Van Halen – Fair Warning, Albuquerque NM, 1981

Album cover for Van Halen's Fair Warning

I’m hypnotized by the wall of used cassettes when the in-store sound system yanks me out of my reverie. The song is dark and aggressive and exciting. It makes me feel an urgency unlike anything I’ve felt before.

I’m a shy kid. I’m chubby and have a lot of pimples and I don’t understand what to do with the mop of curly hair on top of my head. The guys who work here are older and cooler than I can ever hope to be. I search for every piece of courage I possess and walk to the counter.

“What is this?”

“This is the new Van Halen. It kicks ass, right?”

“Yeah, this is cool.”

I’m elated that he didn’t laugh at me or ridicule me the way so many people at school do. He treats me like I’m just another guy who gets it.

Which, of course, I am. Even if I’ve never heard Van Halen.

There aren’t many people in sixth grade who have discovered rock and metal, and even fewer who are as crazy about it as I am. I’ve heard about Van Halen but none of my friends have any of their records and I’ve never heard them on my local rock station. Van Halen is a mystery.

“Mean Street” solves that mystery. I stand and listen as a movie of a tougher version of myself plays, a movie in which I have independence and strength and agency, a movie in which I don’t worry about tomorrow even though I worry about tomorrow all the time.

I walk over and look at the album. With only a grubby five-dollar bill stuffed into my pocket, I can’t afford it today. I buy something else and slip it into my off-brand Walkman for the long bike ride home. Music plays over my headphones but all I hear is the sneer in that singer’s voice as he growls, “Lord strike that poor boy down.”

“Personal Stories” is a series of posts about artists, albums, concerts, and other experiences that permanently changed our relationships with music.

About Chuck

Chuck is a lifelong music lover. He spent his 20s working as a professional musician before discovering he enjoys listening to music more than playing it. He knows a little bit about most genres, though electronic dance music, rock, and hip-hop are his favorites. Eleven albums/shows that transformed how he sees and hears the world (in order he encountered them): Fleetwood Mac Rumours; Van Halen Fair Warning; The Cure Standing on a Beach; John Coltrane Crescent; De La Soul Three Feet High and Rising; Puccini La Boheme (de los Angeles, Bjorling, Beecham); Everything but the Girl Walking Wounded; Carl Cox, Twilo, NYC, May 2000; Godspeed You! Black Emperor Yanqui U.X.O.; Grateful Dead. Fillmore East, NYC, April 1971; Taylor Swift 1989.

4 thoughts on “Van Halen – Fair Warning, Albuquerque NM, 1981

  1. bobvinyl

    It’s a good VH record, but a great story. I don’t think I went to a record store until I was maybe 13. I had records, but they were all bought at department stores or ordered from Columbia House, so they lacked some of that magic that they attain in the record racks of an actual record store.

  2. Chuck Post author

    Thanks man.
    I think about the last time I went to my local record store and it’s still magic. How has that magic not diminished in 40 years of going to record stores?

    1. bobvinyl

      It’s funny, because I still feel that fear that they’ll find out that I am some kind of fraud. Nonetheless, it is still magical.

  3. Chuck Post author

    Yeah, I wish I could say I never wonder if the clerk at the record store will think better of me because of what I’m buying. Somewhere inside of me, that sixth grader still thinks the people working here are cooler than I am and will laugh at me for asking a stupid question or buying a stupid album.

    There’ve always been two kinds of record stores: the ones where elitism runs rampant and the ones where it doesn’t. That’s part of why I always hated Tower back in the day: the selection was unparalleled but it was rare to find someone working there who would talk with you about music if you weren’t cool. (Oddly, that seemed to be less true in their classical shops.)


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