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Remembering the day the Rick Springfield fan army shut down Tysons Corner

Larry Houck is an attorney in McLean, Va. In the summer of 1981, he worked at Variety Records in Tysons Corner Center. On June 17, 1981, the mall was practically shut down by thousands of fans eager to see Rick Springfield. The singer autographed an album for Houck.
Larry Houck is an attorney in McLean, Va. In the summer of 1981, he worked at Variety Records in Tysons Corner Center. On June 17, 1981, the mall was practically shut down by thousands of fans eager to see Rick Springfield. The singer autographed an album for Houck. (Sheila Wynne-Houck)
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June 17 is the 40th anniversary of the day Rick Springfield shut down Tysons Corner. Larry Houck was there.

“Talk about having a front-row seat,” said Houck, who worked at the Variety Records in Tysons Corner Center, where Springfield was scheduled to meet fans. “It was totally nuts. All the roads leading to Tysons, all the ramps off the Beltway, were totally congested that day.”

In 1981, the Australian heartthrob was doubly famous: as Dr. Noah Drake on “General Hospital” and as the artist behind a priceless piece of pop perfection called “Jessie’s Girl.”

“He just had so much exposure that summer,” Houck said.

The shopping mall record store has pretty much gone the way of the passenger pigeon, but there was a time when it was a busy crossroads for music lovers, both fans and performers alike.

Santana came in once,” said Houck, 63. “Lou Rawls came in one day. Catfish Hodge used to come in. Bill and Taffy Danoff used to come in quite a bit.”

Houck once spotted Who drummer Kenney Jones eating a pretzel outside the Hecht Co. — the band had the day off between Capital Centre dates. Houck ran out with some albums for him to sign.

Variety Records sponsored in-store visits, such as Springfield’s mobbed appearance, as well as in-mall performances.

The Village People performed at Tysons. “Whirling dervishes,” Houck said. “Every one of them running around all over the place.”

So did Liberace protege Vince Cardell.

“Of course, the crowd was a bunch of old ladies,” Houck said. “He went down to the bathroom in the basement to wash his hands and get ready to play piano, and he threw a fit because we only had paper towels down there.

“We had to run to Woolworth and get a terry cloth towel.”

There was no diva in Rick Springfield, Houck said. The singer talked music with the Variety employees for half an hour as the fans assembled outside.

A newspaper account put the crowd at 2,000, but Houck thinks it was twice that.

“We had to close the doors of the store. People were pushing against the glass wall, kind of bowing it in.”

In the end, Springfield wasn’t able to sign autographs. The fire marshal shut down the event.

Houck said Springfield offered to sign autographs in the parking lot through the window of his limousine but the limo driver refused, fearful his vehicle wouldn’t survive.

Larry worked at Variety for eight years, all through college and grad school. Today he’s an attorney and lives in McLean, Va.

“I’m still very passionate about music,” he said. He owns 5,000 CDs and 5,000 LPs. They include the copy of “Working Class Dog” that Springfield autographed for him on that crazy day.

And Rick Springfield?

“I think I remember that one,” the singer told me by phone from Malibu. “I tried to do something from the car. I think it was putting everybody in danger.”

Said Springfield: “There was a time when stuff like that happened. It was a pretty crazy time, obviously. The power of that kind of young fan is pretty awesome.”

Every rock star — every good one, at least — starts out as a fan. And fans they remain.

Springfield said he never stood in line to get a star’s autograph — “I don’t think that was really offered back then,” he said, at least not in his Australian town, Mount Waverley — but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have idols.

“I remember going to see the Beatles,” he said. “I remember walking into my guitar store where I bought my first two guitars when I was 15 and Pete Townshend was walking out.”

The Who had played in Melbourne the night before and the guitar Townshend had intended to theatrically smash in such a way that it could be fixed had actually been broken irreparably.

“Those kinds of interactions were memorable to me,” Springfield said.

As for record stores such as Variety, there weren’t any when he was growing up.

“They had what were called radio shops,” said Springfield, 71. “You could buy a toaster or a vacuum cleaner, then there was a section with records.”

Springfield said the first record he owned was “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks. He shoplifted it.

“Which is a terrible thing to do; I didn’t have any money,” he said. “That changed everything, that one song.

“I feel bad that I stole it, but it worked out. I’ll pay Ray Davies if I meet him.”

Twitter: @johnkelly

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