“UHN... hold on...
UHN, hold on ta me tighter
Never gonna leave you Now (gasping for air)
Can’t you please believe me now...”
I didn’t understand what that “UHN” meant, or why the scramble for breath. I knew it was something, something that eluded me – and something that pulled my nose to the speaker of that silver Ford LTD with the black vinyl roof my mother drove, Marlboro ever jutting from her mouth. She hated WMMS, but was exhausted from the arguing about “beautiful music” versus rock & roll.
I cut my eyes sideways to see if my mother had heard it. Her eyes had narrowed. Something sliced the steel belted exoskeleton and slid right in. Even she got it. And she hated rock music. Thought it was dumb, and loud.
Eddie Money, a former New York City cop, who looked like the kinda Guinnea boys you saw on the brick streets of Murray Hill, was blowing up car stereo speakers with his first album. Long hair tumbling down, unconstructed jacket, shiny shirt, smile that knew things bad and eyes that strafed you as you walked by. He wasn’t quite dangerous, but with given the opportunity, he wasn’t gonna play altar boy, that much was clear every time “Two Tickets To Paradise” or “You’ve Really Got A Hold On. Me,” or “Baby Hold On” spilled out of an open car window.
Waking in a hotel in downtown LA. It used to be a flophouse, after a long run as the very respectable YWCA. The sheets are lovely, the bathroom has two sinks. I ‘d been waiting on the ghosts, only now there’s an email Eddie Money’s dead. B pop star to most, footnote to kids. Blue collar punch the clock kind of rocker.
I rub my eyes, pull myself up. Every day, somebody’s dying. Eddie Money, one could argue, outran his fame. But man, when you’re a kid, and there’s a Gordian knot blocking your understanding, those memories stick. And if he was the same kind of journeyman as Donnie Iris, Bob Seger or Billy Joel before they hit, well, that first album had a lot of hooks.
And ultimately, the former cop had the same kind of white guy soul that Southside Johnny Lyons had: from deep in the gut, a left turn around the larynx and through the vocal chords and over the lips with a whole lot of mean it and even more unfiltered desire. This wasn’t a smooth talker kinda guy, and he knew what he wanted. But, of course,I was a little too young to figure all that out.
Anyway, that popped silk collar charisma all the Italian boys worked back then defined. Biker jacket, street corner bravado. You didn’t mess with them, even if you didn’t know better. Don’t engage, definitely don’t antagonize. The cool of the brio was kind of intoxicating.
He coulda been Italian, like my hot-headed second ex-fiancee, but he wasn’t. Actually Irish, but Mahoney didn’t have the same music as Money – and as a blue collar, working class kid, he was all about doing what you had to to get by. Cleveland was a working class town filled with guys just like him. So was Detroit, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Rochester. But there was also something musky, alluring about whatever it was he was doing. “Two Tickets To Paradise” packed the same escapist runaway ethos to a promise that... what was it? And did it have something to do with that “UHN”?
Seventh/eighth grade dances would beckon, where Crazy Uncle Obie would spin the hits, lights spinning and gawky kids would get swept up in the guitars, the cymbals played on the rims and the hormones we didn’t really understand. But who cared if their palms were sweating if Bad Company or the Doobies or Thin Lizzy were calling you to the dance floor?
Eddie Money was part of that siren’s song. Jumping up and down, squealing “pack your bags, we’ll leave tonight” with delight from the way the melody caught you up, the notion of knees together freedom was more than plenty. I mean, most of us didn’t even know what the notion of knees together really meant; we assumed it was to not flash the dingy white some of our cotton panties had turned from multiple washings, or maybe advertise the nascent pubic curls that were starting to escape from beneath the elastic border.
In a way, all true. But it was – as I would figure out much later – what lay beyond that innocence. As the Knack admonished But The Little Girls Understand, and Cheap Trick built a temple from the shrieking swarm, Eddie Money was a more honest wolf than that. But somehow in that Irish way of being so impossibly, criminally charming, he’d laugh you all the way to wherever those two tickets might lead.
Sitting in traffic on Las Olas Boulevard in a lime green 72 Mustang that was more lemon merengue yellow with a gen-u-wine avocado Naugahyde faux leather and no air conditioning, I was inhaling the brutal heat and humidity that was August in Fort Lauderdale. WSHE – She’s Only Rock & Roll – played “Baby Hold On” five or seven years past its prime. The world fell in.
“UNH...” Uh-HUH. it hit me. This was a guy on the verge. Having lost my virginity late, I had no rolodex of coital sonics. That kind of dumb ass innocent, I might park, but that other zipper was going nowhere... And by the time I got around to truly getting horizontal, Eddie Money was reserved for recurrent airplay.
No wonder he sounded so smoky when he wasn’t mid-release. That wrung out, torqued up tone to his voice, it wasn’t just dusty or road worn. Something made it urgent, but until you’ve fallen into the funnel of that sort of merge’n’release, you just can’t recognize it.
The scratch-scratch-scratching inside your rib cage or pelvic region, some kind of nervous pressure? It’s not so cause-and-effect that you know. But you lean towards it, knowing there’s something there – and you know it’s gonna be good whenever you figure it out.
The late ‘70s and ’80s, populated by the dichotomy of punk and disco/country/arena rock, created an odd disconnect for my generation. Alienated kids, losers and outcasts weren’t looking for social statements as much as tribes and signifiers. And in Cleveland, Ohio, the idea of getting married, settling down and having a family – even in my all-girl school with an emphasis on college and meaningful degrees – was an unspoken thing.
For me, music meant freedom from those things. If Tom Petty’s “Wild One” set the pace for my heart, anything that spoke to getting away resonated. Even Eddie Money, whose music was largely unoriginal, obviously derived of a hybrid that morphed Springsteen’s most Asbury Park with Meatloaf’s full-charged bravado.
Eddie Money wasn’t cool. That wasn’t the point. Like a million Catholic guys and prep school boys, he was reaching for what he could get – and he wanted a tender place to fall, someone to believe in him, and yes, to get down with. As the horn blew behind me, and I started to laugh, I thought about all the nights punching the sky in punctuation to the songs from the first album.
Eddie Money. Like those ‘50s and ‘60s doo wop artists, girl groups, singles acts, there was a moment – and the moment mattered. Those songs were indelible, but the artist? A few tepid albums followed; more of the same, but with sanded down hooks.
“Trinidad” from his third or fourth album offered a little exotica with a Caribbean undertow, and it worked at radio, but it didn’t lob that visceral immediacy. The even more reggae “Running Back” seemed to follow-up on the cool freeform AOR morning shows, but his desire felt snuffed out.
And so it was. Until MTV launched. Suddenly, a stuttering, staccato tom-tom pound-down – with a video that returned to raw lust and release with a visual reinforcer of a hydraulic lift vintage car bouncing for all its shocks were worth – called “Shakin” put Money back in the crosshairs of hard hormones and gotta have it. The song was everywhere...
FM, AM, MTV. Rock stations, Pop stations, AC stations. The voice, still blustery and worn, witnessing to that kind of nuclear erotic magnetism with zero self-consciousness. Eddie Money breathless, offering homage to the girl, the car, the coitus. It was on – and inescapable.
Suddenly, this guy, verging on obscurity, was back with a vengeance. He knew what it was like to go from the good tours to the dumpy clubs, the decent hotels to crappy truck stops and busted no name motels.
When he speaks in the breakdown of “Shakin’,” there’s a sense it’s more than just the sex he’s referencing. Stammering, “I got a little nervous... She took her. coat off, she looked so pretty... “ The music swells back up as he confesses, “I’m always talking, maybe talking too much...”
That seemed the tide of Money’s life, career. Managed by the legendary concert promoter Bill Graham, who had a great seat to the show, sometimes there’s an X factor to take a band from being a hit act to Bon Jovi. Maybe he had it, maybe he didn’t.
But what do you want the boy to do? Albums like Where’s The Party?, No. Control, Life For The Taking and Playing for Keeps were serviceable, workmanlike, cliche. But unlike Foreigner, whose debut album was the same kind of hit dispenser, the massive hit eluded.
Interviewing him for a South Florida bar gig – for The Miami Herald? Unlikely. The (University. Of) Miami Hurricane? Perhaps. The Palm Beach Post in my first gig post-college? Could be – talking to the journeyman rocker was an odd push/pull. Resigned to the life, knowing hits made the difference, introspection wasn’t something the former cop leaned into.
He wasn’t combative, wasn’t bitter – or philosophical. Mostly, he seemed tired instead of the seen-too much, jaded boredom of guys whose fame is fading. Happy to be talking about music, he was affable, not deep with the answers. The kind of interview where you hang up, and wonder “What am I gonna write?” and worry about hashing clichés because that’s all you got.
He had an album out, one that was languishing. MTV was probably a luxury Epic Records had stopped affording him. Maybe Springsteen said something about Ronnie Spector in an interview, or Little Steven threw down somewhere. But the lead track “Take Me Home Tonight,” a song of being washed out, of needing to believe, of wanting someone to be there, featured the bad girl doyenne of the Ronettes.
Ronnie Spector. Another obscured pop soul deserving so much more light and wonder, a woman with a trenchant sob that cut open every hurt you’ve ever known. Eddie Money knew that pain, remembered her embodying his own longing as a kid. For him, to have her on the desperate plea was the past and the present paralleling for perhaps a better future.
And that’s part of it. Money lived like a rocker, booze, blow, babes and pills. Those party down demi-anthems were as often torn from his own life. It’s why when he was engorged, he was so compelling – and when he was not, the hits were a little scarcer.
In the conversation, beyond the absolutely reverence for Spector, a Popeye-channeling sense of “I Am What I Am.” MTV liked a different kind of pretty boy, played to the rock & roll fantasy. The scrappy New Yorker was like any blue collar Joe cranking out covers in his garage. He knew it, and was okay with it. Indeed, he was so okay with it, I didn’t dare ask about the erotic load in his songs – because it would’ve been like talking to “that uncle” about his sexual adventures.
Hey, regular people have sexual adventures. But it doesn’t mean you wanna see’em with their clothes off, and that’s some of what made Money’s pull so sticky. He gave hope to every one of us, whether waiting for the reason, the willing partner or that one special person. Hearing him turning his voice inside out against what passed for rock & roll in the moment suggested that kind of passion, want, need existed for the rest of us.
Exhaling hard, I opened up Spotify – and figured I wanted to remember whatever it was. And the first thing naturally was “Hold On.” Knees pulled up to my chest, arms circled around them, I held my breath waiting... waiting for that “UHN,” and remembering before there’s sexual healing, there’s the pilot light of rock.& roll.
The record sounds dated as hell, but it also sounds exactly like being that awkward age. It feels like one of those songs – with the ooooohs providing a cushion for that husky, dusky voice, the hand claps punctuating the shuffle – that pulls shiny kids who aren’t completely sure. Hands flying, smiling at the notion of surrender, jerking back and forth, hips swiveling, fists pumping and – yes – shouting along, it is as far as the limit will let you go.
Tonight, there’s no limit. Eddie Money, fighting stage 4 esophageal cancer, slipped into the stars. That regular guy, that average bloke who kept getting counted out, then bouncing back with yet another record that was ubiquitous for a year or two, doesn’t have to fight to have a place on the charts. He doesn’t have to worry about the audience eroding out from under him.
Checking my IMs on Facebook, sure enough, ex-fiancee #3 – once dragged to see “Eddie Cash & Carry” as we joked on our way to the show I was reviewing – had popped up. “I heard about Eddie Money, and you were the first person I thought of, you... and that show.”
At its best, that’s what music – like the passage of the people who make it – does: pulls you together, binds your memories, melts time and place and gives you an urgency to touch those moments where you felt so alive.
Dan, as ex-fiancee #3 is known, co-managed John Prine, built Oh Boy! Records and Steve Goodman’s Red Pajamas label. He’d surfed in the punk/roots waves of Los Lobos, X, the Cramps, Tex & the Horseheads, the Screaming Sirens and the Busboys. The Midwestern love of working class pining eluded him, at least when it had that glossy guitar and earnest passion. He laughed all night, marveling at how the time-warped, acid-washed crowd kept yowling.
But three decades later, the proof is in the message. Eddie Money’s gone. He didn’t live the rock & roll fantasy, but it looked like he figured out how to have the music keep him, his wife of 30 years, five kids, siblings and the faith.
Turning on the shower, I pull the album with “Take Me Home Tonight.” Gated drums, nervous guitar parts, synthesizers move through the steam. As a woman whose known great loves, men afraid to cross parallel and a few failures to launch, I get it. Get how one holds on by what’s heard in the voice of another...
Tonight, that voice’s home. Outran the cautionary memoir in song “Passing by the Graveyard” too many nights. Now he doesn’t have to run, he just has to turn up the radio and hear Ronnie sing “Be My Little Baby.” We should.