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Catching Rockers in the World Wide Web

If you wait long enough, you will meet the idols you once worshipped. Of course, it helps if your idols were never that big to begin with.

Take last night, for example. My Lovely Wife and I went to the Black Cat to see Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby play before a crowd of about 50 people. We'd seen them play together before at the Birchmere and Wreckless Eric solo at the Velvet Lounge. In each case they were walk-up-to-able. In fact, if you wanted to buy a CD you had to talk to them. They were the ones selling them.

ericrec.jpgThis would not have been conceivable in 1979 when I walked into a record store at White Flint Mall. (Can't remember the name. It wasn't the nearby Peaches.)

Back then, before the Internet, I often bought records based on their covers. Did they look like "New Wave" records? Were there bright colors or skinny ties? (A good sign.) Did the musicians have beards? (A bad one.)

An odd little album filed in the "W" section caught my eye. It was 10 inches, not 12, and the photo on the cover was of a cheery little fellow holding a Rickenbacker guitar and wearing a pink suit spotted with what looked like the silhouettes of crows. His black shirt was patterned with colorful insects. A button on his guitar strap read "I'm a Mess." This was worth risking $4.99 on.

I've been a fan ever since. (His biggest hit, "Whole Wide World," has one of the most sublime opening couplets in pop.) And now I can shake his hand and get my picture taken with him. This is one benefit of favoring the obscure. It I had been a Police fan, it's unlikely I would be forking over a $20 bill to Sting to buy his latest album in the hopes he had $10 in change. (Then again, I'm an Elvis Costello fan and have never met him.)

Left to right: Amy Rigby, Prudent John, Wreckless Eric.

Being a journalist is helpful for making contact with obscure rockers. Sometimes I write about them but I'm way too much of a fan to ever be a music writer. And the Internet helps. Once-famous musicians keep the fire burning on their Web sites. How would you ever have found a John Wicks in 1979? And if you're at all curious about a musician or a song -- some dimly remembered snippet of chorus -- you can find them on YouTube.

Wreckless Eric lives in a small town in Southwest France. He and Amy Rigby are married and tour occasionally in the most economical fashion: a vehicle, their equipment, and the two of them. I don't think I could have imagined any of that when I was standing in White Flint fingering that curious little record. But then, I've changed a lot too.

What idols from your youth have you connected with? And how?

By John Kelly  |  July 16, 2009; 9:15 AM ET
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I think that White Flint store (bottom level as I recall) was a Record and Tapes, Ltd. location. I bought a copy of "Richard Thompson Live!" there.

Posted by: staxowax | July 16, 2009 9:35 AM | Report abuse

I shared a flight with John Kerry in the early 1990s. I had always respected him greatly. He was one of the nicest and most genuine politicians I'd ever met.

Posted by: mfromalexva | July 16, 2009 12:37 PM | Report abuse

One time at Blues Alley, when I was charging to the bathroom between sets, I caught Keb' Mo' resting. I said "Hello", he said "Hey". When I returned with better conversation, he was gone.

Posted by: jimward21 | July 17, 2009 8:10 AM | Report abuse

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