Wednesday, June 18, 2008

REFLECTIONS: Stevie Wonder and the Record Joint in Forest Hills

Hi everyone! Sorry for my delay in posting. Between work and life, it's been a busy set of days. Even now as we speak I'm getting ready for a late night tonight at the office. I guess you can say life's got me in high demand. Groovy.

A few days ago I went to see Stevie Wonder at the Jones Beach Theatre. The show was very good. I always had heard the amount of energy Wonder puts into his shows, and how he gives back a lot to his audience, so I was intrigued to see him. That, and to close a chapter on something that began way back when I was 11 years old.

Growing up in Forest Hills, I will always remember the album "Songs In The Key of Life". I had just moved to Forest Hills in the Summer of '76. I remember the realtor near Portofino on Queens Blvd. taking us to show us an apartment on 72-11 110th Street, next to the Kennedy Building. My mother fell in love with the apartment, and while I had made some friends out in Medford, I too, was pretty stoked about coming back to Queens. The school, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, was directly across the street from me, and Austin Street behind it.

Although always nice, Austin Street was not the chaos that it is today. Oh sure, it had all its little shops back then like Gristede's, The Happy Cooker, King George's Diner, and the Lemon Tree Club (which residents protested against). Overall, Austin Street looked more like an extension of Forest Hills Gardens.

It was a busy week for me, I still can recall. We moved into our Forest Hills apartment on July 1, 1976. A few days later, and on July 4th, we went to my stepfather's (George Seims) parents home, in Freeport. I always loved their house. It was a hi-ranch, and the downstairs family room had sliding doors that led to their backyard. The backyard faced the canal, where they had a little boat tied to their own mooring. I remember a lot of wonderful moments with my stepfather on that boat too. Well, we actually went there that day to celebrate the Bicentennial, and I still remember watching the TV of the tall ships that were parading around NY harbor that day. The TV was in the family room, and between that, and the mamoth train set & tracks that George's brother, Robert had amassed, I definitely had a lot of fun.

I also remembered listening to a song for the first time on WPLJ 95.5. Back then, 95.5 was a rock station and Carol Miller was IMHO, their best DJ. The song that I heard was none other than "Sir Duke" by Steveland Wonder. I knew I had wanted that song the moment I heard it on the radio. Then they mentioned that the album would not be out for a few months. Ugh! Not that it mattered though. I had no record player or even a cassette or 8-track player! Imagine that!

That changed quickly however, when I got an integrated ADC turntable stereo for my birthday. My grandmother had brought for me both the Beatles red and blue albums (1962-66, and 1967-70). I still fondly remember the FM tuner lights displaying all the frequencies. It was purple.

I started th 6th grade at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs. And not long after, found another quaint store on Austin street. It was a record store called the Record Joint. It was right around the corner from the Irish Cottage (still there and still one of the best pubs anywhere in New York), about a block away from my school. I think it was around the end of September, when the album was released. With 8 dollars in bills and change (from my allowance), I immediately marched there in search of Song In The Key of Life. Back then albums cost $6.99.

I got to the store, went inside, and was in love. Music everywhere! Nothing like being 11 years old and seeing a sea of music records everywhere! Then I saw the album in the top sellers rack. "There it is!" I remember excitedly whispering to myself. But then my heart sank. The cost of the album? $11.99.

'Why so much??'

Disillusioned, I reached up to take the album off the rack, and realized why. It was a double-album. Feeling dejected, I settled for another album that I had wanted. Jimi Hendrix Smash Hits. Wow. That was settling??

Even funnier than that was that I never bought the album! As children often do, I kept racing from one interest to another, burying if you will, Mr. Wonder's offering. This would happen later on in my life again with John Lennon's Double Fantasy album, for which my best friend Doug, could attest to. "Songs In The Key" became one of those obscure must-haves which never materialized. But then again, I didn't miss out much. Stevie was saturating the airwaves for the rest of 76 and for just about all of 77 too. I must have heard "Isn't She Lovely", "Sir Duke", "As", and "I Wish", at least 100 times each. All great songs from one helluva composer.

Concert night was June 18th. The threat of storms was imminent. All one had to do was look up. Prophetic, doomsday-looking clouds, were rolling in our way. Ily and I had the cheap seats at the top, and had no protection whatsoever from Mother Nature's wrath.

Before we went into the stadium, we had our customary bottle of wine, crackers. cheese and fruits. Last year we also had a bottle of champagne, but if I told you what happened, Ileana would kill me, so...let's just say that we substituted the champagne bubbly for salami sandwiches.

Well, as predicted, thunder and lighting and torrents of rain came open us quickly.
Following everyone else, we quickly ran into the stadiums walkway and weathered the storm. Roadies were quick to get the tarps on every musical instrument (and trust me there were many. Stevie had like a 10 piece band out there). The show, which was supposed to start at 8pm, didn't actually start until 9pm, but when it did, the wait was more than worthwhile.

Stevie belted out hit after hit. He covered some of his best from Talking Book ("Superstition"), Innerversion ("Living For The City") and of course, my favorite,
Songs In The Key of Life. At last, another musical "bucket list" item can be scratched out.

He was great, and had so much fun with the audience too. Stevie's self-deprecating humor about his vision, makes me see not only what a genius he is, but what a great sense of humor he has as well. His daughter, Aisha Morris, was introduced and she sang a song too. She didn't bring the house down, but she's young. And very, very pretty. Musically, I'm sure she'll make it too. There's too much DNA from him for her not too succeed, one would have to think.

A few clips from the show: (make sure to first pause my player on the right!)

and here:

The storm before the calm.

It was pouring in the early going!


Anonymous said...

July 18th? you must mean June 18th

Alex Gonzalez said...

Whoops. Yep. And it's been corrected.

Thanks for reading and catching!!