BY ED KING At one point last night, while standing behind home plate at Citizens Bank Park and watching the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Florida Marlins, I was suddenly overcome by a spell of Philly Pride. Cranky, old Ed King actually got misty as he looked out over the field, took in the sounds from the crowd, and remembered the franchise’s rare past glories and frequent letdowns. This is my team, I thought. My team’s lovely little ballpark. For better and for worse, my people. An hour after having gotten in tune with my city, I arrived home to read that one of Philly’s Great White Hopes of the early ’80s, Robert Hazard, had died. Damn, I had no idea the guy was even sick!
As every town’s scene in the mid-70s had their own poor man’s Dylan, did every town with the slimmest of New Wave scenes in the early ’80s have a poor man’s Bowie? Hazard fulfilled that role in these parts, while The A’s dressed up their Southside Johnny and the Jukes-like blue-eyed soul in the vaguely disco arrangements of Blondie. If you were an aspiring hipster malcontent like myself, you were nevertheless expected to choose a “lesser of two evils,” as awaited the arrival of a truly great Philadelphia rock artist to pick up the frayed mantle of the already whacked out Todd Rundgren. I could get behind The A’s, but the music of Hazard, whose self-produced 5-song EP featuring “Escalator of Life” would lead to an 8-album momentum-killing deal with RCA, only deepened the lines that Young Ed was drawing.
Despite the corporate dicking over that befell Hazard’s solo career — label management butting in on recording sessions, longtime backing musicians getting canned, initial label sponsor leaving the label — Hazard had the last laugh. Cyndi Lauper, who’d similarly been trying to get in through the backdoor of New Wave for a few years, would breakthrough with “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” a song written by Hazard. While Lauper’s backing musicians in The Hooters would begin their journey toward the toppermost of the poppermost, Hazard waited for the mailman to drop off his latest royalty check. By the early ’90s, I remember hearing things like Hazard having bought his own island with those royalties. I have no idea if any of this is true, but from that point on I started to think, “More power to the guy!” Who couldn’t get behind a guy who fought his way to the foothills of the mountaintop only to have his ambition usurped by the same satin jacket-wearing breed who’d now turned their attention to a New Year’s Model, one constructed on the foundation of a Hazard-penned smash hit!
In recent years Hazard’s profile reemerged in Philadelphia as a singer-songwriter. (Don’t all aging musicians become singer-songwriters at some point?) I’d never heard a lick of his newer music, but in interviews I’d read he seemed like a contented journeyman, in the best sense of the word. He may be thought of as a godfather of some imagined, vibrant Philly rock scene from the early ’80s. Whether the scene at that time was all that or not, the man was its focal point for a couple of years. Some local artists would follow the trail he blazed, others would celebrate the day it was overrun with weeds. All the while, girls just wanted to have fun and Hazard kept on keeping on.