March 9, 2014 by billysparrow
There are many ways to gauge whether one has chosen the right college. Perhaps you take a class with a professor who changes the way you look at life. Perhaps you hit upon a fantastic bunch of people who become invaluable friends. Or maybe the first concert on your campus is by Bob Dylan, the first time your byline appears in a newspaper is at the beginning of a story previewing that concert, and you spend the afternoon before the concert working as part of the hospitality crew and bringing bottles of water onto one of the buses in the Dylan caravan.
You might have guessed that the third scenario describes how I realized that after spending the better part of a year deciding what college to attend, my choice of Ithaca College was, in fact, the correct one. (I should also point out that I took what might have been Bob Dylan’s honey bear and empty half-and-half containers from his “dressing room”–a classroom–after the show and held onto them for a decent amount of time. I was A.J. Weberman before I even knew who A.J. Weberman was.)
But I have not come here to talk about Bob Dylan’s trash. Rather, I have come here to talk about another concert I went to that freshman year at what I like to consider the other college in Ithaca, N.Y., Cornell University. It was a triple bill of Live, Pete Droge, and Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 on April 29, 1995.
The first concert I saw while away at college was also at Cornell. It was a George Carlin show less than a month after I arrived in Ithaca and a little more than a week before the Dylan show. Not a bad start. I saw Stephen King speak at Cornell a little after the Dylan show, and in my second semester saw Buddy Guy over there. I went to all these events by myself, as was the case with most things that freshman year.
But as freshman year drew to a close, the Cornell Concert Commission announced a show that I was pretty sure I’d be attending with someone else. I lived in a triple my first year (and my second year, because–cue the sad music–I didn’t really have any friends interested in living with me and so decided to squat in my room and live with two freshmen my sophomore year), and my two roommates, Bob and Ken, bonded a little tighter than I did with either of them. Actually, I wasn’t bonding with much of anyone. I was kind of wary of college that entire first year and hesitant to be any kind of social being. In retrospect, I could’ve handled that better.
But anyway, Bob was from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and, as such, was a pretty big fan of Live, who hailed from nearby York (Bob also liked Yanni and Enigma, both of which he often listened to–loudly–on his headphones to lull himself to sleep). I heard a lot of Live that year (and a healthy amount of Rush, which was one of Ken’s favorite bands) and though I wasn’t a fan by any stretch, by April I had at least become able to tolerate them. So, when I saw that Live was playing, I knew Bob (and probably Ken) would be in, and probably some of their friends, too. So I would be going somewhere with other people, like an actual college student! Huzzah!
I was going, by the way, not because I wanted to see Live, but because I wanted to see Pete Droge, whose song “If You Don’t Love Me (I’ll Kill Myself),” best known for its inclusion in “Dumb and Dumber,” might have been one of the first “college rock” songs I liked (or at least it was one of the first songs I liked when I was in college). As a young gentleman who spent most of high school pining for girls who didn’t like me, and was fast embarking on a college career of doing the same, it was the right song at the right time.
And when I bought the tape of the album on which the song appeared (and not, as I probably would’ve done the year before, the soundtrack of the movie in which it appeared), I discovered a whole album of great songs. “Necktie Second” is still one of my all-time favorite albums, and it was certainly one of the tapes I listened to the most during my first Ithaca winter (and I even wrote away for a copy of the lyrics, which I still have tucked in the cassette case). There’s not a bad song in the bunch (here’s what’s probably my pick for the best). Go find a copy. (Or if you’re into new things, go download the new Droge and Summers Blend EP. He’s still making good music.)
Bob and I spent the days prior to the show writing lyrics from Droge (me) and Live (Bob) songs on the dry-erase board on our door. I like to think I (or, more correctly, Droge) won the unspoken (and largely friendly) Battle of Good Lyrics there, but whatever the case it helped build the excitement for the show. So, by April 29, as the semester came to close, I was all sorts of ready for that concert.
As a budding autograph collector willing to pursue any autograph opportunity available to me in Ithaca, I decided to spend the afternoon before the show waiting outside Barton Hall trying to get Pete Droge to sign my copy of “Necktie Second” before or after he did sound check. And since I’d be there anyway, I took Bob’s CD cover for “Throwing Copper” with me to try to get the members of Live to sign it. While I didn’t know exactly what they looked like, I knew Ed would be easy to spot and I figured I’d recognize the others when I saw them, as I’d certainly seen them in videos enough by that point in the year (and, sadly, I still know all of their names 16 years later).
As best as I remember, I think I got the Live guys first (which would make sense, since they would’ve sound checked first). So I spent a lot of time trying to look inconspicuous outside of the back entrance to Barton Hall (a gymnasium) as the only guy standing there. No one questioned why I was there or told me to leave, so I hung around. At some point, someone on Droge’s tour bus must’ve seen me there with a copy of “Necktie Second” and told Droge that it looked like maybe I wanted an autograph, because he came out of the bus to sign my cassette cover. He looked dazed, pale, and like someone who was spending a lot of time in a tour bus, which is to say like the coolest guy on earth. I’m sure I babbled something about how great I thought the album was, he signed it, and I was on my way back to Terrace 12, Room 220, to get ready for the concert.
I know that’s not the most exciting autograph encounter story you’re ever gonna hear. And I don’t have any great concert memories of the evening to share either, other than (1) an enthusiastic Live fan kicked my friend (and crush) Kim in the head while running to the stage when their set started, (2) I liked Droge even better after seeing him, (3) everybody I went with had a pretty good time, and (4) I bought a great T-shirt that I repurchased on eBay a few years ago because I realized I missed it.
(As an advertising vehicle, the shirt’s questionable. Pete Droge’s name is only in tiny print on the bottom of both images, and he has no songs titled “Perhaps You’ve Heard of Me.” But it was fun to wear around campus anyway.)
In the grand scheme of things, getting a Pete Droge autograph might not seem like a big deal. And I suppose to most, it isn’t. But to me, on that day toward the end of my first year of college, a year that started with me writing about and seeing Bob Dylan, getting one of my favorite albums signed by a guy who happened to be playing in the town where I was trying to figure out what road to head down was another sign that, however rough that freshman year was, I might just be where I needed to be.
And almost 19 years later, I think I was.