One Song A Year: 1986 and Simple Minds

Jim KerrIs Jim Kerr really a poor man's Bono? This is a query I will not spend time answering here (although my response would be "it depends"). But in 1986, a year before my enduring love for U2 really took hold and pushed many others aside, Jim Kerr and Simple Minds were all I had. And I was happy.

In 1986 I was on the cusp of graduating from junior high school and was finally old enough for my first concert, secular rock band division. Simple Minds were on the road in the U.S. plugging away Once Upon a Time, their pop culture zenith. I bought my first rock concert tickets at the Dillard's box office and counted down the days.

The concert was booked for the McKale center in Tucson, home to the University of Arizona basketball team. The building was not yet hallowed ground. The U of A had yet to reach the final four (that would happen in 1987), win a national championship (1997) or see its coach enshrined in the hall of fame (Lute Olson). McKale Center was just a 13-thousand seat arena, a little big for a concert like this in a town like Tucson.

In the years I lived in Tucson, I went to three arena rock shows. I pushed my way to front row for U2 at a sold out Convention Center (then called the Community Center) in 1987; cresting on the popularity of Green, R.E.M. could still barely fill the same joint in 1989; and of course Simple Minds, who also played to a vast number of empty seats. Dwarfed by its conspicuous neighbor to the north, Tucson was not a destination for most big tours. Seeing arena concerts usually meant making the 90-minute drive to Phoenix.

After a short, invigorating opening set by The Call (anyone remember them?), the house lights dimmed and a thumbing bass line shuddered out from the huge overhead PA. Simple Minds filed out to "Waterfront", the opening track on Sparkle In the Rain. "Come in / Come out of rain", Jim Kerr crooned. The song's call to action, to "move on up to the front", seemed written specifically for such moments. The crowd responded, but not with complete abandon. We were waiting for the hits.

There were two songs everyone wanted to hear. When vocalist Robin Cook vamped onto the stage mid-way through the set and the familiar opening notes of "Alive and Kicking" swelled in spine-tingling fashion, the audience lost all reserve. Now this was a rock show! Elation turned to euphoria when Jim Kerr began to chant "hey hey hey hey", as the band went in to its signature song "(Don't You) Forget About Me".

This show was the apex of my Simple Minds fandom. I kept up with them through two mediocre releases, Street Fighting Years (1989) and Real Life (1991), but only with flagging interest. I actually saw them live one more time, in a theatre in Denver in 1991. Jim Kerr seemed to be doing a "Bono in the Desert" impersonation that night, striking poses and karate kicking the air to empty effect. But they were still Simple Minds, playing songs that today still resound for me. It's hard to give up on a first love.