Pulling an Arsenio: People Who Quit Something For Two Decades, Then Return
Wikimedia Commons That thing where you quit something for like twenty years and then all of a sudden are like JK GUYS I WANT TO DO THIS AGAIN.
From Rip Van Winkle to Arsenio Hall, there's something fascinating about people who attempt a comeback after a two-decade absence. To change direction once is hardly surprising in this economy: We've all read the trend pieces about the laid-off bankers who found peace baking gluten-free cupcakes. But twice? They say it takes ten years of hard work to get any good at something, but after that can you ever forget what you've learned? What kind of people abandon their passion for nearly twenty years only to wake up one day and feel inexplicably drawn back in?
In the spirit of the rebooted edition of The Arsenio Hall Show, which began airing this past Monday on KTLA and Tribune-affiliated stations around the country, L.A. Weekly spoke with three people who truly believe in (long-delayed) second chances.
Alan J. Duignan
Brad Roberts, 63
Just after 11p.m. on Monday, August 1, 2005, Brad Roberts was flipping through the channels when something caught his attention and changed his life forever. It was the music video for Arcade Fire's first big hit, "Rebellion (Lies)," and he was stunned.
"Oh my god," he thought, "people are making music again."
At that point, Roberts hadn't listened to new rock and roll in 25 years.
Growing up in Massachusetts, Roberts started with the Stones and the Beatles of course, but soon graduated to Frank Zappa, Arlo Guthrie, Poco and The Kinks. The day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, in 1969, Roberts was at a Joni Mitchell concert; later that summer, he made the pilgrimage to Woodstock to see Jefferson Airplane. But a decade later, at the end of the 70s, rock and roll was dead and it was time to grow up, so he moved to Los Angeles to work in film.
"Lawyers took over the record companies, and they tried to fit everyone in a pigeonhole, and aerobics became as much as part of an act as the music, and the lipsyncing! It all became so techno," he says.
For a while he lived down the street from the Whiskey A Go Go but never went, continuing instead to listen to his old favorites, as well as classical music and movie and Broadway soundtracks. The ex-hippie spent almost two decades under the tutelage of legendary logo and title designer Saul Bass, who created title sequences for Hitchcock, Kubrick and Scorsese, among others.
But then, Arcade Fire happened. He bought headphones, a Discman and a copy of "Funeral" the day after he saw the video on Refused TV, a public access show run by the now-defunct music video production company of the same name. He started watching the show religiously each week, searching for new bands to follow, and soon discovered that the weakened record companies of the post-Napster world once again allowed for bands with meaningful lyrics and instrumentation to flourish.
That fall, he tentatively ventured out to his first concert since the B-52s at the Hollywood Palladium in 1980. He was 55, and it was the Super Furry Animals at the Avalon.
"I really didn't know if people would point at me and say, 'Look at the old man!' or 'What is he doing here?'" Roberts says. "But it felt right."
Roberts' grey ponytail and gleeful grin became a fixture on the indie scene, and he soon befriended the musicians, grew his hair longer and exchanged his boring wardrobe for thrift store duds.
In 2008 he started a blog called Feed Your Head, after a Jefferson Airplane lyric. Manning the welcome desk during his day job at Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, he'd pour out his thoughts about new music and recent shows in long hand on a yellow legal pad, four or five pages at a time, and then type everything out at an Internet café. Six months later, he invested in a laptop.
Now, he goes to a handful of concerts each week, writes a weekly rundown of upcoming shows for Radio Free Silver Lake, and books bands for a Feed Your Head show on the first Saturday of every month at Lot 1 Cafe in Echo Park.
And his rekindled love for new and live music has left him feeling better than ever, reinvigorated and somewhat giddy. The only difference, at this point, between Roberts and the rest of the indie rock superfans crowding the Satellite or the Bootleg, trying to figure out whether or not this band is any good, is that Roberts actually pays for all of the music he listens to. (He picks up eight to ten albums a month at Amoeba.)
"Because when everybody's in a room, focused on the music, you almost feel like you're alone with the band," he says, comparing the experience to his anti-war protest days. "You almost feel like everyone around you has that same sense of focus, and that really takes me back, that really takes me back."
Up next: quitting teaching