I left Berlin in 1985, but I've never "escaped"it. Although Berlin may not have racked up incredible record sales or been as "huge" as some other bands, there is a significant amount of people for whom our band meant a great deal. I meet them regularly. For years, these meetings and occasional communications with a couple of ex-bandmates have been my only ties to my Berlin years. I have tons of photos and memorabilia from that era, but I have avoided looking at them. It would be difficult to explain why, but perhaps the following may illustrate the depth of my feeling about Berlin and its members. I have had variations of this dream at least 10 times over the last 15 years: I'm standing backstage with Berlin at some huge outdoor stadium. The lights go down, and the crowd roars. I am electrified as we head toward the stage. The dream always ends before we play a note.
I've been harboring many deep feelings about the Berlin years: Were the bonds forged in Berlin destined to last? Did I fail? Would I ever equal my achievements of that time? I had long ago resigned myself to resolving these questions on my own.
My grandmother lived near the intersection of Beverly and La Cienega during the '90s. I would often take a twilight run from her house up to Sunset Boulevard. This route would take me past the Roxy Theater, and my mind would drift back to December of '82 when Berlin played 2 sold-out shows there. I had been in the band for just a couple of months. I remember our manager Perry Watts-Russell backstage, surrounded by record people. I heard one tell him, "Perry, this act is going to break BIG." I knew right then that I was about to embark on a major adventure. I think that's why I kept doing that run up Sunset over the years: Part of me never wants to let go of that feeling.
I was extremely skeptical when contacted about the Berlin reunion: VH-1 was being very vague, and I had no idea about the status of relationships between the various band members. These misgivings led me to my first conversation with Mr. Watts-Russell in over 15 years. We had a great talk, and once he told me that Richard Blade was the force behind the show I began to get excited. Richard was always kind to me and he was great to Berlin . It appeared that the stage was being set for something beautiful.
One of the most intense parts of the reunion was the night before my interview, when I sat down to look at my photo collection. The tears came as I studied picture after picture of us being young rock stars in far-flung locales. I was particularly moved by the Polaroids from our first tour, a 10-weeker that covered the better part of the U.S.A. Rod Learned, the drummer, was my room-mate on that tour. I remembered Rod and me walking the streets of Philadelphia , San Antonio , Fort Lauderdale , experiencing the touring life with everyone for the first time ("Wow...a truck stop!"), and our crowning achievement, the US Festival.
On the morning of the reunion, I vowed to soak up every moment, to say everything I'd always wanted to say, and to enjoy the experience to the absolute fullest. It became surreal: Suddenly (and briefly), I was a "rock star" again. How easy it was to step back into that role!
I smiled to myself as the limo rolled up to S.I.R. and I was taken to the make-up room. Here was Berlin in the 21st century, submitting to the scrutiny of "reality tv." Cameras and mikes everywhere. The anticipation became excruciating....
I was led into the rehearsal room and immediately saw Ric Olsen, sitting next to a beefy trucker. Ric and I laughed and hugged each other, and I realized the "trucker" was David Diamond! I was so glad to see these guys. It was overwhelming, I must say.
After the initial excitement wore off, however, I felt myself tightening up. I found "reuniting" with John Crawford and Terri Nunn on camera to be difficult, because my relationships with them were more complex. For the next few minutes I felt like an observer, and I couldn't relax.
I hadn't allowed myself to believe that Rod Learned would be a part of this. He had made a clean break with the band in the summer of '83. When he walked through the door, the five of us spontaneously rushed him. I hope the TV show does justice to that moment. I am so glad he decided to participate. His presence really completed the experience for me.
Now it was time to address the task at hand. David had his hands full trying to resurrect his old synth programs, which were stored on a cassette (a method which is now as archaic as Alexander Graham Bell 's first telephone). I had major deja-vu as I peered over David's shoulder and watched him work his magic on the Prophet-5 synthesizer.
Before we all buckled down and began to work, we walked over to the next rehearsal room, and there was Devo, decked out in yellow toxic suits and red flower-pot hats. Terri joined them onstage and helped them act out "Whip It." I looked around the room at Richard Blade and my band-mates, and all my nervousness disappeared. The pure joy of this occasion began to manifest itself. This was a celebration, above all.
Back at rehearsal, we worked up a short set. Mitchell from Berlin '03 helped greatly to get us rolling. I could hear Rod shaking off the cobwebs with every run-through. It was uncanny how each of us assumed the musical responsibilities of old (We were to laugh later at how we assumed the personality roles of old, as well).
That night, the five gentlemen met and had a private conversation I'll never forget. Everyone was very frank about his own life and also his relationship to Berlin throughout the years. I came away from that meeting knowing that my friendship with these people is deep, and permanent.
By the time we wrapped up our second day of rehearsal I was completely confident we were about to kick ass. Terri looked and sounded the best ever, and everyone seemed relaxed and ready. I had a few moments at the wonderful Argyle Hotel to collect my thoughts before cruising down the Strip.
Then, I got out of the limo in front of the Roxy and stepped back into the dream....
As we prepared for sound-check, I remembered being on that same stage in '82. I thought of the people I knew back then, and remembered how much excitement they got from my forays into the music world. My mother walked in. This was one of my highlights. She looked proud, and I was happy to see her. She has been my best supporter throughout my life.
I had hoped for good onstage sound for the concert, and when it was pointed out to me that I had a refrigerator-sized stage monitor at my disposal, I dialed in a perfect and big-sounding mix.
Before we went onstage I took Terri out of camera range and thanked her profusely. If Terri hadn't agreed to set this reunion in motion, I wouldn't be writing this today.
Only the six of us will ever know what it felt like to play together again that night, 20 years since those rehearsals in that industrial park in Orange County, 20 years since the Holiday Inns, the 12-hour bus rides, the packed theaters, the video shoots, the autographs, the celebrities, the loneliness, the glory. From the stage I watched my brother, who was in high school when I was in the band. I could tell he was experiencing tremendous nostalgia. The whole crowd was energized and extremely receptive. I was deeply grateful for this chance to take a final curtain-call with my beloved Berlin . I've dreamed of this--but never dreamed it would actually happen.
One more special moment: At the after-party, the six of us crammed into a booth to give people a "photo opportunity." The bulbs began to flash--a bunch of them--and David turned to me and said, "This isn't life." I had to chuckle at that one.....
Since the reunion, life has served up all sorts of situations and surprises, some joyous, some tragic. I have had good conversations with each band-mate. Our reunion inspired me. I feel a resurgence of my questing spirit. I recall the inscription Terri would write on people's albums: "Follow your Dream." I believe in that.
As for my fellow band-members: I see five healthy, functional, good people. I told them I love them on camera, and I'm telling them now. It was a joy to work with you in the early '80s, and it was a blessing to work with you last July.
Thank you Richard Blade and VH-1. You gave me a gift that is more special than you could ever imagine.
Copyright © 2005 Ric Olsen