I just read Bob Lefsetz’s post about the recent passing of Gary Richrath.
Who’s Gary Richrath? He was an early member and lead guitarist of REO Speedwagon during their heyday and he passed away on Sunday September 13 (no cause given). He was 65.
I can’t explain why it hit me the way it did. Probably because I have such fond memories of their music. It was truly midwestern. You see, even though I have spent over half my life living on the east coast I am a born and bred Midwesterner. Unabashedly, I might add.
So what? What does that mean?
Well, it means we Midwesterners are typically raised on, well, guilty pleasures.
Growing up I proudly embraced, hell, loved them all. I loved Pop Tarts (still do), McDonald’s and cheesecake. I also loved The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, Hart to Hart (which is being re-made…with a gay couple). And my love of music began with midwestern bands like Styx, Kansas and yes, REO Speedwagon.
Oh, let’s not kid each other, even then I knew it wasn’t Jimi Hendrix or Led Zeppelin, but it was catchy as all hell. There should be no harm in that!
While REO, Styx and Kansas could sell out arena’s in the heartland I can only imagine that maybe, maybe, they could fill theater’s on either of the more cosmopolitan coasts. It’s probably safe to say that the fan base of those bands wasn’t as big in New York City as it was in Dayton, OH.
Nonetheless, we lined up religiously to get our tickets and purchase their albums because we loved the music.
The midwest is often referred to (or derided) as the “fly over states” by media elitists on the coasts. While true, they make up the bulk of the population and influence an awful lot. How else can we explain the success of Two and a Half Men or Nickelback?
I think REO Speedwagon did what many other bands, past or present, just didn’t have the temerity to do. They worked their asses off touring (work ethic of a Midwesterner) and two, they learned how to craft good songs (like anything creative, it’s an evolutionary endeavour). In 1980 they released Hi Infidelity, their ninth studio album and it paid off in spades.
The album was as ubiquitous as Ronald Reagan was and spawned a bagillion hits, eventually becoming a member of the RIAA Diamond Club (albums selling over ten million copies).
Accordingly, bands like Styx and Kansas saw an upswing in popularity, but it was REO Speedwagon who really led the pack.
By trade we’re a loyal bunch we Midwesterners and stuck with REO for a while longer but, like almost all bands before and after them, they eventually imploded for various reasons not worth discussing here. You can view the story on VH1’s Behind the Music.
I eventually moved on to enjoy other kinds of guilty pleasures and all kinds of music. Over the years though, I still find that my heart resides somewhere in those fly over states. There is just something there. A sensibility that when struck right, resonates from coast to coast.
Some of my favorite artists, like The Replacements, John Mellencamp, David Letterman, Jonathan Franzen and the late Mitch Hedberg seem to have struck that chord for me. Who the hell knows why, they just do.
Expanding ones horizons is important to intellectual growth and I suppose that is what all of those artists taught me (but without question Bob Dylan was the first for me). More importantly I suppose they showed me that it is OK to just be who you are and like what you like.
Fuckit. Using modern parlance “haters gonna hate”.
I am proud to say that I remain loyal to my guilty pleasures. I still turn to Pop Tarts for sustenance and never, ever, turn down a chance to listen to anything from REO Speedwagons golden years, 1974-1981.
The body leaves, the music doesn’t.
Godspeed to Gary Richrath as be begins his next journey.