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Modern Love

The 1983 Day on the Green with the Police, the Fixx, Madness, Oingo Boingo, and the Thompson Twins blew open the alternative-rock movement in the Bay Area

By Todd Inoue

IN THE BOTTOM of my T-shirt drawer sits a crumpled, fading reminder of my membership in the New Wave militia: a Madness muscle shirt from 1983 stamped with a "Fuck Art, Let's Dance" logo on the front and tour dates on the back. I've flashed it at school dances and nursed it through four presidential terms. The ball of stretchy cotton barely fits across my chest. I'll never sell it on eBay or relegate it to swiffing dust bunnies. I got the shirt at Day on the Green No. 3, a huge summer blowout on Sept. 10, 1983, at the Oakland Stadium that starred the curious new music makers of the time: the Thompson Twins, Oingo Boingo, Madness, the Fixx and headliners the Police. I was a veteran of several Day on the Greens, mostly of the butt-rock variety, but this was the first one where New Wave was the norm. Rock still represented in the previous 1983 DOTG's--No. 2 was Simon and Garfunkel, and No. 1 was Journey, Triumph, Eddie Money, Bryan Adams and Nightranger.

This Day on the Green stood out for the sheer audacity of the lineup. The Thompson Twins were a quirky New Wave band with man/woman front duo and a dreadlocked percussionist. L.A. madcap musicians Oingo Boingo, led by Danny Elfman, were just about to blow up with Good for Your Soul. Madness was crossing over from second-wave ska to the pop charts with the inescapable single "Our House." The Fixx was perfecting its crystalline pop ("Stand or Fall," "Red Skies") with Reach the Beach and Shuttered Room. The Police stood at the zenith of their popularity, owning the Billboard charts with Synchronicity and the stalker anthem "Every Breath You Take."

This year represents the 20th anniversary of the day when 59,800 people showed up to partake in a World Cup of modern music and fashion. KQAK, the Bay Area "Rock of the '80s" station, was less than a year old. Every band on the Day on the Green was just starting to catch on because of college radio and a relatively recent phenomenon called MTV.

Gregg Perloff, president of Bill Graham Presents, booked the show. "Clearly, there was a sense of a change," Perloff recalls. "We didn't know what the change was going to bring, but the feeling backstage, the way the bands acted, the crowd--everything was a little different from the other shows we had done. It was really exciting because we knew we had taken a chance. We believed in it, but it was a tremendous musical and financial risk."

Perloff and Bill Graham needn't have worried; the show would sell out, and it was evident that future Day on the Greens wouldn't need the services of Journey or Gamma (featuring Ronnie Montrose).

"I was there, and it was really cool," says Big Rick Stuart, one-time KQAK and Live-105 DJ and now at classic rocker KFOG. "The Police were awesome. If fact, all the bands were at about the peak of their time. I remember thinking how cool it was to have a whole show with these bands, and not having the Fixx open for Lynyrd Skynyrd or something."

Only a Lad

My own memories of the show are strong but quickly fading. New Wave and punk songs blasted out of the cars in the parking lot--possessing a Thriller cassette could be grounds for treason. A procession of Breakfast Club archetypes decked out in New Wave finery marched from the BART station up the stadium overpass and into the sprawling concourse in a contrail of hair colors. Style-conscious mods sweated feverishly under the weight of porkpie hats, three-buttoned suits and fur-lined parkas. Goths maintained their death-warmed-over pallor underneath the overhangs, smearing their black lipstick on Big Gulp cups.

Joe Rosato Jr. of San Francisco drove up from Fresno before dawn. "It really was an incredible show because the all the bands were the biggest icons of the '80s. I didn't realize what a historical event it was at the time, but now that I look back on it, I can see it was one of those magical events that represents an era."

"That Day on the Green was like a big party Bill Graham had just for us," Stuart adds. "It worked out well. Madness and the Police were the standouts that I recall. I was a big, huge, monster fan of both bands. It was like being in a John Hughes movie."

It was extremely odd to hear Thompson Twins songs like "Love on Your Side" played at stadium-level volume. Oingo Boingo set off a minor stampede near the infield as an impromptu pit broke out around second base. Danny Elfman, incited by the dust cloud kicked up by the revelers, dedicated "Only a Lad" to the "wild bulls" in the back.

Madness was my personal favorite. It was a revelation to see the Nutty Boys in 3-D. During the Fixx set, a smashed paper-cup fight ensued, with thousands chucking projectiles into the air, turning the Coliseum into a popcorn popper (see sidebar).

I was most intrigued by the enduring sentiment shared. I didn't know more than five Madness followers in my own circle of friends, and here I found a clutch of hard-core fans skanking and singing their brains out. Thompson Twins and Oingo Boingo fans came out of the closet and stood shoulder to shoulder.

The show was a tremendous success. Perloff remembers that it was the only Day on the Green that summer that turned away people.

"When the Police came on, it was as if nobody else had played," says Perloff. "In 10 seconds, everything else went away. It was a wonderful show; all the bands were real fun, good bands. The Thompson Twins were unique. How could you not dance to Madness? Danny Elfman, in hindsight, has had a tremendous career. But it was one of those days where the anticipation for the Police was so overwhelming. If you talked to people in the audience, it was more about community and a sense of belonging--that every band was important."

The Police played at dusk and opened with a three-song throwdown of "Voices Inside My Head," "Synchronicity I" and "Synchronicity II." The sun had disappeared, and the moon was a huge soccer ball basking over the right-field bleachers. Sting motioned for everyone to look behind them, and as we did, he hit the bass line for "Walking on the Moon."

The Police drew everyone together, and the stadium chanted reverently along. A precedent was set. Alternative music didn't have to stay confined to the smaller clubs. David Bowie, the Tubes and Translator went on to play Day on the Green No. 4 at Oakland Stadium. KQAK's adventurous playlist opened the door for Live-105. Most of the bands would go on to enjoy different levels of popularity. But for whatever Behind the Music drama that occurred, nobody can erase Sept. 10, 1983, a day when the 59,800 people showed up to praise the gods of modern rock, a day when the New Wave weirdos took over.

Big Day Out

Cy Curnin of the Fixx may have forgotten the words to "Lost Planes," but he vividly remembers the paper-cup fight.

By Todd Inoue

CY CURNIN is the lead singer of the Fixx, which was the main support for Day on the Green No. 3 (1983) at the Oakland Stadium. Today, the vocalist of "Stand or Fall" and "Red Skies" lives in France, tending to more rural habits after a brief stint as a designer hat maker. Curnin continues to tour with the Fixx, and the band has a new record due in the fall. I asked Mr. Curnin to share his memories of the big day back in the decadent '80s He was only happy to share.

Metro: What were your memories of that show? Do you remember the cup fight that ensued during the Fixx's set?

Curnin: My memories of the show are still very strong. For me, the whole day was a magical experience. The set included songs from Shuttered Room and Reach the Beach. "One Thing Leads to Another" was a huge hit for us at the time, and the audience seemed to know most of the words to our songs and were singing along in loud spirit. I forgot the words during "Lost Planes," and people started throwing cups and paper plates in the air. From where I was standing, it looked like a white sea of flying objects, almost quasi-religious. Anyway, I was tripping away on the buzz of the moment.

What do you remember feeling after the show was over? What was the state of the band at the time?

The feelings after the show, as you can imagine, were pretty overwhelming. It was indeed the largest audience we had played in front of and still to this day remains so. At that moment, we felt as though we had crossed a threshold in our careers. No going back, and a long way to fall. Scary and exciting all at once.

In 1983, alternative bands were just starting to take over the 'Billboard' charts. What was the feeling backstage among the other bands; was there a sentiment that this could be the start of something huge?

The feelings backstage were pretty lighthearted--lots of joking, just enjoying the day. We had no idea how long our "15 minutes" would last. But the audiences was so huge we knew something was changing in pop culture. The technology was driving the masses to new highs!

At the time, some alternative bands were unfortunately packaged with hard rockers, to help break them in America (e.g., Big Country opening for Blue Oyster Cult). Did the Fixx ever have to open for someone like Lynyrd Skynyrd? If so, what happened?

I think we opened up for Journey once. The audience had mullets and even a few teeth could be seen through the vacant stares of the "living dead"!

Do you think the Oakland show had any lasting impact on how alternative music is packaged?

Multi-act events have always drawn large audiences and therefore a lot of media attention. Back then, people came to see what they liked, not what they were told to like!

What are you doing now? Still touring with the Fixx and creating chapeaux?

The Fixx has a new CD ready for release in the fall. We still tour a lot--more info at www.thefixx.com. No more hats! Just making goat cheese in France and breeding fancy chickens, go figure! Only one life, right?

Summer Music Guide 2003

Summer Sonic: This summer, Good Charlotte's Joel Madden looks forward to touring and working on his '65 Chevy.

Perry-patetic: Lollapalooza's Perry Farrell attempts to recapture the spirit of 1991.

Modern Love: The 1983 Day on the Green with the Police, the Fixx, Madness, Oingo Boingo, and the Thompson Twins blew open the alternative-rock movement in the Bay Area. Plus: an interview with Fixx frontman Cy Curnin.

Ozzfest 2003: With Ozzy Osbourne, Korn, Marilyn Manson, Disturbed and Chevelle. Shoreline.

Summer Sanitarium: With Metallica, Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, Mudvayne and Deftones. Candlestick.

Wilco and R.E.M: Shoreline.

Björk: Pier 30/32.

Stanford Jazz Festival: With the Branford Marsalis Trio, alumni from Cal Tjader's groups, James Williams, Madeline Eastman, Dena DeRose and Geri Allen's Ensemble. Dinkelspiel Auditorium and Campbell Recital Hall, Stanford University.

Comcast San Jose Jazz Festival: With Nneena Freelon, the Count Basie Orchestra, Greg Osby, ¡Cubanismo!, the Yellowjackets, Jimmy Heath and Ledisi. Dinkelspiel Auditorium and Campbell Recital Hall, Stanford University.

India.Arie: Montalvo.

Beck/Dashboard Confessional: Greek Theatre.

The Dixie Chicks: HP Pavilion.

Lou Reed: Mountain Winery.

Shows: From Agenda to Zoë.

Summer Festival Guide: Art, wine and more.

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From the May 22-28, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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