Quick, how many top twenty singles did the band ELO have? Quicker, who the hell is Ola Brunkert? On Friday afternoon, in the sweltering heat of a Westlake, Ohio, garage sale, I met the only man (possibly on the planet) who knew the answer to both.
My wife was holding a garage sale at her dad’s place, and things were moving along as expected. A few older ladies browsed the jewelry; a young couple looked at the car seats and one guy rolled up in a jeep asking for ammo.
Nothing was out of the ordinary when the couple got out of their dated Olds 88 and sauntered up the driveway. She was dressed in an Ohio Lottery tee shirt and the longest denim skirt I had ever seen, and he wore a Rush 2011 Tour shirt, stretched to within an inch of its life over his belly. That Rush shirt was my undoing. I am an unabashed Rush fan and figured that since I was in the city that housed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the fact that Rush has somehow been overlooked for induction, I would break up my heretofore routine of saying, “sure, I’ll take twenty-five cents for that,” by asking him about Rush.
“Hey,” I said, “did you see Rush this year?”
“Saw them in Columbus at Nationwide Arena!” Now I realized I was talking to Westlake’s version of John Goodman. He was big and loud and spoke in pronouncements – everything with an exclamation. It was like being on the set of The Big Lebowski.
“Can you believe they’re not in the Hall?” I asked.
“I know! But can you believe ELO is not in the Hall? That band was a juggernaut!” He would say that line a four more times in the next ten minutes. I don’t think I have ever used the word “juggernaut” in a sentence, but he wielded it like Ron Popeil wields that big fire-resistant oven glove in his Showtime Standard Rotisserie infomercials.
Pseudo John Goodman went on to say, “I was a DJ at Baldwin-Wallace College (my wife’s alma mater) in the late seventies, and every week I would have a poll. Who was the best band; ELO, Zeppelin or Aersosmith? Every week it was the same thing, ELO won by a landslide! They were a juggernaut! They’ve had nineteen top twenty singles!”
I noticed that when he spoke, he never looked at me. He always tilted his head slightly backward as if staring off into the heaven of the rock gods.
“You have to induct these bands before people start dying, man. Look at Boston. Brad Delp is dead, now. How can they not be in? And even if they get inducted, they aren’t Boston without him!”
“Somehow, they let Abba in. But even that sucked because Ola Brunkert was dead. He wouldn’t have died if he lived in a bigger city. Bled to death right there in his garden because he couldn’t get good medical care.”
(Ola Brunkert was Abba’s drummer who did indeed bleed to death after falling through a door window. He died on the island of Majorca. I have no comment on their medical facilities. I would like say, however, that I never thought I would hear about this in father-in-laws driveway.)
Eventually, his wife bargained her way into two plastic containers. But the rock savant was not finished. “Right now,” he said, “Jeff Lynne is holed up in a house in Elyria (Ohio) with Joe Walsh working on a record. Later, man.”
It was a cryptic finale. With that, his wife stuffed the containers into the back seat of their car and they drove off.
My son ambled over and said, “Dad, he really wants ELO to be in the Hall of Fame. What do you think he does in his spare time?”
“Considers the effect of AK47 fire on the Hall of Fame’s glass façade,” I told him.
(Shamefully, I Googled his stat on ELO and they did indeed have nineteen top twenty singles. I found no mention of inadequate medical care on Majorca.)