Eighties nation is still a little stunned at the sudden death of REO Speedwagon guitarist Gary Richrath, who passed away Sunday at age 65. There are very few memories I have from the early '80s that don't follow along with an REO Speedwagon soundtrack, especially the Richrath-penned hit, Take It On The Run.
The song, which became a huge hit for the band, was Gary's answer to frontman Kevin Cronin's monster ballad Keep On Lovin' You. Both songs were written at a time when the friends were going through hard times with their marriages.
"When I wrote that, I woke up one night, half asleep, and sat down in front of the TV," Gary once explained to an interviewer. "There was a soap opera on it. I was just sitting there, strumming a guitar, thinking, 'God, these guys' relationships are worse than mine.' I just sat there and sang vocals about the effects of gossip and relationships breaking up, which was what was on the tube and all that was similar to what was going on in my life."
Released as the fifth single off the 1980 album Hi Infidelity, Take It On The Run shot up to No. 5 on the charts. It's also "technically" the ninth video that MTV played when the network went on the air back on Aug. 1, 1981. I say "technically" because it was a concert performance more than a video ... and because it cut out a few seconds into the song and didn't finish.
I remember Take It On The Run best for being the theme song for the breakup with my first girlfriend, Janette. Sure, we were only in eighth grade at the time, but you remember how great first love felt, right? She was my first real kiss, first real crush, first real ... love? Well, it felt like it at the time. But alas, for me, happy days have a way of working themselves inside out. As the lyrics to Take It On The Run predicted - I'd heard it from friend who, heard it from a friend who, heard it from another she'd been messing around ... with a guy named Harold. Seriously. Harold?!? What are we ... back in the 1920s? Why do I remember these things? When you're 14 years old, there's no forgiveness for heartache like that.
Decades later, I interviewed Kevin Cronin a few weeks before REO was set to play in Tampa Bay. I had a plan. I was going to tell him the painful love triangle of Janette, Harold and me and see if I could conjur some sage wisdom from my rock 'n' hero. Kevin listened to the story politely and then chuckled.
"Sorry, dude!" was the most he would offer that day. It was probably all I deserved.
Just a few weeks ago, I messaged my old friend Janette and told her the story about the conversation with Kevin Cronin. "I'm flattered I was mentioned but I wish it was on a better note!" she replied.
In retrospect, maybe I should have reached out to Gary, though he'd long departed REO by that time. Still, I'd loved to have heard his take on heartache that doesn't easily go away. Or, perhaps, I should just listen to the song and the answers will reveal themselves.
You're thinking up your white lies.
You're putting on your bedroom eyes.
You say you're coming home but you won't say when.
But I can feel it coming.
If you leave tonight keep running.
And you need never look back again.
I'm sorry. I can't help looking back. Again and again. We'll miss you, Gary.
(Photo: Getty Images)