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I dream of Cheap Trick

By Tony Carnevale
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 15, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Tony Carnevale

I've been listening to Budokan: The Complete Concert by Cheap Trick. The band is wonderful, and I don't mean the music they play, although it's certainly enjoyable, too. Cheap Trick is the archetypal American rock band of the '70s - loud, extravagant, melodic - but, most importantly, each of its four members represents a particular demographic of Rockville, U.S.A. Singer Robin Zander and bassist Tom Petersson are the requisite poster boys, ruggedly pretty and long-haired (blond and brunet, respectively, of course). But Rick Nielsen, lead guitarist and writer of most of the band's material, is a veritable dweeb in his cardigan and bowtie, strutting across the Tokyo stage like the first seed in Chess Club and making silly faces to (we can only presume) his kid sister, while business-as-usual Bun E. Carlos could be either a bus driver or an overworked accountant who happens to play the drums. United onstage, they're a family of superheroes whose strengths and weaknesses complement each other perfectly, only this Fantastic Four battles for the common good of rocking out.

It's not hard at all to imagine Zander, Petersson, Nielsen and Carlos as characters in the 1981 animated film Heavy Metal (to whose soundtrack the band, already past its prime, contributed), standing in the seats of the opening sequence's outer-space '58 Corvette convertible, jamming for the satellites. But the real reason I love Cheap Trick is that they represent the triumph of geek over cool. The cover of Heaven Tonight features Zander and Petersson, dangerous and sultry, while Carlos and Nielsen (the latter brushing his teeth) are relegated to the back of the album sleeve. Japanese teenage girls drooled over the good-looking half of Trick, but when Petersson left the band to pursue a project with his wife, the band appointed a new bassist and moved on. The '80s were not kind to any band that had formed in 1973, but the fact remains that Cheap Trick, in all its macho, hard-rockin' glory, was Rick Nielsen, and Rick Nielsen was a nerd.

I was listening to "Surrender," a song from the point of view of a kid whose own parents are cooler than he is, last night. I'm not saying it influenced my dreams, but the only one I can remember is this: I was in line to get on this amusement-park ride. Its design was inspired by that of the Ferris wheel, but this ride was a lot bigger, more mysterious, and indoors. The line of people waiting to get on the ride was miles long, and wound up and around a sort of scaffolding that was many stories high. I'm terrified of any amusement-park ride that doesn't involve teacups and/or elephants, and just being on that scaffolding was really creeping me out. I clung to the railing and stood as still as possible. I couldn't leave, though, because I was there with a former girlfriend and a female friend of hers.

It would have been bad enough for me to wuss out in front of these two ladies, but it was even worse than that. My girlfriend was expecting some other people to show up, and she sent me to the end of the line to wait for them. Turns out that the latecomers were every guy she's ever been interested in, every guy who's ever been interested in her, and every guy that I think might have fit one of those two categories. None of them would recognize me, but I knew all of their faces and some of their Social Security numbers. And it was my job to pick them out of the crowd and shepherd them, one and all, to the object of their desires. The dream ended as the first guy showed up. I wish it hadn't, if for no other reason than I don't know whether I'd follow orders or punch him in the face.

Actually, I do know what I would have done.

I also know that I'm not listening to "Surrender" before bedtime anymore.