Tuesday, June 8, 2010

50,000 Watts and a Big Acoustic Tower

From the Should've Been Huge Department

Sheila was supposed to be a star. Everyone in High School knew it.

While others walked, she ran. And when others ran, she flew, long ponytale of blonde hair shaking from side to side until there was nothing left but dust and memories.

She won ribbons at every track meet. Made the State team. And kicked ass at the Nationals. Until everyone began to talk about how she'd be a shoo-in to make the Olympic team. And win a few medals.

In her final race (shown live in primetime, naturally), Sheila would fall behind some trash-talking runner from Lithuania, but spot some of her friends and neighbors in the stands, reach down for some extra energy, and kick it up a few notches so she could come from behind and win the gold.

That was what was supposed to happen.


Rockpile was supposed to be huge, too.

A supergroup that never quite was called a supergroup, Rockpile was home to two superstars-in-waiting. Dave Edmunds, the guitar virtuoso formerly with Love Sculpture, was obsessed with 50s rock and roll. Nick Lowe, aka "Basher," came out of the pub-rock of Brinsley Schwartz, but was adored by punks and new wavers (thanks to his role as de facto staff producer for Stiff Records).

They recruited guitarist Billy Bremner and drummer Terry Williams and set out to take over the world. Except that Edmunds and Lowe were signed to different labels and couldn't record as Rockpile. So, for several years, Rockpile acted as the backing band (live and on record) for both Lowe and Edmunds, supporting whoever had a new record out, but really functioning as a single band with two leaders. This worked well for three years and resulted in great albums like Repeat When Necessary and Labour of Lust. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

A month before the Olympic trials, Sheila was riding her bike and she got hit by a car that ran a stop sign. She was knocked to the ground and broke a small bone in her left foot. It healed, but her stride was never quite the same.

She competed in the Olympic trials but wasn't quite fast enough. This was a shock to all of us who knew her.

All the ribbons, all the victories, didn't add up to an Olympic medal. And our entire school (and in a way, most of the town) was disappointed.


Three years after first working together, Rockpile was finally free to make their own album under their own name. The record that came out Seconds of Pleasure was a delight -- not quite a great rock record, but filled with terrific moments. There were great Nick Lowe/Dave Edmunds songs, obscure covers of rock old (Chuck Berry) and new (a wonderful Difford/Tilbrook song Squeeze somehow didn't want to record).

But the tensions of actually being a band (instead of being a backing band) quickly proved to be too much. Edmunds and Lowe clashed constantly during the recording and the tour that followed. A few months later, Rockpile was no more. The band, so great when it was in the background with Lowe and Edmunds sharing the spotlight (and each alternately dictating what the sound should be), fell apart when they had to define who and what they really were. Having one foot in the 50s, one foot in the pub, and one foot straddling the line between punk and new wave made it all but impossible for the band to stay standing.

Here's what we never knew about Sheila. She had one foot in sports and the other academics. When she didn't make the Olympic team, it wasn't as disappointing for her as it was for the rest of us. She had another path in mind.

So she cut her hair, dyed it brown, and hit the books.

And she thrived, finishing near the top of our High School class, getting into a small prestigious New England college, and going to an Ivy League law school. She took to running late at night in the local woods -- not quite as fast, but uncomplicated by the expectations of an entire town.

Sheila graduated near the top of her law school class and had offers with top firms in 12 cities around the world. But that wasn't her path, either.

Today, she works for a variety of non-profit groups, doing her part to make the world a better place. She says with a playful smile that she never gets paid enough -- and sometimes doesn't even get paid at all.

I asked her recently if she ever thought about what might have been. She sighed. Then told me that sometimes, very late at night, when the stars are out and the wind is cold, she thinks about marching into an Olympic stadium, and competing against the best in the world. "But," she added, "that feeling goes away when the sun comes up. Then I look around, see everything I need to do, roll up my sleeves, and get to work."

Sounds good to me.


Holly A Hughes said...

God, I think I knew Sheila.

And I wish I'd known Rockpile. Actually, I saw them one drunken night (they were more drunk than I was) and I wrote them off -- what a shame. And so it goes, and so it goes....

ssspune said...

Thank you for this post, Alex. I was reminded that I came across this recently, an odd example of...I don't know what: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MV6cDpgeqg Former BCR doing "Rollers Show" at a recent fan event!

Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Hiya Alex, Mr. Muleboy sent me, and I'm glad he did. This is what I get for going offline for a week -- missing a ton of great Clicks & Pops. But I'll catch up!

Alex said...

Hey Who,

It's always good to see you back here!

And tell Mr. Muleboy his check is in the mail... :)

Alex said...


I'm trying unwrap all the levels of meta and irony in that clip you posted, but I'm afraid my head just might explode!