Last week in these pages, I offered my take on the ideal Quad-City travelogue — the things I'd want to show off to a Q-C newbie to welcome them to our neck of the cornfields.
Of course, it was an incomplete list. I could name-drop and shout-out my favorite things in the Quad-Cities for days. If I were really showing off the area to someone unfamiliar, I'd ask them how much time they had. If I could swing it, I'd have Roald Tweet wow them with history. I'd have Kai Swanson lead them on a guided tour of Augie. I'd have Patrick Adamson drag them onstage. I'd have Jon Horvath pour them a beer. I'd take them to the Freight House Farmers Market and Mercado on Fifth. It'd probably be easier to make a list of places I wouldn't take them.
But I can't take them to my favorite Quad-Cities landmark because it no longer exists. The building that quite possibly had the greatest impact on my life is little more than dust and distant memories these days. For a few brief years in the late 1980s, though, it was pretty much the center of the universe. I'd only visit once a week, but it's the spot where I made lifelong friends and pretty much learned what I wanted to be when I grew up.
The Quad Cities Waterfront Convention Center in downtown Bettendorf is a majestic structure we should all be proud of. But when I look in the direction of that building, I don't see a convention center. I see what used to stand there: an unassuming, run-down, multi-use office space that looked like nothing special from the street. But if you were one of the cool kids, you knew to drive around to the back. THAT was how you got to Stage 2, the Quad-Cities legendary under-21 teen nightclub.
How big of a deal was Stage 2? Well, I was there almost every Friday night for the better part of four years, and so were most of my friends. I wasn't even a full-time Quad Citizen at that point, so many of those Fridays involved driving up from Galesburg. It then carried on into my college years at Augie. My college friends often spent their Friday nights at frat parties or out test-driving their fake IDs. As for me? I had over-age friends with fake IDs showing they were UNDER 21 in order to sneak into Stage 2, where the most hardcore thing you could chug was Pepsi.
WHY was it such an important place to so many? I don't think kids today would understand.
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I help out at my friend's record store from time to time, and I'm constantly flabbergasted to see what kids bring to the counter. The other day, a girl walked up with CDs from Tool, Taylor Swift and Lizzo in one buy. "I listen to all kinds of stuff," she said with a smile. With streaming audio and easy access to all kinds of music, today's kids are a lot more worldly in their musical choices.
When I was a kid, your musical taste defined you. Especially growing up in Galesburg, it seemed everybody was either a Top 40 fan or a metalhead. Me? I was a socially awkward weirdo with a penchant for alternative left-of-center new wave music. As a hopeless square-peg, I suppose it was natural for me to gravitate to dour tunes made by pasty-faced Brits who spoke to the loners, rebels and weirdos of the world. Stage 2 proved I wasn't alone, and suddenly I found myself trying to fit in with other misfits. Saturdays at Stage 2 were for the Top 40 crowd, but Fridays belonged to us weirdos. Every weekend, the dance floor would fill with goths, punks, gays, misfits and freaks convinced (often accurately) that we were better than everybody else.
Somewhere along the way, we earned the moniker "corn chips," but nobody really ever knew how or why. (The glossary at inthe80s.com says: "Cornchip (noun.) Started off meaning a punk or new wave look. Later, any slightly avant-garde fashions, hair or music. Mainly Illinois/midwest.") You may have had Bon Jovi. We had The Cure and Depeche Mode and a slew of lipstick-smeared bands of decidedly UN-merry men. You rocked out to Guns n Roses. We cried along with Morrissey & The Smiths. Nowadays in his old age, he's just kind of a bitter (and arguably racist) old man, but in his heydey, Morrissey was the only rock star who understood. He sang our woes, and we loved his unconditionally (Sample lyric: "There's a club if you'd like to go, you could meet somebody who really loves you. So you go and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own, and you go home and you cry and you want to die."
Were we better than everyone else because we wore black and claimed to see through society and all its trappings? Heck no. Every Friday at Stage 2 was like living a bad "ABC Afterschool Special" except with a MUCH better soundtrack. For a group of people so sure of our intellectual superiority, we were rife with all the stereotypical angst, drama and trappings of teen life. When the DJ would throw on a slow song, you could count on at least three people running to the bathroom in theatrical tears over whatever the daily drama was. It was our real-life teen soap opera, and I wouldn't trade those years for anything.
I doubt you could pull off opening a teen club these days. It'd probably just be a sea of underage twerking and worries about weapons at the door. That's a shame because Stage 2 was the very best of my teen years. It's the sole reason I spend my weekends DJ'ing in clubs to this day. It gave me lifelong friends I couldn't imagine being without.
I'm supposed to be all grown and mature and wise nowadays. But sometimes I still feel like that awkward loner. Sometimes it still seems like Morrissey is the only one who understands me. Sometimes I'd just like to be in a room full of weirdos dancing like our lives depended on it. Stage 2 may be gone, but it'll always be a Quad-City landmark to me.