Do You Feel Like We Do
Yesterday was Peter Frampton’s Birthday. Here is an essay I wrote about “Frampton Comes Alive.”
At 3:30 AM, Peter Frampton awakens me. Each night I leave my radio on when I go to bed. Sometimes, the music mixes with my rock star dreams/reveries. Yes, I still have rock star fantasies, even at my age. But this night, the sound of the opening strains of “Do You Feel Like We Do,” from Frampton Comes Alive, transports my subconscious back in time. It is 1976 again.
1976 was the first year in which music was the paramount thing in my life. It was the oxygen that kept me breathing, the only thing that kept me from drowning. On December 27, 1975, my father died, leaving me orphaned at eighteen. I had inherited an eight-room house, as well as Daddy’s stereo. A few weeks after he died, I bought Physical Graffiti, and a lifelong love of Led Zeppelin was born.
But that summer, that Bicentennial Summer, belonged to one man. I can still visualize the poster that was on the wall across the room from my bed. It was behind the door, meaning it could only be seen when the door was closed. Dressed in tight satin pants, with his golden hair haloed around his chiseled English features, Peter Frampton was the embodiment of everything that was cool, hip and fun during my nineteenth summer.
And I needed to feel cool, hip and fun, even if only vicariously. I was a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh when my father died. It took several months to sort out his financial affairs, while I lived on his savings. Whenever I got any extra money, I bought rock and funk albums. The monthly death benefits from the United Mine Workers arrived and I headed to Flo’s Records. My survivor’s benefits check came from Social Security and I went to National Record Mart after class. Only the sounds of loud guitar and thumping bass could assuage my loneliness and grief. I went to funk concerts with my friends, seeing the Ohio Players, Earth, Wind and Fire and Graham Central Station. But I had no friends that liked rock music. If I mentioned rock bands to my friends, they ridiculed me for listening to “white music.” But behind closed doors, I continued to rock the nights away.
“Frampton Comes Alive” kept me alive that summer. After months of hearing the songs on the radio, I bought the double album on May 12, 1976. I played the album almost every day that summer, until the grooves on the record were almost worn away and the gatefold cover started to fray. I even had the album on eight-track tape in my AMC Gremlin. I longed to see Frampton in concert, but I had to settle for watching him on programs like “The Midnight Special.” I didn’t know if black people even went to rock concerts.
I found a tan “Frampton Comes Alive” T-shirt at the drug store in South Hills Village, one of the local malls. Along with my yellow T-shirt with the ironed-on picture of Jimmy Page, that shirt became part of the uniform I wore to summer classes at Pitt. The glares from the black students and the stares of the white students did not affect my wardrobe choices. I was leaving the closed doors behind forever. I finally came out as a rocker, an African American anomaly.
From the introduction to the last strains of “Do You Feel Like We Do,” that album brought a smile to my face. Frampton and his band kept up the pace; going from fast jams to sensitive ballads. Back then, I didn’t know anything about how albums were mastered, so I never questioned whether the album was really live or not. But it didn’t really matter. The music was all I cared about. Sure, it helped that Frampton was gorgeous, but I would have listened anyway. Maybe I wouldn’t have hung up the poster or bought the T-shirt, but that was inconsequential when compared to the music. I read the Rolling Stone interview where Peter lamented his sudden fame after years of hard work. I even checked out his early work with Humble Pie. I dreamed of going to a Frampton concert, sitting in the front row near the speakers. But I never dreamed that both Peter and I would get older; that he would lose his golden mane or I would lose my naiveté.
During the long instrumental break in the middle of the song, I can feel the tears rolling down my face. My sheets are wet as I remember those days. I wish I could go back; have a “do-over.” If I could, I would go to rock concerts by myself, see Peter and Zeppelin and Elton, when they were all young and cool and hip and tickets for shows at the Civic Arena were $7.50. In a box in my closet, I still have my “Frampton Comes Alive” T-shirt, a relic that has withstood 33 years and 3,000 miles. And Peter still alive, even though so many of his contemporaries, like Humble Pie vocalist Steve Marriott and his “Comes Alive” band mate Bob Mayo, are long gone.
But some things never change. Peter is still playing and I’m still rocking. As the crowd noise is cued up for the end, I answer the rhetorical question. Do you feel like we do? Hell, yeah, Peter, I do!