearms, organized religion, video cameras, and acid reflux, is one of those things that can be used for either the betterment or the detriment of society as we know it. Because of the Internet, with a little imagination and resourcefulness (and a lot of coffee) thrown in, you can track down just about anything or anyone, and that includes re-establishing links to good times in the past. This is one such success story.

Pictured here: A visual representation of my memory.
If you look close enough, you'll see
the Bitter Turnip Of My High School Memories
I picture my memory as a large pot of soup, boiling furiously on a stove. As the soup bubbles, various ingredients randomly rise to the top, bob along the surface for a few moments, then sink back down into the depths, only to be replaced by another ingredient.

Maybe it's a carrot. Or perhaps an underdone potato, or a glob of mustard. There's more gravy than grave to you...

...whoa, sorry about that. Had an Ebeneezer flashback there.

Now, where was I?

Oh yes. Vegetable soup. No! Wait! Memory!

I can be walking down a hall at work, perhaps mentally planning our household budget for the upcoming week, then suddenly a commercial jingle just comes out of nowhere.

"I can see the sunlight shining, over Narragansett Bay. So raise a glass my friend, and talk to me of home.."

Geez! Where the Hell did that come from. Narragansett Beer? Really?

Anyways, yes, memory. Funny thing, memory. Turns out that lots of my memories relate to music. Which brings me to the whole point of this blog entry. About time I got it, eh?

The debut album.
We all know of someone or something that never became as successful as they deserved. Maybe it was an athlete who got injured early in their career and never was able to fulfill their potential. Or maybe it was an actor who debuted in a real bomb, and was never able to shake that failure.

My poster child for "should have been" was (and still is, now that I think of it) an alternative rock group called Private Lightning. The mid 70's to mid 80's were an awesome time to be a music lover in New England. A lot of fantastic bands came out of the Boston area during that time, such as Aerosmith, the J, Geils Band, the eponymous Boston, the Cars, to name a few. They were heavily played and promoted by WBCN-FM, the Rock of Boston.

The alternative/new wave/indie/post-punk scene was particularly noteworthy, with bands like The Fools, Mission of Burma, the Atlantics, and the Neighborhoods.playing at places like the Rat, the Paradise, TT the Bears, and the Middle East. You could you also see some awesome out of state bands like this obscure little band called R.E.M. (my all-time favorite band ever in the history of Creation), when they toured the region.

But Private Lightning. Wow. They had six members, with the group's sole female playing, of all things, an electric violin. Hey maybe that's not such a big deal these days, but back in 1980? Holy crap! Innovative! Different! Awesome!
Private Lightning, dressed mostly in black,
the Official Color of 80's Alternative Bands (tm)

Anyways, they were extremely talented musicians who had their own distinctive sound and a rabid following (including yours truly). I saw them at the Paradise in 1980 and they truly rocked the place. They signed with A&M records, and released a debut album. Unfortunately, the technical quality of the album left a lot to be desired. A&M didn't support the band much after that, and all too soon, the band went the way of the dinosaur. A serious injustice. They should have enjoyed, at the very least, "The Cars" level of success.

Anyways, several years ago I managed to find many tracks of Private Lightning's album online, and put a bunch of them on my iPod. Their debut single, "Physical Speed", continues to not only be an awesome summer driving song, it's also very effective as part of a soundtrack for running to.

So one day a few months back, the thought suddenly popped into my head, from out of nowhere: "Hey, I wonder if I could find one or more of the band members online and write them a belated fan letter?" And so, I began my research.

There were two band members whose names I never forgot: the brother and sister pair, Paul and Patricia Van Ness. I remembered their names because back when I was at Park Street Church in Boston, the college fellowship had a pair of siblings also named Paul and Patty, and whose last name began with "Von". The coincidence of two Paul and Patty V's was, and continues to be, rather memorable. What can I say? I love patterns.

I started with Patricia, and found that she is still doing music, but most definitely not of the alternative rock kind (more like classical). There was an email link on her page, and I figured, "Why not?", Of course, I wanted to make sure I wasn't coming across as being some sort of creepy Internet stalker (as opposed to the Totally Okay Internet Stalker we hear so much about), so I simply wrote an uncharacteristically short letter, explaining that I was and still am a fan, still listened to the band's stuff, and hey, thanks for the memories.

A few days went by. Nothing.

A few weeks went by. Nothing.

As the one month mark got closer, I shrugged and figured that it was a lost cause. Ah well. Some folks prefer moving on from the past. Fair enough. Maybe I could try another band member or something. But then, Shazam! A few days before that month anniversary, Ms. Van Ness replied with a very gracious answer, and had forwarded my letter to Steve Keith, the band's bass player.

Then Steve emailed me, and sent me a link to his site, which has all of Private Lightning's stuff, and a whole slew of other tracks. And, in order to bring the social media experience full circle, he eventually sent me a connection request on LinkedIn. which naturally I accepted! Wow! I had actually made contact with two members of a band that I've enjoyed for over three decades!!

So, what have we learned here? First, that you can find (or rediscover) just about anything on the Internet. Second, if you're a singer, or a writer, or whatever other kind of artist, your work can and will endure even if you don't get that level of fame and recognition that others get. There will always be people out there whose day you will brighten even if it's just a little, courtesy of what you've created.

Check out Steve's site, particularly the Private Lightning section. Granted, some of the lyrics haven't aged well, but overall, you'll be impressed. "Physical Speed" is still an amazing song. This was a talented band that deserved way more success than they got.

Q: Are we not men?
A: We are The Cars!
As for what's next...hmmm...I wonder if Rick Ocasek is as easily found online?

Soup credits:  koufax73 / 123RF Stock Photo