It was time to go back to the beginning.
And I had found the perfect weekend to do just that, so I cleared my calendar, made plane and hotel reservations, and set off on a pilgrimage to the Pacific Northwest to see two acts that played such monumental roles in my formative years as a music fan: Kiss and Bob Seger.
No, they weren't playing a doubleheader, although longtime fans might remember that Seger did open shows for Kiss back in the day. The two acts just happened to be headlining at the Moda Center -- home of the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers -- on consecutive nights.
I sold it to my editor as a way to preview their high-profile farewell tours. Yet, my main mission was simply to see Kiss and Seger in concert at least one more time -- not as a music critic, but as someone who was deeply impacted by their music.
Every school seemed to have a "Kiss guy" when I was growing up. And that was definitely me at Alta Vista Elementary School in Los Gatos, Calif. I wore the shirts. I had the lunchbox.
I didn't have a girlfriend.
Before Kiss, I couldn't have cared less about music. I was all about collecting comic books and watching whatever cheesy horror movies the great Bob Wilkins was showing on the old "Creature Features" TV show. Then along came Gene Simmons, spitting blood, breathing fire and walking around on giant platform boots.
Kiss served as my bridge from comics and monsters to the world of rock 'n' roll. I was hooked. And I soon had every inch of my room plastered in Kiss posters.
Kiss taught me how to be an uber fan. It wasn't simply enough to love Kiss -- I needed everybody to know that I loved Kiss. I do the same thing today, albeit minus the lunchbox, with Roxy Music and a few other favorites.
It was fun to see Kiss in Portland, Ore., even though their brand of commercial hard rock doesn't impact me in the same way it did when I was in sixth grade. What I really treasured, however, was the flood of decades-old memories as I heard Kiss "Shout It Loud" and run through cuts from the first two "Alive" albums. I thought of friends like Chris and Ian -- the latter of whom I probably haven't seen in 30 years -- as well as April, the girl who lived right up the hill from my house, and her friends, Michele and Wendy.
And right there with them was my dad, a Frank Sinatra guy who still agreed to take his son to his first Kiss concert, and my mom, who loved me enough to spend countless hours listening to Kiss by my side, even though Nat King Cole was more her style.
Like a rock
If you were friends with me in high school, you listened to a lot of Bob Seger. It's not like you had any choice in the matter.
Seger, more than any other single artist, provided the shared soundtrack for my group of high-school friends. He'd be accompanied by all sorts of others on occasion, from David Bowie and Prince to Merle Haggard and the Go-Go's, but he was the constant.
The first Seger song I heard was "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man" -- the 1968 single credited to the Bob Seger System -- and it simply blew my mind. I had been listening to mainly Kiss and some of the other popular hard-rockers of the day, like AC/DC and Blue Oyster Cult, and Seger sounded nothing at all like that.
There was a whole different kind of rhythm and groove to the music -- a whole different kind of soul -- and it quickly became clear that I had found my new favorite artist. Unlike with Kiss, my love of Seger's music has stood the test of time. I might forget about him now and again, for a week or two, while I go ga-ga over R.E.M. or Joy Division. But I always come back.
Listening to him onstage in Portland, it really became clear just how much his music has shaped how I experience the world to this day. I grew up listening to -- memorizing and cherishing -- lyrics to such songs as "Night Moves," "Like a Rock" and "Against the Wind," which were told with the hyper-nostalgic and reflective perspective of an older man looking back at his younger days.
By the age of 13 or 14, I'd spent so much time identifying with the protagonists of those songs, trying to mimic his feelings, even though I had yet to experience for myself nearly any of things Seger was singing about.
I think that has a lot to do with why it's so hard for me to live in the moment at times -- especially at the best of times -- as if I'm already longing nostalgically for a moment before it has actually had the chance to slip away.
I certainly wasn't surprised by the rush of memories this time around. I thought about all those summer nights spent doing nothing and living large with Scott, Brian, Mirizzi, Marcy, Raul, Dixon and, yeah, of course, Pat.
There were lots of laughs, a few tears, and one really good soundtrack for driving in a red Toyota truck and singing for all we were worth.
Some of those friends are gone, some remain. But they all felt just a little bit closer as Seger sang the closing lines of "Travelin' Man" in Portland: "Sometimes at night, I see their faces/I feel the traces they've left on my soul/Those are the memories that made me a wealthy soul/I tell you, those are the memories that made me a wealthy soul."
And I guess that's why I came to Portland -- to say thanks, Kiss and Bob Seger -- for the memories.
(Kiss plays Mohegan Sun on Saturday, March 23, and TD Garden on Tuesday, March 26. Bob Seger has no local dates planned.)