I was an angry 14- or 15-year-old in late 1978 or early 1979 – can’t recall which year, but definitely angry – walking home on a Sunday night after a dishwasher shift at Grandma’s Saucy Apron, a now-defunct Italian restaurant in my hometown where I was working to make money for a Spanish National Honor Society trip to Spain over the upcoming Spring Break.
I turned on 99X (New York City’s WXLO-FM) at 9 pm for a new radio show I enjoyed from KXOA in Sacramento, CA, called The Great American Radio Show with Mike Harrison. It was the near-end of the disco era and this album-oriented rock (AOR) weekly countdown show breathed new life into my burgeoning adolescent music experience with the deeper tracks – not the top 40 hits – from bands like Dire Straits, Van Halen, and Elvis Costello and the Attractions.
On one particular night, I heard a song called “My Sharona” by an L.A. power pop band called The Knack. A simple but catchy testosterone-raged song of yearning that was deemed sexist then but seems so tame today. And an incredible lead guitar break by Berton Averre that was truncated on the single for pop radio play because it pushed the song length to an untenable four minutes and fifty-four seconds.
The lead singer of the band was a well-known musician in southern California named Doug Fieger. He was originally from Oak Park, Michigan, and played in a bunch of bands before fronting The Knack.
The artwork for their first album was sparse but classic featuring a black and white photo on the front and a Beatle-esque photo on the reverse of the band on a bright white background. “My Sharona” was number one on the Billboard top 40 list for six weeks and the album ultimately sold six million copies. You youngsters may know of the song because it was briefly rejuvenated by its inclusion in the 1994 movie, “Reality Bites.”
I played my copy of Get The Knack into the ground. Not so much because of “My Sharona” or the second hit “Good Girls Don’t” but because of some of the other infectious tunes like “Your Number or Your Name” and “Heartbeat,” a cover of Buddy Holly’s last single before he died in an Iowa plane crash in February, 1959. The less successful follow-up album “But the Little Girls Understand” was not as well-received but my take-home lesson was a cover of “The Hard Way” by The Kinks. (I put up another post here with a couple videos.).
I learned a lot more about Buddy Holly, The Kinks, and other influences of The Knack in the years following. In fact, the first rock concert I saw was The Kinks on their Low Budget tour in 1980 at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. Love ’em or hate ’em, Doug Fieger and The Knack were a major influence in my teenage years and sit at the foundation of my amateur musicianship.
In 2006, The Knack drummer Bruce Gary died of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Yes, I’m reaching the age where my musical idols are dying of non-drug causes. Then, last month, The Detroit News published this article about Doug Fieger’s battle with lung cancer and the aggressive metastases to in his brain. Fieger was one of the
60% 10-20% of lung cancer patients who either never smoked or quit smoking decades before.
Fieger seemed unusually at peace with his demise and his brother Geoffrey said there were few regrets about the life his younger sibling lived:
Whenever he leaves, he’ll depart with no significant regrets. He lived the rock star life, and that was good. He got straight and sober 26 years ago and that’s been good, too. It strikes him that he should have visited Egypt, and he concedes that “I may not get there.” Just in case, he’s been paging through a coffee-table book with big pictures.
North Carolina Public Radio state legislative correspondent Laura Leslie was the first to alert me to Fieger’s death yesterday morning and Pam Spaulding turned me on to a short but heartfelt remembrance of Fieger by his friend John Amato at Crooks and Liars.
The Knack carried on as a band after Gary’s death and Fieger looked awesome at age 53 in a video I saw of them playing “She’s So Selfish” at World Cafe. So, his death at 57 makes it seem so premature (funny how young 57 seems today).
So, I think I’ll go buy a few MP3 downloads and maybe pull out the guitar for a spell to reflect on the loss of a musician whose gifts will live on.
Visit the official webpage of The Knack for more information on the band.
Updated Feb 16: Entertainment Weekly’s Music Mix Blog has a heartfelt interview with the namesake of The Knack’s big hit, Sharona Alperin. Ms. Alperin is a Los Angeles area real estate agent whose business website can be found at the aptly named mysharona.com. Ms. Alperin dated Mr. Fieger for three years and was the model on the cover of the “My Sharona” single and the sheet music for the song.