Part Four: On Assignment
My next journalistic endeavour came a year later. I was cutting class and bussing from Vernon to Vancouver to see ZZTop play the Pacific Coliseum, which I explained in advance to our creative writing teacher, Mr. Miller.
“Fine,” he said, “But you have to come back with a story.”
“No problem,” I said.
“A written story.”
“A review; a critique of the concert,” he added. In other words, penance for playing hooky and seeing the show he couldn’t get tickets to. Tough, but fair.
The bus ride was forgettable. The concert was not. Our seats (I was with a buddy) were high in a corner of the arena facing the side of the stage, a right-angle view of the show. The headliners were the hot act of the day. With the explosive success of their music videos featuring cool cars, slick costumes and leggy models, the place was packed. Another thousand or so fans were behind the stage, watching Billy, Dusty and Frank’s backs for the whole of the show. Not to mention the backs of Night Ranger – the opening act. The whole experience was superb. A Greyhound road trip to the city to see my heroes pelt us with their Tex Mex Southern Blues Rock, replete with glitzy stage presence and hugely popular tunes. I even came equipped with my ZZTop keyring, something I got for being Official Fan-Club-Member Number Five through their mail-order promotions.
I wrote my review of the show and presented it to Mr. Miller when we got back.
“This isn’t a critique, it’s a love letter!” he said, rolling the pages up as if to bop me on the nose. “Critique the show! It can’t all be praise!”
“Ah,” I may’ve said. I don’t remember. I was too worried about the actual task I’d just been assigned. I couldn’t find fault with my Texan stars. Everything they did was flawless. Didn’t Mr. Miller understand? I was Official Fan-Club-Member Number Five. Number Five! That wasn’t something to be taken lightly. They don’t just assign those numbers. (The more I think about it the more I suspect everyone on the mailing list was Official Fan-Club-Member Number Five.
Regardless, I got on with the task at hand, finding middle ground and tearing apart the opening act, satisfying Mr. Miller while maintaining my imagined protective-fence around my heroic musical trio. Yet to this day, on the odd occasion I hear Night Ranger on the radio, a part of me feels I owe them an apology, throwing them under the Greyhound like heavily hair-gelled sacrificial lambs to save my hide and get a passing grade. In fact, I may send each of them a letter – band members past and present – all seventeen of them, explaining my predicament. I’m sure they’d understand. For all I know they too – every one of them – are also ZZTop Official Fan-Club-Member Number Five.