In the summer of 1979 I was between my sophomore and junior years in college, and I was so anxious to start a career in journalism that I volunteered to spend it working for a small weekly newspaper in Peoria, Ill. called the Penny Press, which in turn meant living with my surprisingly crotchety (although now much missed) grandparents there. It didn't just mean leaving my friends back East, but it meant leaving the music I'd fallen in love with during those years, New Wave/punk rock, in order to work in the land of REO Speedwagon and Styx.
Sure, I had a few LP's that I tried playing on my grandparents' 1950s-ish "hi-fi," but most of the time I was stuck with some really bad tunes on the radio -- until a song came along that was too big for even the lame stations in Peoria to ignore. It was "My Sharona" by the Knack -- hook-laden, raunchy, with that memorable guitar line and killer solo in the middle. I could listen to that song over and over, and -- as it was No. 1 on the Billboard charts for six weeks -- I did exactly that. And before I knew it, I had survived the great summer of high gas prices and malaise.
The Knack didn't fare so well after that -- critics thought they were either too smutty or too contrived, but I think it was just impossible for them to ever top the perfect summer song of the late 1970s. I read a couple of years ago that lead singer and songwriter Doug Fieger was battling cancer; he finally succumbed this weekend at age 57. It's sad, but whenever I think of what it was like to be 20 years old, I will remember Fieger, and four minutes and three seconds of rock 'n' roll salvation.