'78 - Mike Pek In the spring of 1978, I walked into Rondo Music in my hometown of Union, NJ - carrying a bright red, barely-tuned Sears acoustic miniature without a case. After introducing himself to my mom, a mild-mannered guitar teacher named Lou Slammer grabbed my guitar by the neck like he was holding a stray kitten and uttered one crushing word which I can still hear echoing to this day: "Cute." Suddenly, the noisy rock wonderland of twanging Fender Stratocasters, distorted Marshall amps, and clanging Pearl cymbals fell silent as every long-haired, rock 'n' roll shredder in the store turned to stare at the pudgy, insecure, and introverted preteen with his red guitar and even redder face. Like every other experience in my young life, shame and failure seemed destined to come crashing down and thwart what was still a budding, but largely unpromising, interest. I once received the last-place trophy for bowling a "13" at the annual Cub Scout Banquet. But, maybe something about this was different - I somehow hoped. And so I pressed on... In six months I had proved my commitment to Lou and to my parents by working through an entire Mel Bay instructional book - before cutting my teeth on chords and riffs from the Beatles, Stones and Neil Young. For the first time in my life, I was actually good at something, and it opened up a whole new world, including friendships I have to this day. By the end of that year, I had graduated to a used Harmony Rocket (also red) and would soon join the first of many bands, one appropriately named "Crimson." In that same year, my musical sensibilities and direction were forever changed when I heard an album called Darkness on the Edge of Town. Though I knew Springsteen's other music, I was ambivalent to say the least. But something in the driving rhythms, raspy vocals and angst-filled, but hopeful, lyrics of "Promised Land," "Adam Raised a Cain," and "Badlands" spoke to me like nothing had before, or has since. Like the lyrics of the country artists my parents played at home on our one-piece console and various 8-track tape players, these songs told stories of everyday people. But unlike most country ballads, these songs seemed to be about the kinds of people I knew and the kind of frustration, pain, and longing that I felt but didn't yet have a name for, nor a healthy way of articulating. As I held up the album cover and stared at the young, skinny, and disheveled Bruce standing in front of yellowed blinds and fading wallpaper, I knew exactly where he was in that photo, and more importantly, I knew where he was coming from. After all, he was once just a blue-collar kid like me from the stifling confines of a small working-class New Jersey town. In many ways this album not only made me want to write songs, but it somehow made me believe that I could. 1978 was also in many ways the peak of what was arguably the most fertile, unrestrained, and unrivaled decade in the history of popular music. The Rolling Stones' release of Some Girls seemed to embody the eclectic nature of that period and in many ways typified the vast array of good music that was out there on the radio, regardless of where you were or where the dial was. The discoesque "Miss You" stole vibes from Donna Summers and the Bee Gees, while "Far Away Eyes" gave Willie Nelson a run for his money. Their inspired cover of the Temptations' 1972 soul classic "Just My Imagination" fit comfortably on the same album alongside the schizophrenic rock-pop anthem "Shattered" - which belonged in any new wave play list, one which might include "Psycho-Killer" by the Taking Heads, "Heart of Glass" by Blondie, or their own hit "Satisfaction" covered by DEVO that same year. In the midst of tabloid turmoil in the Bronx that whole summer, the Yankees pulled off one of the greatest and most colorful comebacks in baseball history - topped off by the Bucky Dent homerun against the hated Red Sox and a second consecutive victory over the LA Dodgers in the World Series. Anything seemed possible. Despite the bumblings of his brother Billy, Jimmy Carter still held the nation's - and the world's - respect. Mood rings and Pop Rocks were all the rage at school, and unless you had a well-to-do friend with Atari, video games were still something you played at a pizza parlor or bowling alley for a quarter a pop. And, though 78s themselves had fallen by the wayside, most record players still featured this high-speed option which allowed you to make Tom Waits sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks. But, 33rpms still ruled the day, as album rock and FM radio in 1978 were not only alive, but thriving. Format? Thirty minutes tuned to WNEW might get you a driving 2-minute punk-rock nugget by the Ramones, followed by a 12-minute jazz-pop ballad by Steely Dan, then an upbeat country-rock ditty by Fleetwood Mac, seamlessly blending into the laconic new-wave flavor of a Cars tune. And yes, they all released landmark, if not definitive, albums in that year. But despite all these options, 1978 was the pinnacle moment of the singer-songwriter. Jim Croce, Carol King and James Taylor had grown up to become Warren Zevon, Patty Smith and Elvis Costello, as Excitable Boy, Easter, and This Year's Model hit the airwaves. There music was cynical, poppy, and smart. Not to be outdone, Billy Joel would break down any existing barriers separating pop, rock and jazz by releasing not one, but two masterpieces between 1977 and 78: The Stranger and 52nd Street. An artful listen to "One More Reason" will reveal the extent to which his music has influenced mine - perhaps a just a little too much... And, Kiss even went solo that year, as each member released his own record. With the American Embassy in Tehran seized and hostages taken in 1979, the Carter administration would soon lose any historical equity remaining from monumental successes at Camp David. By 1979 it would become all too apparent that the fantasy worlds of music and baseball in which I had found so much refuge and hope were in no way immune to the real world turmoil that had already begun to beset the country. 1979 would mean the death of my first sports hero, Yankees catcher Thurman Munson, who would perish in a plane crash in August of that year. Between September 1978 and October of 1980, we would lose two of the most transformative figures of rock music and arguably the two best drummers, The Who's Keith Moon and Led Zeppelin's John "Bonzo" Bonham. It was as if these two larger-than-life iconoclasts just did not have the heart to see video kill the radio star or "Magic Bus" become a Volkswagen commercial. With a dagger already stuck into it's beating heart, rock 'n' roll would lose it's spirit and soul in late1980 and early 1981, as John Lennon was gunned down outside his apartment in New York City and Bob Marley succumbed to Cancer two months later. Ronald Reagan, MTV, Spandex, media deregulation, and just about every other cultural toxin I can think of came crashing down upon the musical landscape in the next decade, eventually ushering in the beginning of the end. Do I even have to mention the Pet shop Boys? Many people have asked me about the name of the record, and like any question you ask of me, there is no simple answer. But, thirty years hence, as I spent the summer of 2008 making this album - in a studio with an engineer, session players and live instruments, not at home on my computer - this vision of 1978 seemed to play over and over in my mind. These musical influences came back in the form of production ideas, inspiration, and motivation. At the same time, I started to draw more and more parallels between my work on this album (who even makes albums anymore?) and those of my early influences, as well as connections to more recent influences like Ryan Adams and Wilco (check out "Tweedy"), artists who really should be much more well known than they are, and at another time would have been. In many ways this record is a tribute to the artists of '78, to the spirit of that era, and to the idea of what popular music could one day be again.