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I Was a Teenage Music Activist: How I Brought Down Leo Sayer

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I heard a song in the supermarket yesterday and it reminded me of this incident.

The year is 1978. I’m in high school, beginning of junior year. There’s me and three guys and we are best of friends. We go nowhere without each other, we make no convoluted plots to take over the world without all of us present. We move like stealth bombers in the night, all army jackets, dirty jeans and Genesis t shirts (before Phil Collins ruined the band, ok?) We are the cutting edge of a white bread community, which really isn’t saying much, but we think we are the coolest people on the face of the earth. We listen to prog rock and punk rock and never pop rock or disco or, god forbid, Journey or Bruce Springsteen. We think guitar solos are passe but drum solos rock the house. We think Peter Gabriel is a genius and bands like Styx and Fleetwood Mac need to be silenced. We secretly listen to Van Halen, but no one tells the others until years later, when we can laugh at David Lee Roth from the safe distance of many years.

We don’t hang out at the mall like the other kids. No, we hang out in Kevin’s room with the black lights and Emerson Lake & Palmer posters or we hang out in Paul’s garage, with the drum set and the Ramones “Road to Ruin” playing over and over. Every once in a while though, we are drawn to the mall, because Record World owns us. It is the only reason to get on public transportation. It is the only reason to beg someone’s older brother for a ride. To buy records and look through the stacks of vinyl and pray that you will find some obscure punk rock album in the cut out bin for 99 cents, but all you can find is Heart and Blue Oyster Cult, and a 45 of Nazareth’s “Love Hurts” that you play 50 times in the next three days.

One of those weekends arrives when there’s nothing to do because Kevin’s mom won’t let us hang out in the house and Paul’s mother is having a garage sale so we can’t hang out there. We decide to hop the bus and go to the mall, where we will pool our money together to buy an album, and have enough left over to ask Kevin’s brother to buy us quarts of beer when we get home. Perfect day.

We get to the mall and the first thing we notice is there’s more security guards than usual. This is suburbia. There’s not much trouble at the mall. We figure there’s some kind of protest going on. You know how those college kids are, always protesting the fur or the man or whatever gets them out of the dorms. So we make our way through the mall, wanting to just get to the record store and get the hell out of there without encountering any cheerleaders or football players or giddy junior high girls that always try to pick up Tim. We are about two feet from the record store when we are stopped by a short, fat security guard and a velvet rope going across the length of the mall.

“You cannot get through this way. You must go around the other entrance to the mall and wait on line.” The guard stands with his hand in his pocket, as if he is believing his own lie that he’s a real cop and there’s a gun hidden away there.
“Wait for what?” I ask him. “What’s the line for?” He rolls his eyes at me. “The show. The concert.” I can almost here the “Duh!” coming out of his mouth.

We look beyond the velvet ropes, past the throng of the most hideous looking group of middle aged women and giggling teenagers forming what looked like a huge conga line of patheticness. There’s an amplifier set up on each corner of the square the ropes have formed. There’s a makeshift stage in the middle, really just a few planks of wood. A concert. A show. “So, who’s playing?” Kevin asks the guard. He rolls his eyes again.
“Only Leo Sayer!” He says this with pride and arrogance. As if we should have known that the most untalented white boy to ever grace pop music was playing in our very mall today. “Leo Sayer,” I say. “Leo Sayer,” The other three say.

We look at each other in the way that only friends who have performed sinister acts of rebellion together in the past can do. The look. The glance. The unspoken words that pass between us. The guard senses something going on. He looks us up and down, sees the clothes and the hair and the patches on the jackets and you can just about see the light bulb go on over his head.

“Hey! You’re not here to see Leo!” “Duh,” I say. “We’re here to buy some records. Can we go in?” “No. Come back tomorrow. And don’t make any trouble. I know your kind.” “Sure,” Tim says. “Sure. We’ll be on our way now. You take care, ok?” His words were the equivalent of patting the guy on the head.

We walk around the other side of the mall. We stake the place out, eyeing the set up of the amps and the positioning of the security guards. We synchronize our watches and hatch our plan and wait. We wait patiently. Fifteen minutes until Leo Sayer bounces on to the stage, white boy afro and squeaky voice, ready to rock the world with “You Make me Feel Like Dancing.” Wanna dance the night away? Nope. Not with you, Leo.

We must do this. In the name of good music. In the name of Peter Gabriel and Joey Ramone.

Five minutes til Leo.

Finally, we hear a squeal rise out from the crowd. The sound of 200 or more tone-deaf women swooning at the site of a guy who looks like the poster child for geeks. We assume our positions. We wish each other luck in our mission. It’s time.

Leo is escorted on to the wooden plank stage by his manager and two mall security guards. The women swoon. The music cues (this is the 70s – he’s going to lip sync) – and we run in four opposite directions. Within thirty seconds we have done it. We have unplugged all of Leo’s speakers. The music stops. Leo is just about to “sing” the first words into the mic and everything goes dead. He’s mouthing words to dead air. Silence.

The security guard who spoke to us earlier spies me as I am walking swiftly away from the northeast amp. “IT”S THEM!,” he shouts, pointing in my direction, and then swinging around to see Kevin running the other way. He points at him, at me, yelling at the other security guards, his face red and sweaty and alarmed. I’m having fits of laughter while I’m running, thinking that the guard is acting as if we just killed the president. I keep thinking about book depositories and grassy knolls and this too fat mall cop running after me because some disco pop boy had his amp unplugged.

The four of us meet outside, at the bus shelter and we decide it’s too risky to wait another ten minutes for the bus to come so we start the long walk home, stopping every once in a while to roll around on the sidewalks in fits of laughter.

We get home, tell Kevin’s brother about our exploits and he buys us beer and lets us drink it in his room. This is the big time. The older brother’s secret sanctuary. He holds up his quart of piss warm Miller and toasts to us. “To good music!” We toast back, drink our beer and it doesn’t dawn on me until now, 20 something years later, that Genesis wasn’t really good music, and that Leo never had a hit after that day.

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About Michele Catalano

  • http://www.io.com/~riddle/ Prentiss Riddle

    Great story!

    Funny thing is, even though I graduated from high school in 1978 the only Leo Sayer fan I’ve ever known in my life was our small-town Oklahoma school’s one adventurous rock&roll listener. He was into Leo Sayer back when he still wore white facepaint (remember the facepaint?). He was also the only kid in our school into Kraftwerk, Slade, Sparks, Suzy Quatro, Iggy Pop, and heaven only knows what other proto-punkers and precursors of this or that. He had no access to imports or real obscurities but still managed to be into bands I’m just finding out about 25 years later. So, was he merely inconsistent or was there something cool about *early* Leo Sayer? :-)

  • http://theminister.net/craig/eyesaw.html btezra

    I may be wrong, but I think Leo Sayer asked me “would you like fries with that” the other day…

  • Grumblegut

    Having seen Genesis on the “Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” tour, I must agree with you. Genesis was not good music. I still enjoy Leo Sayer’s “Long Tall Glasses”, however. When I consider his later output, I think you guys did the people at the mall a great service for pulling the plugs.

  • Eric Olsen

    Great tale of teenage derring-do, Michele. I do like a few Leo tunes but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t as uncool as diptheria. I still like the third ELP (Trilogy?), Lamb Lies Down, and Selling England By the Pound, by the way.

  • http://asmallvictory.net michele

    Shh..don’t tell anyone, but I still own Selling England and the ELP trilogy on vinyl.

  • Scott

    Unfortunately, Leo Sayer suffered from What many singers and groups suffered from in the late 70’s, the “disco confusion”. I remember Alice Cooper talking about not really knowing what to do during that period, so he made some really terrible songs that resembled what could have been disco pop songs. Some songs on the album “From the Inside” come to mind.

    I agree with a few people here about Leo Sayer’s earlier music. It was good, but he did not know what to do when disco dripped it’s way into the the world of music.He decided to jump on board and it ruined his career and pretty much Destroyed Cooper’s career too.

    I disagree that Genesis was bad music. Much of it sounds dated today, however, it was incredible music for the time, unfortunately, many people did not recognize that until Gabriel left the band. I don’t believe there will ever be a more creative time in the history of Rock music than the late 60’s and early to mid 70’s.

    I purchased all the Japanese mini album CD version’s of the early Genesis albums and I still love to listen to them. The packaging for the CDs is just like the original vinyl albums which are quite nice!

    I believe that some songs still hold up quite well now, but some do not and that is the nature of progressive rock of that era.

    I also listen to a great deal of new music too and theere are still some really creative bands out there, you just have to search through the clones to find something! I am a music junky and proud of that!

    Scott

  • Scott

    Unfortunately, Leo Sayer suffered from What many singers and groups suffered from in the late 70’s, the “disco confusion”. I remember Alice Cooper talking about not really knowing what to do during that period, so he made some really terrible songs that resembled what could have been disco pop songs. Some songs on the album “From the Inside” come to mind.

    I agree with a few people here about Leo Sayer’s earlier music. It was good, but he did not know what to do when disco dripped it’s way into the the world of music.He decided to jump on board and it ruined his career and pretty much Destroyed Cooper’s career too.

    I disagree that Genesis was bad music. Much of it sounds dated today, however, it was incredible music for the time, unfortunately, many people did not recognize that until Gabriel left the band. I don’t believe there will ever be a more creative time in the history of Rock music than the late 60’s and early to mid 70’s.

    I purchased all the Japanese mini album CD version’s of the early Genesis albums and I still love to listen to them. The packaging for the CDs is just like the original vinyl albums which are quite nice!

    I believe that some songs still hold up quite well now, but some do not and that is the nature of progressive rock of that era.

    I also listen to a great deal of new music too and theere are still some really creative bands out there, you just have to search through the clones to find something! I am a music junky and proud of that!

    Scott

  • Scott

    Unfortunately, Leo Sayer suffered from What many singers and groups suffered from in the late 70’s, the “disco confusion”. I remember Alice Cooper talking about not really knowing what to do during that period, so he made some really terrible songs that resembled what could have been disco pop songs. Some songs on the album “From the Inside” come to mind.

    I agree with a few people here about Leo Sayer’s earlier music. It was good, but he did not know what to do when disco dripped it’s way into the the world of music.He decided to jump on board and it ruined his career and pretty much Destroyed Cooper’s career too.

    I disagree that Genesis was bad music. Much of it sounds dated today, however, it was incredible music for the time, unfortunately, many people did not recognize that until Gabriel left the band. I don’t believe there will ever be a more creative time in the history of Rock music than the late 60’s and early to mid 70’s.

    I purchased all the Japanese mini album CD version’s of the early Genesis albums and I still love to listen to them. The packaging for the CDs is just like the original vinyl albums which are quite nice!

    I believe that some songs still hold up quite well now, but some do not and that is the nature of progressive rock of that era.

    I also listen to a great deal of new music too and there are still some really creative bands out there, you just have to search through the clones to find something! I am a music junky and proud of that!

    Scott

  • Scott

    Unfortunately, Leo Sayer suffered from What many singers and groups suffered from in the late 70’s, the “disco confusion”. I remember Alice Cooper talking about not really knowing what to do during that period, so he made some really terrible songs that resembled what could have been disco pop songs. Some songs on the album “From the Inside” come to mind.

    I agree with a few people here about Leo Sayer’s earlier music. It was good, but he did not know what to do when disco dripped it’s way into the the world of music.He decided to jump on board and it ruined his career and pretty much Destroyed Cooper’s career too.

    I disagree that Genesis was bad music. Much of it sounds dated today, however, it was incredible music for the time, unfortunately, many people did not recognize that until Gabriel left the band. I don’t believe there will ever be a more creative time in the history of Rock music than the late 60’s and early to mid 70’s.

    I purchased all the Japanese mini album CD version’s of the early Genesis albums and I still love to listen to them. The packaging for the CDs is just like the original vinyl albums which are quite nice!

    I believe that some songs still hold up quite well now, but some do not and that is the nature of progressive rock of that era.

    I also listen to a great deal of new music too and there are still some really creative bands out there, you just have to search through the clones to find something! I am a music junky and proud of that!

    Scott

  • Scott

    Unfortunately, Leo Sayer suffered from What many singers and groups suffered from in the late 70’s, the “disco confusion”. I remember Alice Cooper talking about not really knowing what to do during that period, so he made some really terrible songs that resembled what could have been disco pop songs. Some songs on the album “From the Inside” come to mind.

    I agree with a few people here about Leo Sayer’s earlier music. It was good, but he did not know what to do when disco dripped it’s way into the the world of music.He decided to jump on board and it ruined his career and pretty much Destroyed Cooper’s career too.

    I disagree that Genesis was bad music. Much of it sounds dated today, however, it was incredible music for the time, unfortunately, many people did not recognize that until Gabriel left the band. I don’t believe there will ever be a more creative time in the history of Rock music than the late 60’s and early to mid 70’s.

    I purchased all the Japanese mini album CD version’s of the early Genesis albums and I still love to listen to them. The packaging for the CDs is just like the original vinyl albums which are quite nice!

    I believe that some songs still hold up quite well now, but some do not and that is the nature of progressive rock of that era.

    I also listen to a great deal of new music too and there are still some really creative bands out there, you just have to search through the clones to find something! I am a music junky and proud of that!

    Scott

  • Scott

    Unfortunately, Leo Sayer suffered from What many singers and groups suffered from in the late 70’s, the “disco confusion”. I remember Alice Cooper talking about not really knowing what to do during that period, so he made some really terrible songs that resembled what could have been disco pop songs. Some songs on the album “From the Inside” come to mind.

    I agree with a few people here about Leo Sayer’s earlier music. It was good, but he did not know what to do when disco dripped it’s way into the the world of music.He decided to jump on board and it ruined his career and pretty much Destroyed Cooper’s career too.

    I disagree that Genesis was bad music. Much of it sounds dated today, however, it was incredible music for the time, unfortunately, many people did not recognize that until Gabriel left the band. I don’t believe there will ever be a more creative time in the history of Rock music than the late 60’s and early to mid 70’s.

    I purchased all the Japanese mini album CD version’s of the early Genesis albums and I still love to listen to them. The packaging for the CDs is just like the original vinyl albums which are quite nice!

    I believe that some songs still hold up quite well now, but some do not and that is the nature of progressive rock of that era.

    I also listen to a great deal of new music too and theere are still some really creative bands out there, you just have to search through the clones to find something! I am a music junky and proud of that!

    Scott

  • Scott

    Unfortunately, Leo Sayer suffered from What many singers and groups suffered from in the late 70’s, the “disco confusion”. I remember Alice Cooper talking about not really knowing what to do during that period, so he made some really terrible songs that resembled what could have been disco pop songs. Some songs on the album “From the Inside” come to mind.

    I agree with a few people here about Leo Sayer’s earlier music. It was good, but he did not know what to do when disco dripped it’s way into the the world of music.He decided to jump on board and it ruined his career and pretty much Destroyed Cooper’s career too.

    I disagree that Genesis was bad music. Much of it sounds dated today, however, it was incredible music for the time, unfortunately, many people did not recognize that until Gabriel left the band. I don’t believe there will ever be a more creative time in the history of Rock music than the late 60’s and early to mid 70’s.

    I purchased all the Japanese mini album CD version’s of the early Genesis albums and I still love to listen to them. The packaging for the CDs is just like the original vinyl albums which are quite nice!

    I believe that some songs still hold up quite well now, but some do not and that is the nature of progressive rock of that era.

    I also listen to a great deal of new music too and theere are still some really creative bands out there, you just have to search through the clones to find something! I am a music junky and proud of that!

    Scott

  • Scott

    Unfortunately, Leo Sayer suffered from What many singers and groups suffered from in the late 70’s, the “disco confusion”. I remember Alice Cooper talking about not really knowing what to do during that period, so he made some really terrible songs that resembled what could have been disco pop songs. Some songs on the album “From the Inside” come to mind.

    I agree with a few people here about Leo Sayer’s earlier music. It was good, but he did not know what to do when disco dripped it’s way into the the world of music.He decided to jump on board and it ruined his career and pretty much Destroyed Cooper’s career too.

    I disagree that Genesis was bad music. Much of it sounds dated today, however, it was incredible music for the time, unfortunately, many people did not recognize that until Gabriel left the band. I don’t believe there will ever be a more creative time in the history of Rock music than the late 60’s and early to mid 70’s.

    I purchased all the Japanese mini album CD version’s of the early Genesis albums and I still love to listen to them. The packaging for the CDs is just like the original vinyl albums which are quite nice!

    I believe that some songs still hold up quite well now, but some do not and that is the nature of progressive rock of that era.

    I also listen to a great deal of new music too and theere are still some really creative bands out there, you just have to search through the clones to find something! I am a music junky and proud of that!

    Scott

  • http://www.iansharp.net Ian

    Let me declare my credentials – I too think Peter Gabriel is a genius. I also think Genesis, on the whole, made excellent music.

    But the point of this post is Leo Sayer. I saw him live a few months ago, singing blues at our local arts centre here in Aberystwyth, Wales. He was great, he really can sing blues.

    So yes, he made some horrible, cheesy records. Probably, when you saw him, he deserved for the plugs to be pulled. But if he comes near you to sing the blues – see him!

  • http://www.leosayer.com Leo Sayer

    I remember that day you little shits.

    Whose laughing now eh!?

    Answer? ME! Thats who! I’m back in the big time.

    I’ve just hasa number 1 smash!

  • Evan

    hi Leo Sayer i just want to say that you a great singer

  • Evan

    even though you did not sell as many records as Elton John Billy Joel Barry Manilow Neil Diamond John Denver Cat Stevens Neil Young Gordon Lightfoot Jim Croce Neil Sedaka Olivia Newton John the Carpenters Captain and Tennille and Jackson Browne

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