The Suzy Corcoran Story
How I found my side of the velvet rope- and stayed
During my first decade as a freelance writer (1975-1985) I worked a variety of jobs to pay as much of the bills as possible. I was a gym attendant, an apartment maintenance man, an antique clothing store clerk, and a t-shirt shop manager. That first year I was also a volunteer gofer for the concert promoter that owned Sunbums, the lifestyle rag I wrote for. I had two main tasks for JFL Concerts: 1) I picked up the band’s luggage at the airport and drove it to the Kahala Hilton, where they all stayed, and 2) Using my military dependent ID card, I bought all the backstage booze at the package store at Pearl Harbor. A case of Heineken was $10 on base, but JFL would charge the acts the market price of $20, so I was actually making money for the boss. John Leonard’s right hand man Hank McMonigal would give me $250 and the contract rider, and I’d go buy everything on the list, except for expensive champagne and something called Pimms #1, which all the British bands wanted.
My half-price liquor store also didn’t sell Kahlua, which was just becoming popular (the military was always years behind), and when I delivered the spirits backstage for one show, Hank saw Kahlua wasn’t checked off, but said maybe they wouldn’t notice. But they did, and I was sent off in the long, black stretch limo to find a bottle of that coffee liqueur. Nearest liquor store was on Hotel Street in the red light district, and all the hookers and hustlers were wondering who was in that limo, when a 19-year-old kid in flip flops comes bounding out. Dan Fogelberg got his Kahlua.
The nicest band to work for was Loggins and Messina, who were extremely popular in the Islands- the haole Cecilo & Kapono. Their drummer Merle Bregante, who’s lived in the Austin area for decades, can vouch for their fanatical following in Hawaii. This was 1975, and every guy with a guitar at the beach sang, “Even doe we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with ya honey” (“Danny’s Song”). You’d see these big Hawaiian guys singing “House At Pooh Corner,” too.
On airport arrival, most of the acts went from plane to limo, leaving the tour manager to deal with the luggage, but Kenny Loggins was right there at the carousel, and we made small talk as he waited for his bags. He was very personable, in a happy mood. Everybody is after hours in a plane turn into Hawaii.
At the H.I.C. Arena the next night, I met Paul and Linda McCartney backstage. Met? Well, I brought them a couple of folding chairs so they could sit down, but they said they were fine standing. They were smoking a joint with Blue Johnson, the Sunbums art director who looked like Jimi Hendrix, and when they all went up the stairs to the side of the stage to watch opening act Leo Kottke, Blue handed me the roach. So I guess you could say I got stoned with Paul and Linda! But that wasn’t the highlight of the night for me.
Well, Loggins and Messina put on a show for the ages- I’m not kidding- ending with an 18-minute version of “Vahevala (Homeward Sailors),” which sounded like an ode to the Islands. There were encores- I recall “Angry Eyes” leaving a trail of dead- and PF Bentley got a great shot of the Loggins leap at the very end. It was the 37th frame on a roll of 36, a magical capture which became the back cover of Kenny’s Still Alright memoir. That was PF’s highlight, but mine was still to come.
After the concert, a crowd of onlookers gathered behind the backstage area, trying to get a glimpse of their heroes in the open space between the dressing rooms and backstage hospitality.
I was standing back there by the door when Kenny Loggins noticed me and came over. “Are Paul and Linda still here?” he asked, and I said they just left. (Actually they left right after Leo Kottke.)
“Michael!” came a shout from the crowd. “Michael Corcoran!” What the …? It was my fellow Radford High Class of ‘73 gradate Suzy Corcoran, waving from behind the beefy security O-line. I looked completely put out when I went over to see what she wanted, but I was giddy inside. Seeing as how I was obviously tight with Kenny could I get her backstage to meet him and Messina? “Sorry, Suzy. Paul McCartney’s back there, so security’s insane.”
You have to understand how big that moment was in my life. Two years earlier, senior year in high school, I was a new student trying to blend in. Suzy was one of the most popular kids, the president of the Key Club, and a leader of the drill team. Her father was a general, mine was an enlisted lifer. The first day of school, they took roll at home room. “Corcoran, Michael” the teacher said, and the girl in front of me said, “It’s Suzy.” There’s a Michael Corcoran, too, said the teacher, and I said “here,” to which Suzy Corcoran whirled around to look at the geek who dared take her name. As the whole class laughed, my cheeks burned deep red, and I don’t think I ever recovered. Humiliation on day one set the tone for my senior year, where I only needed to take half-day to graduate, so I rode the school bus at noon all by myself to Hickam AFB. I was the last senior to get his or her driver’s license, a month before graduation. But that wasn’t as bad as 10th grade, when I was the last to grow pubic hair.
I was always a year behind my classmates because I started school in the Azores Islands, where they put me in the first grade at age 5. My second grade teacher was the strictest and greatest I’d ever had. I won’t tell you her name because it’s one of my security questions at the bank, but she drilled us in phonics, which brought sound to words and made them come alive. When we got back to the States, I was so far ahead of the other kids they wanted me to skip third grade, which would’ve really made me self-conscious showering after gym in 11th grade.
Public high school in Hawaii was season 4 of The Wire doing the shaka sign. Lotsa bullying and class disruption by dumbasses. I was on the school paper at Aiea High junior year and Radford as a senior, but all the good assignments were taken by returning classmates, so I had to write about shit like cross country and bake sales.
But one day in journalism class at Radford, the dark sky opened up. The teacher assigned us to do a parody of a popular magazine of our choosing, and since my Bible since age 9 or 10 was Mad magazine, I was ready.
I was a recent graduate of the teen mags like Tiger Beat and 16, so my spoof rag was Sickteen. I roasted all the teen idols, like “Sajid Khanjob,” and especially went after “The Putrid Family,” whose members, even “Danny Fondadookie,” all had crushes on Keith. I remember I also had fake ads for products like sandpaper for acne, and a Top Ten list, where I credited the hits of the day to Radford teachers, like “Never Been To Spain” was by Mrs. Yamamoto, the really bad Spanish teacher. It was all pretty crude, but the other kids were passing it around and laughing their asses off. I was invisible no more, finally finding an identity as a warped pop culture satirist. But when the teacher dropped Sickteen back on my desk the next day it was graded a C minus.
My sense of humor is not for everybody. That’s the only thing I learned my senior year, but it was big.
Radford High School’s class of ‘73 held its 50th anniversary reunion in Honolulu in October. Why would I go? I barely remember any of the students, and they certainly don’t remember me. While the cool kids in high school were partying at “Tables,” which I think, from evidence pieced together through the years, was at Keehi Lagoon, my big Friday was taking the bus to Honolulu Stadium (“the Termite Palace”) to watch Islanders minor league baseball.
But I followed some of the reunion on Facebook and was impressed with the job the organizers did. One video pans a couple dozen ‘73-ers on a yacht, singing with joy in their eyes. I turned up the sound and it was “Tin Man” by America. God damn, they still love that shit in the Islands.
I didn’t see Suzy, which isn’t her real name, by the way. She was never mean to me, just more popular, so I don’t need to drag her into my revenge-of-the-nerd story. I didn’t have anything until I chose the rock ‘n’ roll life, was the point. When you follow that path, you don’t accumulate much, if anything, so when it’s over there’s nothing left behind than what you made in your mind.