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12 May 2003 — Asia

Before my love affair with U2, I had a fling with Asia.

I mentioned the other day that the first record album I ever owned was Paul McCartney’s Tug of War, which was given to me for Christmas of 1982, when I was thirteen years old.

The first album that I ever bought myself, though, was Asia’s eponymous debut. I didn’t know much about the group, and had only heard bits of “Heat of the Moment” and “Only Time Will Tell”, but I knew I had to have the album. The opening strains of “Only Time Will Tell” touched my thirteen-year-old soul deeply.

Jeff and I pooled our money and, at the Beaverton Fred Meyer, we bought a copy of the album on cassette tape. Mom’s car didn’t have a tape deck, so we had to wait until we got home in order to listen to the album. We went into my bedroom and shut the door and turned up the volume:

Heat of the Moment
by Asia

I never meant to be so bad to you
One thing I said that I would never do
A look from you and I would fall from grace
And it would wipe the smile right from my face

Do you remember when we used to dance
And incidents arose from circumstance
One thing led to another, we were young
And we would scream together songs unsung

It was the heat of the moment
Telling me what my heart meant
The heat of the moment showed in your eyes

And now you find yourself in ‘82
The disco hot spots hold no charm for you
You can concern yourself with bigger things
You catch a pearl and ride the dragon’s wings

It was the heat of the moment
Telling me what my heart meant
The heat of the moment showed in your eyes

And when your looks have gone and you’re alone
How many nights you sit beside the phone
What were the things you wanted for yourself
Teenage ambitions you remember well

It was the heat of the moment

Telling me what my heart meant
The heat of the moment showed in your eyes

We listened to the opening strains of “Only Time Will Tell” again and again.

We loved this tape, and within months the track listing on the side of the cassette had been rubbed away from use. Amazingly, the tape itself held up well. (In fact, it’s sitting next to me, in a box filled with tapes, as I type; I’ve not listened to any of these tapes since 1995.)

Dave was an Asia fan, too. We’d sit around his room or my room and we’d do junior high geek things: read comic books, play Dungeons and Dragons, browse the yearbook rating the girls (on a continuum that ran from “dog” to “okay” to “fox” to “fox!!!!!!!!!”). Dave had the album on vinyl, and I loved to look at the gorgeous, detailed cover art, a dragon rising from the sea. All of us liked to draw the Asia logo: the pyramidal As, the Z-like S, the triangle over the band’s name.

Back in the olden days, we didn’t have the internet to keep us abreast of coming album releases. Teenaged boys who relied on their mothers for transportation were lucky to spot a new release in the department store. Such was the case with Asia’s second album, Alpha, which was released in the summer of 1983 or 1984. (I think it must have been 1983, because Dave and I were still on speaking terms; I can recall listening to the album with him.)

We didn’t know what to think of Alpha at first. The first album had been straight-ahead rock-and-roll. The second album was more meditative, more contemplative, almost like New Age power rock (if that makes sense). The first single, Don’t Cry, felt unpolished, as if something were missing.

Don’t Cry
by Asia

Hard times you had before you
I knew when I first saw you
You girl you’ve always been mistreated, cheated

So leave it all behind you
It took so long to find you
I know that we can last forever, ever and more, more, oh

Don’t cry now that I’ve found you
Don’ cry take a look around you
Don’t cry it took so long to find you
Do what you want, but little darling please don’t cry

I knew I’d never doubt it

I was so sure about it
Don’t think of all that’s been before

I’ll hear you when you’re calling
I’ll catch you when you’re falling
Don’t worry I will always be there, like never before, or, oh

Don’t cry now that I’ve found you
Don’ cry take a look around you
Don’t cry it took so long to find you

Do what you want, but little darling please don’t cry

This seemed, even then, like Asia’s attempt at a the perfect pop song, but it fell desperately short of the mark. The lyrics were terrible. But I loved it.

I loved the album, too. During the start of my freshman year of high school, I listened to Alpha all the time: at home in my room, in the car, at soccer practice (on the jumbo-sized boomboxes so popular then), in the back of the speech room. I loved the cover art for this album, too, the deep jungles, the mysterious pyramid. The art was even better than that of the first album.

Soon, though, Asia faded from my mind. That fall I was introduced to U2, and all other music took a back seat to my boys from Ireland.

Time passed.

Once I got my drivers license, Paul Carlile and I would make regular trips to Tower Records on 82nd to scope out the import records: the cool U2 singles, the Tears For Fears 12″ singles, the early Thompson Twins albums. The week before Thanksgiving 1985 I was scanning the cassette tapes when I stumbled across a new album from Asia. I bought Astra without knowing anything about it.

I didn’t like Astra at first, and it languished on the floor of the Datsun 310GX. I was more intent on listening to New Order and The Cure. My teen-aged angst was important to me; I had brooding to do, and Asia’s music didn’t lend itself well to sullenness.

With time, though, I emerged from my cocoon of bitterness and rediscovered Astra. I loved it.

During Custom Box’s infancy, we boys were required to work in the shop after school, slotting and gluing boxes for a pittance. We hated it. The only thing which ameliorated the forced labor was that we were allowed to listen to whatever music we chose. Astra was one of my top choices — as were the other two Asia albums — and it joined U2’s War, New Order’s Low Life, The Cure’s Head on the Door, The Dream Academy, and Planet P Project in heavy rotation in the shop.

I went to college and I forgot Asia.

Then, last night, as I was browsing the iTunes Music Store, I stumbled upon an album that collected all of the early Asia that I knew and loved plus B-sides from the singles, songs I’ve never heard. There’s no way that I could resist downloading

Voice of America
by Asia

I heard you on the radio some other time
From some forgotten studio way down the line
So long, so long I’ve waited now to hear you again
That song, that song will still remain, it’s become an old friend
And now, the tears are in my eyes, the sound you can’t disguise
The truth comes back from lies and all I want to hear

Voice of America, ooh, America
Voice of America, ooh, America

And then you came in stereo calling to me
And so I watch the videos across the T.V.
That sound, still ringing in my ears from a decade ago
Around, around my head, the sound from my radio
I thought, that after all these years
The tears, the growing fears
That I would never hear
Never again

Voice of America, ooh, America
Voice of America, ooh, America

Asia never produced great art, but they produced music I loved.

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