Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Atomic Punk

One spring afternoon in 1978, I was enduring another unfulfilling afternoon on the Audubon Park public golf course in Memphis, TN, as third man in the mighty Lester Jr. High (go Lions!) golf team. For an un-gifted and unmotivated young hacker like me, Audubon was a nightmare - every hole felt like an interminable par five, and the surroundings were fairly uninspiring. It was mostly flat, with minimal landscaping, and pretty much every part of the course seemed to be exposed to the sounds of heavy traffic from Park, Goodlett, Southern, and Perkins, the roads which surround it.

The amazing Van Halen debut album had been released in February, and though I didn't yet own it (that would come over the summer, when it seems like I bought so many albums that profoundly affected me, and which I still listen to regularly today), it was starting to get some airplay, and I was familiar with "Running With The Devil" and a couple of other tracks. So profound was its influence on subsequent bands, that from the perspective of today it is hard, if you weren't around at the time, to appreciate just how different it sounded when it first appeared. As a fledgling guitarist, it was entirely beyond my comprehension to work out what was even going on most of the time, and some of the things coming out of Eddie Van Halen's guitar were downright disorienting and scary.

So, back to Audubon Park golf course. I'm not sure if it still remains today, but back then there was a picnic pavilion in the distance near (I think) the third hole on the course. This was not the same pavilion where I would first hear The Randy Band and begin my foray into the Memphis music underground, which was in the wooded southwest corner of the park. I remember there was a fair bit of wind that day (almost certainly a strong headwind, given my luck with golf courses), but it blew my way carrying the most amazing sounds from that pavilion: a band was playing, just rehearsing, by the looks of it (there was no crowd), and they were playing the Van Halen album, every track, flawlessly. The guitarist had the Eddie Van Halen thing down completely. I couldn't see them, as they were too far away, but I've always had a sneaking suspicion that the incredibly astute guitarist might well have been the late, great Shawn Lane, though I'll never know for sure.  


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