Long-time readers of BRP know that I went to Virginia Tech. How did I get there? Well, I turned on to a dirt road, kept following it, and it led me directly there. It was easy. You can find Blacksburg that way, too. Seriously, no GPS required. Any dirt road in the continental US is guaranteed to get you to Blacksburg, I promise.
But that’s not really how I got there. I got there by applying. Now, to say I was an indifferent high school student is to give a bad name to indifferent high school students everywhere. But when they admitted me to VT I decided, hey, if these guys in Blacksburg are willing to let me in even though I filled out my application in crayon, they must be alright. I’m going.
Now, Tech’s motto is Ut Prosim, which means “that I may serve.” Given my less than enthusiastic high school academic career, I figured that meant that, if nothing else, I would come out and be ready to move into the food service or hospitality industries. You know, would you like ketchup with your fries? That I May Serve! Only later did I realize that the motto was adopted by the school in an attempt to attract top tennis recruits. (Did you know that Serena and Venus Williams went to Tech? They didn’t, but it would be cool if they had.)
Now, I grew up with four older siblings, and I had a pretty good basic understanding and appreciation of rock music before I left my parent’s house. But Tech was where I got my musical shit together, and what a great time to do so. I was there during the height of punk and new wave rock (unfortunately, also the height of REO Speedwagon, Styx and Supertramp, but let’s step over that detritus and head back to the good stuff). And Tech had a great college radio station, WUVT, that was devoted to all the new alternative music. Boo-yah!
I didn’t have much money back in those days, hence the application in crayon, but I could always scrape together enough to get drunk and to see bands. Oh yeah, and to buy books, too, which make a handy place to sit your beer on. (I finally found out my senior year that the reason my used books didn’t sell was because they all had beer rings on the cover and that made them look like crap. Damn! The insides were PERFECT since I never read any of them).
Back to the music. We saw some great bands, both in Blacksburg and elsewhere. Like who? OK, when I list these guys, remember, this was when they were in their prime, not some retread reunion stuff with bald heads and fat butts. So I saw The Clash. Elvis Costello and the Attractions. Squeeze. The Joe Jackson Band. Graham Parker and the Rumour. 20/20. The Ramones. The Talking Heads. The Specials. Warren Zevon. And that doesn’t even cover the great southern and arena rock bands I saw. Anyway, the list goes on, but it’s boring to read lists.
The other cool thing was that there was a thriving college band scene. It was full of cover bands that made the Virginia/North Carolina college circuit. (Quick aside: why is it that Yankees from the Northeast think that people in the South are stupid because they have these beautiful accents, but push their kids to go to all these great schools in the South? I never figured that out. It’s an even bigger mystery than how anyone with a Long Island accent could look down their nose at anyone else’s accent.) Anyway, there were bands that were local – Nasty Habits, Lee Street – and I was a big Nasty Habits fan, who had the Holly and the Italians cover stuff DOWN – but the best bands made the circuit. Think Skip Castro. Johnny Sportcoat and the Casuals. Tex Rabinowitz and the Bad Boys. The Nighthawks. But the best of the bunch, in my humble but well informed opinion, was the X Raves.
The X Raves played only punk and new wave covers. That made them unique. I don’t think I’ve seen a cover band since that played songs by The Undertones, XTC, Sham 69 and 999. But here they were, hot out of Virginia Beach. We saw them many times when they came to town. But one time was particularly memorable. It was hot – Tech was on quarters, which meant we started in late September and went through early June – and this was late May or so. It being Virginia, it was hot and humid out. As John Hiatt would say, the moon was sweating, too!
The X Raves were playing a local club called Kennedys. I wasn’t a huge fan of Kennedys because it was more expensive than places like 117 South Main, Top of the Stairs, or Mr. Fooz. A beer at Kennedys cost something like $1. That’s usually what I hope to pay for a pitcher of brew, so whoa, that was generally out of my league. But occasionally we strolled in to tear it up because of the band playing there. So that’s how we found ourselves in Kennedys that hot May night, dancing and jamming and sweating in shorts and t-shirts like the Southern college kids that we were. Did I drink too much? Of course! But the cool part was that the band would play long sets, then take a pretty lengthy break. And we lived right across the street (and I mean, RIGHT across the street), so we went back, took showers, drank a bunch more beer fresh out of the freezer in those short stubby brown bottles that signified a Wiedeman’s Brewery product, and then scurried back for the next set. It was fabulous.
I don’t ever want to go back and relive my life. And trust me, you don’t want me back in my youthful days, either, because I was, um, unconstrained. I did stuff that still makes me shudder all these years later, and some for which the statute of limitations may not yet have run. But there are times I remember, many of them rock-related, that make me wish that I still was youthful and full of arrogance and ignorance. Now, I write a blog to try and entertain you because, well, Ut Prosim. Would you like coffee with this post?
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My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.