Backstage Adventures

Search JoyZine with Google Site Search!

The Adventures of Zoë

The Pretenders backstage passes

Chapter 6 -

The Pretenders, The Alarm and Courtney Love—before she got famous


It's Monday, February 27, 1984, and The Alarm have finally arrived in San Francisco, on tour with The Pretenders. They're a big deal in The City right now, having been picked up early on by Frank Andrick's Early Tremors show on the hippest of the local (non-college) stations, KQAK.

Right at 7:30 that night Zoë approaches the Will Call window at the San Francisco Civic Auditorium. Her show passes (Zoë + 1, the standard industry issue) are there, the photo pass is not, the backstage passes are not. "Hey," Zoë muses philosophically, "one outta three ain't bad in this business."

Besides, Colleen delivers the message that Zoë's to go to the right-hand backstage area after The Alarm come off and she'll be walked past Bill Graham's security guys by the band's management. "And there's a guy with cameras lurking about saying he's your Plus One," Colleen continues.

Zoë finds her Plus One, photographer Mark Leialoha, they collect the show passes and talk the cameras in. ("After all," Zoë justifies her violation of security, " we were supposed to have a photo pass.")

After The Alarm finish their enthusiastically-received set to a packed auditorium, Zoë fights her way through the crowd packed in front of the stage, the right-hand side leading to the backstage area.

"You're on the wrong side of the stage," the guard informs her.

"But this is where I was told to go!"


"Yeah, me too," Zoë thinks, as she fights her way through the crowd to the other side of the stage.

"The Alarm? Oh, you want the other side," the guard insists.

"But they told me to come across over here!"


Chrissie Hynde/Pretenders c Mark Leialoha/Artist Publications

Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders
Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, CA, 2/27/84

photo © Mark Leialoha/Artist Publications

By this time Zoë was really worried about Plus One: Where is he? Has he been grabbed by a security guard zealously enforcing the no-cameras-without-a-photo-pass rule? Has he been lured off the job by some scantily-clad young maiden? Zoë doesn't know what to think.

When she finally locates him, he tells her that he'd worked his way to within 10 feet of the stage (not having a photo pass, he couldn't go into the pit in front of the stage, from which rock photographers usually shoot a show. Afraid to move, afraid of being caught, he'd stayed there until spotted by an eagle-eyed security guard, who'd plunged into the crowd, ripped the lens off his camera and tried to confiscate the film. Having been trained (on the job) in such battleground tactics, he'd escaped with the camera, the lens (though shattered), and the film.

So, it's back to the guards at the backstage entrance again. "Oh, yeah, right. Nobody told us before. Wait here," one of them says, and disappears. Soon, a nice, blond English lady appears: "You'll have to wait awhile. Sorry." And disappears again.

Finally, at 10pm she's back again, and this time, it's "Let's go."

As she walks past the guards Zoë thinks, "Oh, please remember my face. After all this hassle, I'd hate to leave the dressing room to go to the bathroom and get thrown out, 'cause I still don't have a pass!"

And then it's inside, to an all-too-typical dressing room: too small, a limp deli plate with assorted cold cuts, cheeses and grapes. The garbage can filled with ice and beer. A few people leaning about (there aren't enough chairs, either). And the gaggle of musicians trying to come down off a performance high.

An hour later the show is over and Zoë's managed to totally miss The Pretenders. "Oh, well," she thinks, "I can see them tomorrow night," as everyone decides to go eat, drink and be merry. After all, it's only 11pm, the night is still young….

At 9am the next morning the phones start ringing. The band is supposed to go to Alcatraz for a camera shoot. No one but the photographer feels like it.

At 11am the band, Zoë, the photographer on tour with the band and management finally assemble in the hotel lobby for coffee.

Finally, at noon Zoë and Sarah Jane (the tour manager's girlfriend, the aforementioned nice, blond English lady) get in Zoë's car, with the band and the photographer cramming into a taxi, and speed off to visit the Jimi Hendrix Memorial Church, where it's been decided the photo shoot will take place.

Sarah Jane's Yorkshire eyes are hurting from all the sunlight. The band obligingly poses and poses…and poses. Zoë leans against a light pole, still rather fatigued from last night. Then the photographer decides he wants to shoot the band under the weird-looking trees in the park across from the SF Auditorium

So Sarah Jane and Zoë hop in her car and take off. They stop in at a stationary store looking for a suitable book for keeping tack of everything the band does all day. They can't find one big enough. They also can't find any sunglasses. Anywhere. They walk to the park. We can't find the band. Sarah Jane is panicking: "I've lost the band! Oh, no!" But finally we locate them. Someone had decided it would be really cool to take a photo of the band on the dome at the top of City Hall.

Mike Peters/The Alarm c Mark Leialoha/Artist Publications

Mike Peters of The Alarm
Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, CA, 2/27/84

© Mark Leialoha/Artist Publications

Sarah Jane and Zoë are dispensed to make arrangements. Up the steps to the ornate, early 20th century building they go, past the grandmother with her placards and recorded message complaining about mayor Feinstein's government, through the gilt-edged door to the guard.

"Yes," Sarah Jane offers, "we're with the band that's playing at the Civic, and we want to do a camera shoot on the roof."

"You want to go up on the roof!?!" the incredulous guard echoes. "Go see the people in Engineering."

As it turns out, the San Francisco Civic Hall is something like a battleship or a space ship—there's an engine room peopled with engineers who maintain the vessel. After a bit of wandering about, Sarah Jane and Zoë manage to locate the correct room and talk to a seemingly very skeptical and bewildered Chinese gentleman (there are lots of Chinese in San Francisco, legacy of the days when the railroads imported them for cheap labor a century ago). He promises to talk to his supervisor. "Come back in a half hour,"

Back across the street, we watch four tired but eternally cheerful musicians from Wales run through flocks of seagulls while a photographer from LA shoots miles of film. Until finally, we get the word that permission has been granted for us all to climb up inside the dome on this very tall building.

So it's up the steps and past a very startled engineer, where the band and company are greeted by the Chinese engineer. The band, the engineer, Sarah Jane, Zoë and the photographer—including photo equipment and a tripod—cram into a freight elevator.

Then, everyone is led through what looks like a hole knocked in the wall, and the stairs up into the dome come into view.

"Oh, my God," Zoë exclaims. "Have you guys ever been inside the Statue of Liberty? It has stairs just like these." They're about as wide as our bodies, little metal things that wind up into the dusty darkness. Well, there are lights and a rest spot about 3 feet wide every now and then. On the wall at the first one is a little homemade sign: "First cardiac rest area. Only 148 to go."

Up and up they climb, the photographer lugging his case full of cameras, Mike with the tripod, and Zoë in a tight dress and high heels. Twist develops vertigo and has to go back down. But the rest of the party make it. They climb up one final, totally vertical rung ladder and out into fresh air. Out on a ledge, halfway up the dome. Great view.

The guys pose, the photographer exercises his finger, and the Chinese gentleman regales one and all with tales of his visit to his ancestral village in mainland China. "They love rock'n'roll over there, he informs us. "The taxi driver asked my daughter if she had any tapes with her. He put one on and loved it."

It's getting to be about 2:30, Sarah Jane reminds everyone, so they reverse the climb and join Twist in a place where people come to read: there's a low wall, statuary, carved ceiling and ornately decorated walls. The band poses for more photos…

By 3:30 the band is back at the hotel to join up with the photographer from Musician magazine. They're doing a feature article on The Alarm and it's deadline time. Ian, Eddie and Zoë go off to Zimm's for chocolate shakes (The Alarm love chocolate shakes). Sarah Jane joins them, then leaves again. People wander in and out. Finally, the band is gathered and united with the photographer of the moment.

At 4:30 the band jumps into a taxi to join Ian and the tour photographer at the Civic for sound check. Sarah Jane and Zoë follow in Zoë's car, Zoë drops Sarah Jane at the backstage door and then goes to park.

Heading for backstage, Zoë prays, "Oh, please, don't let it be a repeat of last night…" But this time she's lucky. Sarah Jane appears just seconds after Zoë arrives. "Get her a pass," the guard growls as Zoë crosses the BGP security line.

Zoë and Sarah Jane then find a seat in the large backstage room where band and crew hang out and redeem their meal tickets. They talk, read comic books, some play soccer. Chrissie Hynde and Martin Chambers are at a table across the room. And there's local groupie, Courtney Love, loudly holding forth.

"My goodness, American women are aggressive," Sarah Jane remarks to Zoë, apparently forgetting Zoë's nationality.

As show time approaches, Zoë deliberately sets out to make friends with the backstage guard between the side stage and the dressing rooms, for experience has taught her that even the proper backstage pass sometimes doesn't work. The best insurance of all is to get the guard to feel that he has to guard you too. Zoë's so successful, that soon she's telling the guard who should be let this far backstage (there are levels of backstage access). "Last night, they weren't going to let me back at all," Zoë muses. "Ain't life funny sometimes?"

The band finishes their set, everyone gathers in the dressing room again. Zoë misses The Pretenders again. And then Zoë goes home to sleep, 'cause tomorrow night The Alarm headline a side show at the Kabi Theater while The Pretenders have a day off.

Courtney LoveDay 3 of The Alarm and all the passes are there for Zoë and her Plus One. It's a great show and the audience is really excited. "Cool, should be a good night afterwards," Zoë thinks.

But then the unexpected happens. The Alarm has announced "That's all, really," after the 3rd encore, but the audience is having none of it. They storm the stage, totally overwhelming Bill Graham's very well-trained security staff, and start grabbing at the band.

Terrified, the band finally escape, and lock themselves in their dressing room, refusing to let anyone else in.

Which doesn't go down well with Courtney. Zoë looks on in amazement as Courtney stands outside the dressing room door, screaming, "You have to let us in! We're your fans!"

And then the guards drag Courtney away.

Interview with The Alarm next


Back to Top
Contact | Site Map | Links | Privacy |
Site designed & maintained by Artist Web Design
Copyright © 1996-2018