For a few years in a row, from 1979 to 1982, I was Rocky for Halloween. I went in black and gold boxing trunks, boxing gloves, no shirt, no matter how cold and a painted on black eye. I was the prime target audience for the Rocky series. I wanted to be a boxer. I wanted to chase chickens. I wanted to wear gray sweat suits and jog early in the mornings and run up stairs.
I was 12 years old at the time Rocky III came out. When I first heard the song, “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, I had to get my hands on it. That is the theme song to Rocky III.
My mom took me to the mall, which was where the only music store in town was and bought me the Survivor cassette. I worn it out over the summer of 1982. I doubt I listened to anything else. I knew it from beginning to end, backwards and forwards. I loved that cassette. All my time was spent finding ways to listen to that cassette.
My parents had been divorced for a number of years by that time. Every summer my dad would take me and my sister to visit his parents. They lived in Arkansas. We lived in Oklahoma. It was a good 6 hour drive or as my dad would say, about six to eight beers away.
My dads dad was a retired Methodist preacher. My dads brother was also a preacher. My dad was probably the black sheep as he was a hard-drinking, country boy that spent his time hunting, fishing, gambling and drinking.
I remember that trip to his parents house more clearly than any of the other trips we had taken there. I was on the verge of booming into a teenager. Up until this trip I saw my dad as an authority figure and nothing else. This trip was the first time I had realized he was just a person like the rest of us and he had his own things to deal with.
I took my cassette on the trip, but I knew there was a good chance my dad would not let me play it in his truck. Not without some ridicule of my music choice he let me put it in between Johnny Cash, Hank Jr and Merle Haggard. I got to listen to it once on our way to their house.
He drank and smoked more than usual on the way there. He was not allowed to drink or smoke at his parents house, so he was getting it in while he could. I sensed he was stressed and not necessarily looking forward to the arrival. Before we got to his parents house he stopped at a gas station, brushed his teeth, changed his shirt and put on some cologne. From there, we drove to their house with the windows down to air us off a little more.
As all kids my age, I was incredibly bored at their house. I sat around while the grown ups talked about things I could not relate to. The first night there I could not sleep. The house was stuffy, too warm. I decided I would sneak out to my dads truck and try to listen to my Survivor cassette.
It was about one in the morning. I was very nervous about sneaking out. I was new to the concept. I snuck out of the house as quietly as possible and was walking up to the drivers side of my dads truck, when he swung open the driver side door and quietly and calmly said, “get in”. He was in there smoking and drinking and was in a real quiet mood. He was not angry. He did not even seemed to care at all about my actions. I told him I came out to listen to my Survivor cassette. He put it in and played it in its entirety while we sat there, quiet. He seemed to be in a real heavy mood and I remember feeling a bit sad for him, even though I did not know exactly what to connect his plight to.
After the cassette played, he said, “well we should probably get back inside” and we quietly returned to the house and went to sleep. It was never spoken of.
That summer passed and I moved on to listening to other things and have not heard that album since 1982.
These days I have a buddy I smoke cigars with while we sit in his truck and listen to new releases of artists we love. We also listen to old stuff we have not heard in a while. I had been joking around with him for a while that we needed to drive around, smoke and listen to the Survivor cassette in its entirety. He was reluctant, rightfully so, but a few nights ago we did just that.
I was nervous and curious. I expected to hate it. My only intentions were to see if I remembered any of it. Back in 1982 I had every second memorized. I was curious if that still existed in my brain somewhere.
We lit a smoke and put it on. It opens with Eye of the Tiger, so obviously I remembered that. The next five songs I had no recollection of. I was a little disappointed it was not striking more of a chord with me. I was however enjoying it. It was a solid eighties rock album. It sounded nice and warm. The songs were good, better than I thought they would be.
Then a piano ballad came on for song seven and I knew it immediately. I remembered how much I loved and wore that song out. It reminded me that I do love a ballad. Tears streamed down my face while that song played. It took me back to to sitting in the truck with my dad. I am a sap for nostalgia. It is something I have always considered more of a flaw than a blessing. Tonight it was a blessing.
There was only one more song I remember that was near the end of the album, probably because it was the other single from the album and was also somewhat of a hit.
Thanks Survivor. Thanks for giving me this memory with my dad.
Here’s the piano ballad for your listening pleasure.