On Saturday night, I made my way to the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago to volunteer for a concert tabling gig on behalf of a local community radio station. All of these tabling assignments are virtually the same. Supplies get picked up at the station, displayed at the venue, and then distributed to patrons as they hear about the station promoting the event. One big perk is that you can catch the show as a guest. Sometimes, it’ll be someone I’m remotely aware of enough to want to see them. Most of the time, however, I don’t know anything about the artist.
This event was one of the latter. Performing was Mike Peters, the leader singer of The Alarm. The Alarm. Where have I heard that before? Why does that name ring a tiny little bell within the deep recesses of my mind? My tabling partner was the emcee introducing the artist, so she was doing some Wikipedia research on Peters and his band. She is going over details like years the band was active, singles, and what bands Peters would play with over his career (such as Big Country since 2011). A few items were striking me as abstractly familiar, but nothing concrete.
After she introduced Peters, we made our way towards the back of the 200+ seat theater with our bags and Three Floyds. Peters had just finished a song before we arrived and was in the middle of telling a story. He was introducing his next song. I missed the first half of the story since I was settling down into my seat. He was saying that the band was forced to busk outside of a church, and that was when they played this song. He joked that not only did they look like a punk band protesting, but they looked like a Christian punk band protesting. It was then that he launched into an acoustic version of “The Stand.”
As he is powering through the harmonica intro, the little bell at the back of my head was ringing louder. I squinted at Peters and concentrated on the song. When he came to the thunderous chorus and belted out “come on down and meet your maker,” I experienced my aha moment. I leaned over to my partner saying “I know this one!” I had just spent an hour with her before the show saying I didn’t know anything about this band other than managing to spill out the title of a single (“The Spirit of ‘76” and more on that later).
I kept thinking whether or not “The Stand” was one of the Alarm’s bigger songs. I kept thinking about Peters’ decision to play it as the second song. I’ve since read it is one of their more iconic tracks, but why so early in the set? Regardless of the answer, I was pumped that I knew a song that early. I felt energized and incredibly focused during the rest of his 2+ hour set. Every single song after that was unknown to me, but I loved his energy and his amazing stories such as embarrassing himself in front of Johnny Rotten, using a urinal troth with the Clash, and opening for U2 during their career-defining Red Rocks show. For being a man who came of age in the-1970s, he displayed a youthful lust for life. It was contagious. I would’ve stood up to dance if it didn’t mean I would annoy everyone else in the small theater (everyone was seated).
So, back to “The Spirit of ’76.” When my partner was researching Peters, I managed to spit out that track. I don’t know where I knew it, but it was something I had locked away. She asked me what it meant. I had no idea what the reference to 1976 meant in the context of the song. Being the goofy American that I am, it has been programmed in me that 1976 was the United States’ bicentennial. Or ‘76 could’ve meant another century. Though, I’m sure the Welsh-born Peters didn’t have America’s year of independence in mind when he wrote the song. She asked if it referred to some kind of historical plane. As it turns out, the song was about Peters hearing punk music for the first time. It was 1976 when he first experienced punk when he saw the Sex Pistols live. From then, Peters had a dream to be Wales’ first punk artist. Now, that made a lot more sense and I felt really silly grabbing at thin air trying to ascertain what the song meant. I try not to look stupid in front of strong, beautiful women but it happens to all of us sometimes.
“The Stand” is a perfect song for me. Politically charged and forcefully driven, it conjures a strong sense of rebellion. I’ve listened to it dozens of times since Saturday. I cannot get enough. I’m not one for nostalgia, but the song makes me wish I was living in the UK during the big punk explosion. The passion! The filth! The fury! It was all there. The track is large with soaring backing vocals and a call to arms. This kind of music inspires something deep inside of me. It is simple and succinct in its musical arrangement and message. That was a magical show for me. It blended the unknown and familiar in a way that was invigorating. Perfect music at the perfect moment in time.