When VH-1 contacted me and said they wanted to do a show on Berlin , I was surprised. Did anyone still care about Berlin ? Had VH-1 finally exhausted all other “Where Are They Now?” candidates and realized that they had one last time slot to fill?
At that time I didn't know that a reunion was in the works. VH-1 wanted to come to me, in San Francisco , to conduct the interview. This was certainly convenient for me, but I was disappointed. I had hoped that during the course of taping “Why Were They Then?” or whatever the new series would be called, that I would at least get to see my old band mates.
It's not as if we couldn't have kept in touch--some of us actually have, to greater or lesser extents. But here I was faced with the prospect of reliving those days and I felt a sense of embarrassment that these people were now strangers to me.
I left Berlin soon after recording the Love Life album. Things were going places that I didn't want to go, and I figured that I could better benefit humanity on my own, free from the bondage of being Berlin's “middle guy,” always caught somewhere between the “John & Terri” front end and the “other guys” back end. I needed to embark on a solo career that would change the world.
And change the world I did. My world, at least. I was out of the music business as quickly as I had entered it. I accepted my new role in ordinary life just in time to see “Take My Breath Away” reach number one. I should have been bitter. I'm good at bitter and I exercise it every chance I get. But I just felt proud. Proud that my old band mates were number one, and proud that I hadn't played on that absolutely terrible track.
I was living in Colorado , cutting hair for a Steamboat Springs barber shop, when Berlin came through on the “Count Three & Pray” tour. My coworkers had no idea that Berlin was a part of my past. I took off work early one day to drive to Denver and see them play. It was the first time I had seen Berlin from the audience. They were good, but not as good. I felt like I had screwed things up for everybody. They just didn't seem like “us” anymore.
Not long after, Terri quit and band disbanded. That'll teach them for keeping me in middle-guy bondage, I reckoned. I had things to say, songs to write, public policy to dictate. I have never been adequately appreciated in my life. One day I'll die and then everyone will be sorry. (And I plan to borrow money from everyone just before I go.)
So now, some five decades later, VH-1 all of a sudden wanted to hear about it. I had nothing to say, but knew that I'd never shut my mouth once I started talking.
I couldn't wait for my interview.
I learned of the reunion surprise on the day of my interview. There I was at my local airport, innocently planning some suspicious flying around the Golden Gate Bridge to see if I could meet some nice military men with big jets. (It's not a uniform fetish with me, it's more like an appreciation for a man with a job.) All of a sudden I'm accosted by a little guy with a big microphone and an even bigger entourage. This was not J. J. Jackson or Martha Quinn! Did I miss something? (Or was that MTV?) Anyway, I don't get cable television so I didn't know this man, but I know the look of a camera. These folks, I reasoned, must be from VH-1. I was almost certain of it when the man with the microphone introduced himself as VH-1's host.
He waved a copy of the Love Life album in my face and explained that a reunion was in the works. Was I in? The album had signatures from Matt Reid and John Crawford. I recognized both, not only from the handwriting, but from the names. John's name had a question mark over it. The host, whom I later referred to as “Aamer” because that is his name, explained that John added the question mark because he would not commit to participating until I had agreed to do it.
Now, I know John Crawford. I was skeptical about the idea of him basing his involvement on my involvement. That question mark was hardly about my participation. I was certain that John scribbled that question mark because he wasn't really certain if he was ever in the band. After all, he must be quite old by now and I can't imagine that he would still possess all of his faculties.
Me? I'm still extremely youthful. And hot too. A fan at the Berlin reunion would later tell me so, and I would verify it soon thereafter in a nearby mirror.
Anyway, I quickly agreed to do the show and signed my name. Oh, the impetuousness of youth.
The interview followed and this Aamer-with-a-mic person started asking me questions that were no doubt intended to dig up dirt: Was it true that John was once a woman? Had Terri Nunn really had a three-way relationship with a U.S. Congressman and his wife?
How was I to know? It's a good thing he didn't ask such things.
While we talked, I was thinking about John's question mark. Maybe he was actually aware of more than I had given him credit for and maybe, just maybe, the question mark was about the logistics of doing such a reunion show. John was always a fairly logical guy (after the operation) and I wouldn't put it past him to consider the possibility that this show wouldn't work. But not me. I was certain that I could look good on camera...uh, I mean that we could pull this off.
I thought back to the Denver show that I had seen so many years ago, and also to a recent performance of the “new” Berlin that I had attended. Clearly this was a band completely devoid of any awareness of how my absence had destroyed them. On and on they chugged. It's cute, really. (But sad too.) But with me back in the picture, it could work. I was determined to make it happen if I had to push the “Play” button on the CD player myself. Why, with today's computer automation and advanced facial concealers, how could this not work?
The next few days, for me, were all about gaining a far greater appreciation for the power of the question mark.
How in the world would we pull this off? I didn't know a thing about modern synthesizers except that the bands using them were all cheap Berlin knock-offs. (All of them.) But, confident in my ability to learn just about any new technology, I did what knew I needed to do: I told VH-1 that they had to find the very same kinds of synthesizers that we used way back then or the deal was off. We were going to do this the old fashion way, by beating skins, strumming chords, pressing down keys and everything. (Though not racially motivated, Berlin only ever used the white keys on our keyboards. We had planned to explore the black keys during the recording of Love Life, but found them fraught with challenge.)
We were going to this do LIVE. Totally live! Without sequencers, without back-up tapes, without safety nets of any kind. I might even forgo the advanced facial concealer! Armed with the original synthesizers that we had used to change the course of music forever, I was confident that we could ALL look good on camera.
Then came the day for me to fly down to Los Angeles . Now, I'm not used to being in airplanes that I'm not piloting myself (that's actually not true, but it sure makes me sound like an absolute pilot stud), and the “main cabin” is not really a part of the airplane with which I am familiar. But I endured my grueling 40-minute flight like a trooper and somehow wound up in Los Angeles .
As I had been promised, there was a camera crew waiting when I got off the airplane. They were fumbling with their cameras and obviously not prepared for my arrival. I casually went up to the most attractive member of the crew and introduced myself in a deep, masculine voice that I reserve for situations just like this one. “Hi, I'm David Diamond .” He seemed puzzled. Had VH-1 done nothing to prepare this crew? As it turned out the crew was not from VH-1, nor were they there to see me. In fucking Los Angeles , apparently, everyone's a superstar. Even those that fly coach.
I didn't stick around to see who the cameras were actually for. I continued on toward baggage claim. At the bottom of the escalator were two guys with decidedly smaller cameras than those used by my former crew back at the gate.
This was VH-1's crew. Their cameras were adorable. I had no idea that “professionals” used such, small, small cameras. Talk about “where are they now?”
The VH-1 cameramen--I shall call them “mini-crew”--escorted me to the limo that would take me to my hotel. I so deserved this rockstar treatment. Mini-crew had no idea.
My hotel was nice, but my obviously affordable room had no Internet access for my trusty laptop. Can you imagine? Hello? Porn? Had these people done no research on the behavioral patterns of rock stars whatsoever? I immediately demanded a room upgrade and, within moments, called the front desk to request it.
I was told that only VH-1 could authorize the room upgrade. Clearly these hotel “people” had no idea with whom they were dealing. And they didn't, either. The front desk people had never even heard of Berlin . Somehow it strategically came up while I was checking in and they confirmed my suspicion. “That was way before my time,” the eldest prick-behind-the-counter explained. Of course they all spoke with French accents, so maybe there is some diacritic mark that needs to be placed above the word “prick” to really drive my point home.
The next day was reunion day. I was picked up by Willis, who would be my driver. I have dirty laundry and dust balls in my living room older than Willis. But he had a nice, black, air conditioned BMW. The car suited my rockstar persona.
On the way to the venue, VH-1 personnel were yacking back on forth on walkie-talkies trying to coordinate the arrivals of the band members. They didn't want us to see one another before the big reunion moment. Willis explained to Command Central that he was “enroute with Mr. Diamond.” The voice on the other end replied, “We are one hour away from being ready for Mr. Diamond!”
Now, I knew that these bitches were more like decades away from actually being “ready” for Mr. Diamond, but I knew that this actually meant that my new buddy, Willis, and I would need to entertain ourselves.
Willis asked if I wanted to grab some lunch. Let's see: eat a burger at some L.A. diner where the servers were bigger stars than, say, the big stars they would sleep with in order to become bigger stars, or stay in the comfy air-conditioned BMW and listen to people prepare for my arrival on walkie-talkies, all the while referring to me as “Mr. Diamond.”
So, in the car we sat, a block away from the venue in front of a parking lot full of black Range Rovers. I amused myself by thinking about how everyone in Los Angeles must drive black Range Rovers. Los Angelenos can be so predictable. Eventually, we were cleared to approach the venue, which, as it turned out, was right beside a Range Rover dealership. I know what you're thinking. But still.
I was taken into a make-up room where a smiley, bouncy make-up woman stood, advanced facial concealer in hand. I explained that I was hoping for as little make-up as possible. She agreed, and promised to apply it only where absolutely necessary. I had never had advanced facial concealer applied to the top of my head before and wondered if she thought that I was starting to lose my hair.
Once my five-head was no longer a risk for blinding what would likely be the extremely late-night viewers of VH-1, I was escorted into a big rehearsal studio where, sitting on the edge of the stage all alone, was Ric Olsen. Damn, he looked old. I recognized him immediately because he's always kind of looked old. We hugged and reminisced about the old days, with red camera lights in our faces all the while. After Ric and I ran out of things to say, I glanced at my watch. Knowing that these cameras needed to be reloaded after about 10 minutes, I knew that we'd get a break from the red lights eventually.
Nine minutes and thirty seconds to go.
After a while, the studio door popped open and in walked Matt Reid. Damn, he looked old. Ric and I met him with hugs and more reminiscing. These must have been extra special cameras with extra long tapes.
The next time the door opened it was John Crawford. Damn, he looked old too, but I was expecting that. By this point it was easier to carry on a conversation because both John and Ric have wives and kids. Parents love to go on about their kids, as if those of us without kids of our own might somehow find their kids less annoying than we find all the rest.
It was actually great fun to see these guys. I felt like I had found my old family after a very long time. I had missed them and didn't even know it until then.
And damn they looked old.
The “other guys” and the “middle guy” were soon dragged out of the room. We assumed it was so that the cameras could reunite the two front people without the distraction of those less important. I don't know what went on when John and Terri saw one another for the first time because I was not there. I can't, however, imagine that it was at all that interesting because, well, I wasn't there.
Eventually the riffraff (us) were allowed to re-enter the main room where the two front people (them) were. Terri hurled an enthusiastic, high-pitched scream when she saw us and I was instantly reminded of why I don't have kids.
Damn she looked old(er) too, but I knew that she'd bitch-slap me if I said so.
So there we all were for the first time in over 20 years. My head was full of all sorts of funny, sarcastic thoughts about each of them, because that's just the way I am. But my face was painted with one of those relentless smiles that you know just look stupid, but that you can't shake.
The mystery at that point was our drummer. Like Spinal Tap, we had gone through a few skin beaters. Would it be Rod Learned, our first drummer? He left the band before we started recording Love Life. Or, might it be second drummer Rob Brill, who stuck with the band until the very end, but probably wouldn't admit that today. I was torn. I wanted to see them both. I was confident that they, too, would look as old as the rest.
After a while of group speculation, the doors opened. It was Rod. Not Rob, Don't confuse the two. Unlike the two Darren's of Bewitched, these two guys were actually very different. Much more like the two Chris's on the Partridge Family, who, coincidentally, also played drums. I guess that means that Matt and I are like Shirley Jones and Susan Dey. And while I can see some Danny Bonaduce in John, I cannot see Ric as David Cassidy. The Terri/Tracy thing actually requires very little imagination when you think about it.
Seeing Rob, whoops, I mean Rod, was a special surprise. We had lost touch with him soon after he quit the band, some 20 years ago. I didn't know if he was alive, dead, or like the other members of the band, looking somewhere in between.
Once the entire gang was together, the cameras really started to click. This was definitely a beloved old family of mine reunited. You know those moments when you think that there's no place on Earth that you'd rather be at that time? Well, I was certain that this reunion had the potential to offer up such a moment, so I was glad I came.
It was time to try our hand at rehearsing. We took the stage and fiddled with our gear. My synthesizer wasn't working properly so I naturally went from David to Diva in no time. They say that the Lord doesn't provide us with situations that we are unable to handle. So at that moment I decided to start believing in God. I was lead to a private room, synthesizer in tow like some, well, cross, where I was to try to resolve the issue. I sat in that room and said, “Jesus, please program my synthesizer.” I heard no voices, but I could tell that Jesus was using my hands to program the synthesizer. There was simply no other explanation for it.
Once Jesus was finished, I carried my synthesizer back into the rehearsal room to learn that while I was gone, the rest of the band got to hang out in another rehearsal studio where Devo was practicing. I was pissed and Jesus was to blame. What grand plan could He have for me that required that I miss the Devo rehearsal? And why was Devo there in the first place? Shouldn't they have day jobs by now?
Rehearsal amazed me. Things actually came together quite quickly once everyone started listening to me. In fact, within an hour or so we pretty much had everything down and I was bored enough to entertain the notion of a solo career once again. It actually took a few hours longer than that, but the stuff was sounding pretty good, and for the first time I had the feeling that we might actually pull this off.
Synthesizer and vocal parts that I hadn't performed since back when MTV actually had something to do with music were coming back to me like no one's business. It was downright fun. After a run through of Masquerade, Terri joked that those old songs must be in our DNA. I don't do drugs, so I'm not sure what DNA is, but I laughed anyway so that I wouldn't seem uncool.
We finished that day and went back to the hotel. The rest of the guys were going to go hang out in John's room for a while, but I was really tired and I had an Internet connection waiting for me, if you know what I mean. I got into my room, undressed and sat at my trusty laptop. As luck would have it, the Internet connection was not working. I was truly somewhere in the Third World .
So off I went to John's room. The other guys were there talking about things from the old days and what's gone on in their lives ever since. I was hearing some really juicy stuff and imagined that VH-1 would love to know about it. I wasn't about to spill the beans however, but I would have sold the information had an offer been made.
It was getting late and the next day was the big show. I needed some sleep and I was hoping that my Internet connection had started working, if you know what I mean. I went back to my room. Nyet Internet. I went to sleep.
The next morning we rehearsed some more and before long it was time to go to the Roxy. For some reason I wasn't nervous about the show. I figured that there wasn't much to lose, even if we were terrible. And remember, you can't spell “terrible” without “terri.” I just now realized that. I mean nothing by it. Humor can sometimes hurt, I can respect that.
I can't explain what went through my head when I entered the Roxy and saw all that camera equipment. Do you know what it's like to lead a fairly normal life filled with nagging clients, rush-hour traffic, unpaid invoices, and all of a sudden see such a fuss made over you? There I am thinking: “It's about fucking time. Princess wants a burger.”
The dressing room was tiny, dirty and poorly decorated. I didn't even consider asking if an Internet connection was anywhere nearby. Yuck.
We did a sound check and that went well. We all got our audio monitors just the way we like them, except for Matt. For some reason they couldn't get his connected properly. But Matt remained calm. Instead of making a fuss, he just let it go. I really learned something from that. I learned that apparently when you're one of the “other guys,” monitors don't matter. Me? I would have raised holy hell and stomped off in a dramatic huff, because I know when I hold some currency.
While we were getting ready for the show, some of the band members joked that they wanted me to do their hair like I used to do in the old days. Isn't that sweet? Of course I'd just assume shoot them now as to do their hair, but that sounds meaner than I mean it to.
A few thoughts were going through my head as show time neared. The most significant was that I knew that we were near the tail end of this once-in-a-lifetime weekend. Come tomorrow, I knew, this would all be over. I tried to pay closer attention to everything that was happening so that I would stand a better chance of remembering.
VH-1 people were telling us how they were having to turn people away at the door. Were we still that popular? Or had somebody mistakenly announced the wrong band playing that night?
Moments before show time I started to feel the twitch of nervousness. That room was packed full of people who remembered Berlin a certain way. We were older now, and the other band members really couldn't hide that fact. We were unrehearsed and still processing a lot of emotional stuff about having seen one another again. What kind of performance would this be?
It was one of the best shows that Berlin had ever done. It was my favorite show that Berlin had ever done. It was the last show that Berlin would ever do. It was absolutely everything that I could have ever hoped it would be. I looked around the stage at my band mates during the show. I had a history with each of them. I had good times with them and I had fought with them. I couldn't believe that so much time had gone by. They actually looked the same as ever to me. They sounded better than ever. It was a moment in time that just “clicked” for us.
The next morning it was all over. A limo was at my hotel to take me to the airport. The driver was nice, but chatty. What's worse, he would leave his turn signal on after completing turns, which irritated me no end. I considered calling VH-1 to complain, and realized that I was getting out just in time.
Yeah, you never get to do your youth over again until VH-1 calls and asks you to. Then your youth is reflected in your adult eyes and you realize that not only did it rock then, but it rocks still. If you're like me, you sit down the day after, alone, take it all in and think: “Damn, I'm lucky.”
My former band mates (you know who you are): you are so deeply ingrained into everything that I am now that there is no way that I can be without your memory or influence. I've been asked what my favorite thing about Berlin is and my answer has always been the way in which you were each so decent to everyone that we met. At record signings, while doing promotions, before and after shows, always. John, Terri, Matt, Ric, Rod, Rob and Perry: you always treated me well and I know now that you always had my best interests at heart. I was the baby of the band and you each took care of me in your own way.
And VH-1, the crew that you sent to film us was genuine. They were decent people, anyone of which I would be lucky to call a friend. Without their help and talents, this would never have happened. It might have been just a few days' work to them, but to me it was a group of folks that came out of nowhere and gave me a huge bonus on what was already a wonderful chapter in my life. I might even order cable television now just to see their names in credits.
One last thing. If there are any Berlin fans reading this, listen up: I won't likely get the chance again, so I want to say thanks. I don't usually think too much about Berlin anymore. My life is very different now. But every now and then I hear one of you on the street, on a website or even on the radio. You tell others how much you liked the band, or what significance it had in your life. You don't know that I'm listening, but I am. You don't know that I'm there, but I hear you and I appreciate your kindness.
Copyright © 2005 Ric Olsen