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SWIFT: Old friends and Cheap Trick make beautiful music together

Tammy Swift, columnist

Few things transport us back in time like music.

A few bars of Alice Cooper's "School's Out," and I'm 16 years old, cruising around my hometown with the windows rolled down on "Ruth," my 1965 Ford. A couple of beats of "The Heart of Rock and Roll," and I become a vision of white shorts, red polo shirt (collar popped, of course) and an ecologically hazardous amount of hairspray at a Huey Lewis concert at the Minot State Fair.

Nostalgia sells. It's one of the simplest ways to time-travel, which is why people are willing to $175 tickets to watch a Bananarama tribute band even though the impersonators are actually Bananrama's tone-deaf second cousins.

This also explains why my friend Ethel had barely finished texting the phrase: "Would you like to go to Cheap Trick with the old gang?," then I had already replied with an emojifest consisting of 17 hearts, two microphones, five electric guitars, three dancing ladies and — because my vision isn't what it used to be — a map of Serbia.

My very first concert was Cheap Trick. I remember it well. I was 14, and I purchased light-blue corduroy bibs from the County Seat for the occasion. The ticket cost $8 (that's approximately $175,000 value in 2017) and we showed up at least three hours early so we could stand at the very front in general admission. It was so packed that at one point, my feet didn't touch the floor; we were just held upright by the sweaty, tightly packed mass of bodies. I caught a whiff of a strange, sweet odor that one of my friends told me was marijuana smoke. When I left the concert, my beautiful overalls were dripping with sweat and the spilled beer from the guy behind me.

But I didn't care. We were so close to the stage that you could see the laundry instructions for Rick Nielsen's bowtie. I still have some of his guitar picks in a scrapbook somewhere, as well as a photo of beautiful Robin Zander, dressed in a sweat-drenched, bright-green suit, gasping for air at the side of the stage during one of Bun's businesslike drum solos.

Almost 40 years — 40! — have passed since then. The corduroy overalls would barely fit on one arm. I've seen many concerts since then — including a few Cheap Trick concerts that weren't nearly as memorable.

But the promise of seeing my first favorite band was irresistible — especially when paired with the prospect of seeing them with some of my best college friends. They were all from the same area near Grand Forks, and we had once been inseparable. They were all Scandinavian and used local slang like "putting gas on the car," and "fee-dah!" (translation: "Grosssss!")

They also were loads of fun. There was little, blond Mikey and his physical opposite, 6-foot-5-inch, brown-haired Brent. There was the sassy, funny Ethel and her perpetually cheerful boyfriend (now husband) Fred. And then there was Ethel's good friend, Hazel, a good-natured and fashionable sort who would eventually room with me in Bismarck where she was a law clerk and I was a young reporter.

But here we were, cracking each other up like no time had passed. Except the zingers were no longer about parties or dorm food, but about reverse mortgages and speculation as to whether Robin Zander would drive a Rascal across the stage.

I couldn't imagine a better way to see an '80s band except to be surrounded by this exact tribe.

Oh, and you'll be glad to know Robin did not drive a Rascal — although the long, blond hair under his cap mysteriously disappeared after the first song.

Ain't that a shame.

Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at tswiftsletten@gmail.com.

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