forty days. forty stories.
by Bill Gregg
Mine is a sordid tale of secrets and betrayal that took place nearly two decades ago (or what Joolee can now call “The halfway point”).
It was the night of September 13, 1992. I had just begun my sophomore year at Penn State, where I’d been greeted by bright orange fliers foreshadowing the arrival of B-52’s upon my arrival at University Park a month earlier. The fliers warned not of an attack by gargantuan bombers, nor did they contain the recipe for a tasty layering of Kahlua, Bailey’s, and Gran Marnier, but instead advertised an upcoming concert by the quirky alt rock band out of Athens, Georgia – best known for the popular party song “Love Shack.” They were to be accompanied by The Violent Femmes, an even quirkier band whose name sounded like the kind of crowd my grandparents kept warning me about.
I had been to two concerts before, both at Rec Hall, where the B-52’s were set to perform. But those earlier shows had been more along the lines of the “heavier” fare I was a fan of at the time. The B-52’s, while fun, were not my cup of tea, and the only song of the Violent Femmes I knew of was “Blister in the Sun.” Still, my vote was not the only one cast in my small circle, which briefly expanded to include my free-spirited cousin Julie, a junior at Shippensburg at the time who had heard about the show by word of mouth. Needless to say, I was headed to the concert whether it was going to be heavy or not.
We ended up getting great seats, somewhere in the first couple of rows on the floor in front of the stage. Julie arrived on campus just before show time and we sprinted to Rec Hall to get there or the opening act. I remember attendance being light; maybe 3/4 of Rec Hall’s capacity. It was a fairly unmemorable concert. The Violent Femmes might have been OK, but I had trouble appreciating them due to their lack of percussion (a solitary snare drum and a pair of drum brushes do not a drum kit make!). And the B-52’s, while musically solid, seemed as if they were just going through the motions (understandable, since we later learned that they had come straight from the funeral of a friend prior to the show).
After the show ended, we all went back to my dorm room to hang out, where Julie informed me that she was going to use her visit to State College as a ruse to throw off her mother while she instead left to visit an old boyfriend. Julie assured me that the possibility of a call from my Aunt Jennie was remote, but provided me with the instructions needed to fabricate a story – just in case. I wasn’t thrilled about it. I’d been looking forward to hanging out with my cousin and was feeling a bit put-upon because I just knew her mother would be calling me. But, in the end I reluctantly agreed to cover for her off Julie went into the night.
September 14, 1992. I was awakened by the ringing of my dorm room phone. My alarm clock said it was 6:00 am. Groggy and confused, I picked up the phone and was greeted by Aunt Jennie’s preternaturally energetic lilt. “Hiya, Billy! How was the concert? WHERE THE HELL IS JULIE?”
By calling me so early, Jennie might as well have gotten me drunk, shot me up with sodium pentothal, and water-boarded me. Anyone who knows me well knows that, even today, early mornings are not a big part of my DNA. Like my father before me, just making it to school or work on-time every day has been a lifelong struggle. Making a phone call would’ve been unheard of, and the suggestion of an actual conversation before at least two cups of coffee was (and still is) nothing short of crazy talk.
So when Jennie asked where the hell her daughter was, I forgot all of my instructions and my loyalty to my dear cousin, and in a confused fog, I promptly sold Julie out before I even realized the words had left my mouth. It took a good thirty seconds (and several choice words by Aunt Jennie) for me to wake up enough to realize who I was, where I was, and what I was supposed to have said. I quickly tried to recover, recanting my previous statement and stuttering the story Julie had given me, but it was too late. Julie’s goose was as good as cooked.
I don’t know what kind of trouble Julie got into over that. We didn’t really talk about that (or much else) until Christmas. But I’m pretty sure she wasn’t too happy with me, so I’m guessing she got into more than a little hot water. But in the end, all was well.
Julie and I weren’t the only ones who went through a rough patch following that concert. According to Wikipedia, The Violent Femmes broke up in late 1992, only to reform by ’93. Whether or not they ever learned to play with a full drum kit remains unknown.
So that’s my Julie story – sorry again, Couz! Happy 40th birthday!!!