“Chance favors only the prepared mind.”
“If it weren’t for Budokan,” said Cheap Trick singer Robin Zander, “It might have been the end for us. That album saved us from probable obscurity.”
In the band Cheap Trick’s early years, it seemed as though luck wasn’t on their side. By 1978, they had released three critically acclaimed albums, yet each and every one of them was a commercial failure. They had racked up about a million dollars in debt, and their finances were further drained by their incessant touring.
During those days, Cheap Trick was seen as an anomaly. They had a unique sound, yet were too weird and heavy for mainstream radio. After their first album failed, they were advised by their record label to water themselves down and play it safe. Yet, their second album In Color still flopped. Even then the band kept pushing forward and released their third album Heaven Tonight, and didn’t stop touring.
They were nearly obscure in their homeland. But somehow, they were a very big deal in Japan, where all three of their albums were certified gold, even though they had never toured there. The Japanese fanfare for Cheap Trick was hysteric. It was even comparable to the “Beatlemania” that the United Kingdom experienced, back when The Beatles were in their heyday.
“We rode coach on the way there and first class on the way back,” guitarist Rick Nielsen laughingly recalled. As they embarked on their first Japan tour in support of Heaven Tonight, the Cheap-Trick-mania was uncontrollable. Literally thousands of screaming fans risked life and limb to greet them and chase their vehicles. “It was really dangerous for us to even do anything because the people would just get crushed and dive in front of trains and out of taxis,” said Nielsen. “There were thousands of people in the hotels and the lobbies. You couldn’t look out the window or else people would just go wild and the hotels would throw us out.”
One of the band’s bodyguards recalled on the situation, “Hundreds of tiny palms assault our Toyota; they’re pounding on the roof, the windows, the doors. Hands, faces, arms and legs press up against the car windows and block out the daylight, while the car pitches and sways, threatening to turn over any minute. There is something particularly horrifying about being attacked by a pack of thirteen-year-old girls. Evil is one thing, but when the innocents are transformed into monsters…”
The band played two shows at the Nippon Budokan, and the audience response was astounding. Not only did the band play at their highest prowess, but the arena was uproarious with screams and chants. “It was so loud it was almost frightening,” said Nielsen. It really was so loud, that the audience would drown out the band’s playing. As bassist Tom Petersson joked, “It kind of sounded like a Hannah Montana concert more than Woodstock.”
The band casually recorded their Budokan performance, and it was only later when they decided to release the recording exclusively for the Japanese market. The recording generated a great deal of word-of-mouth, that people in the United States finally began to tune in to the band. “Some imports (of the recording) showed up in places like Boston. There was a grassroots build happening at hip record stores and college radio immediately jumped on it,” remarked drummer Bun E. Carlos.
The Budokan recordings captured the quintessence of Cheap Trick as a band: they were highly energetic and loud, and they sounded a hundredfold better live. They were being truer to themselves during their live performances as well, as they played their songs the way they really wanted them to sound, instead of their “watered down” versions.
As the airplay demand for their Budokan performance of the song “I Want You to Want Me” grew and grew, Cheap Trick capitalized on their newfound stardom by releasing their live album At Budokan for the worldwide market.
Today, it is one of the highest-selling and most revered live albums of all time. Since then, many artists have followed Cheap Trick’s footsteps by playing at the venue and recording a live album there. The band would go on to create their dent in rock music, eventually being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016. As Nielsen said it best, “We made the Budokan famous, and the Budokan made us famous.”
“Any time you have big success it comes out of left-field,” said Petersson regarding Cheap Trick’s unexpected breakthrough. “You can’t plan it. There’s no formula.
We don’t often realize how much of our success inevitably depends on luck and good fortune. Just as hard work is essential, external circumstances play a role in our success as well.
In life, we don’t get to decide to break through. We might have the discipline of putting out our best work, but we don’t get to choose what people like about it, or when it finally gets recognized. We might have a target audience in mind, but our work might turn out to resonate better with a different group of people.
We don’t have to worry about luck. We all encounter luck in different forms. We just need to make the most out of them when we do. Because more often than not, we tend to be dismissive of them, because they aren’t aligned with how we visualize our own success.
Cheap Trick could have wallowed in despair over the unpopularity in their own country. But they chose to focus on the group of people in Japan who were crazy about their music, and to serve them remarkably well. As a by-product, people in not only the States, but all over the world started tuning in.
Another band, Foo Fighters has made tons of hits over the span of their career. But they have often remarked that their songs which people love the most are often the ones which they like the least.
Goo Goo Dolls were no different either. Back when they were struggling to make a living as musicians, their song “Name” was their first to be played on the radio. But rather than reacting with excitement, the singer John Rzeznik was frustrated. He complained, “Why do they have to play this song? Couldn’t they pick a better one from us?”. And the band’s manager told him, “Who the hell are you to decide what people like? You should be grateful that anyone is listening.” That lesson in humility has stayed with Rzeznik ever since, and the song has remained a staple at their shows.
Remember that just because things aren’t going the way you want them to be, it doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. It could mean that you’re succeeding in a different (and maybe, even better) way. Waste no time complaining about what you don’t have, and start making the most out of the good fortune that you do have.