Did I ever tell you about the night I performed on stage with Cheap Trick?
In 1998, Cheap Trick had an outlandish idea. What if we took our first four albums and on four successive nights, we performed each of those albums from start to finish? These days we hear about bands playing live versions of specific albums all the time.
Springsteen doing “Born to Run.” Peter Gabriel doing “So.” In 1998, this was still a novel idea. And no band had ever done 4 full albums in 4 nights.
Wednesday, April 30 Cheap Trick would play their debut. On Thursday, In Color; Friday, Heaven Tonight and the final night would feature Dream Police.
While Cheap Trick was in the planning stages of this prodigious undertaking, their manager Dave Frey called XRT. He had a problem. On Friday night, the band would be playing “On The Radio,” a song Dave said, “they never play live.” In the middle of the song, there is a segment where a fire-breathing Top 40 D.J. does a radio speed rap. Dave wanted to know if I could do that. Live. While the band was playing. They’re recording the shows for an album. Music For Hangovers.
One of my great secrets is that I have stage fright. Not crippling Andy Partridge stage fright, but palm-sweating, upset stomach, pacing back and forth stage fright that I manage to hide because I am on stage all the time. I did not relish the idea of getting on stage and attempting to cultivate a style of radio broadcasting alien to anything I had ever done.
On the other hand, who gets asked to participate in a live performance by legends of rock and roll? Not me.
It was an offer I could not refuse.
I went home and tried to transpose the original recitation to paper. Listen to that original version and imagine how long it would take to pick out every syllable.
Over and over I listened, “One minute on the bad side of midnight…hot wax anything you wanna hear…you snooze you lose.” A compendium of DJ clichés at mind-bending speed. When I finally committed every word to paper, I began to customize the script for XRT and Chicago.
Friday night, April 2 at Metro, I’m sitting in Joe Shanahan’s office rehearsing my 40 seconds of fame and as my time in the spotlight approaches, stage fright begins destroying brain cells. There had been no rehearsal. No sound check. Panicked I grab a paper plate and start writing down my script with a sharpie. I’ll read my part on stage so I can concentrate on the pace.
I’m led to the stage entrance which is a closet-sized tangle of cables and graffiti and wait. I remember the band apologizing that the next song is a song they never perform. Good. They’re lowering expectations. I can see Billy Corgan, one of the world’s biggest Cheap Trick fans, in the far corner of the balcony. And I wait.
Rick Nielsen looks towards me and nods. Is that my cue? He nods again. I guess it is.
I walk up to the mike and tear into my script. Near the end I throw down, “If it’s Heaven Tonight, it’s gonna be hell tomorrow morning.” I finish with the original “Go crazy, go nuts, go completely WILD!!!!!!! And spin my paper plate into the crowd with a flourish and walk off stage. Nailed it like a hammer. Cheap Trick finishes the song and yells up at Billy Corgan, ‘how’d you like it?’ Billy gives two thumbs up. I treat myself to a bourbon. Neat.
The recording becomes a selection on our charity disc, On XRT Live From The Archives, Volume 4. And on special occasions, my 40 seconds of fame expands to over 4 minutes when that live Cheap Trick track is featured on the air. Like today at 2:30pm on XRT’s Live From The Archives. Because today 40 Years in 40 Days takes us to 1998, a year where, for the briefest of moments, I was a rock star.