Big Stupid Tommy pointed me to Abby White’s article about a band, one that was popular in the 1980’s but that afterward fell on hard times like so many others of the era.
As I read the article, what was so striking was discovering the sheer magnitude of nostalgia-driven affection this group inspired among people of a certain age. And yet, with me being a child of the Baby Boom generation, this should hardly come as a surprise. We’re all about the nostalgia, am I right? What else keeps Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr in business? And what else could possibly be keeping Keith Richards alive? I am convinced that Mr. Richards (bless his wrinkled soul) is nothing less than a vampire, one that feeds upon nostalgia rather than hot blood.
But I digress.
What band could it be? Toto? Wang Chung? Duran Duran? Culture Club? No: none of these.
I speak of Rock-afire Explosion, a band that will be familiar to anyone who spent any time at all in Showbiz Pizza, a favorite place amongst the Snot-Nose Set of thirty years ago. The geniuses who created Showbiz Pizza understood the needs and wants of the juvenile consumer: plenty of video game distractions with their jangling bells and flashing lights, coupled with crappy pizza and birthday cake. They had the birthday party business down to a science... and they had the Rock-afire Explosion, an animatronic - nay, animaltronic - band that would alternately amuse and scare the shit out of the young customers.
The legendary Billy Bob, the Rock-afire Explosion’s frontman, probably traumatized thousands of toddlers. Photo by Michael R. Bunch, Nashville Scene.
Those young customers remember the Rock-afire Explosion fondly. That’s natural, since in their fuzzy memories of early childhood they associate the group with good times. Fun times. And nasty pizza. Did I mention that the pizza was nasty? Not that anyone cared - they could have sliced up human turds and scattered them over the mozzarella and sauce and few would have noticed the difference. ’Cause... video games!
The Explosion fell on hard times early on, when the Pizza/Video Game/Birthday Party industry
was hit by the double whammy of the video game implosion of 1983 and the apparent discovery by 42,000,000 six-year-olds that human turds don’t make the best pizza toppings. Showbiz Pizza ultimately merged with its archnemesis, Chuck E. Cheese Pizza, the mascot of which was a Big Bird-size rat... and for various reasons outlined in Ms. White’s article, the Rock-afire Explosion gradually shuffled off toward the dustbin of history.
Me? I harbor no warm memories towards Billy Bob Bear and his gang... except for having hosted birthday parties for both Elder Daughter and the Mistress of Sarcasm at the local Showbiz Pizza when they were mere sprouts. But they say nostalgia is a dish best served old... and it don’t get much older than this.
So, ’fess up, Esteemed Readers - were you fans of the Rock-afire Explosion back in the day? Nobody will judge you. Much.