Can't Get Enough Journey

What is it about the ’80s that keeps us looking back? Michael Mahin, guitarist for San Diego–based Neon Nation, an ’80s cover band, has a theory.

“Most ’80s music was utterly escapist,” he says. “It’s a rejection of the bullshit

‘realism’ of punk rock, which after its first 15 minutes was just fashion. The ’80s never pretended to be something it wasn’t. It was indulgent, raw, experimental, but most of all, it was fun.”

The band is either a five- or seven-member group, depending on the gig, which night they’re playing, and what the set requires — will it be ’80s glam rock, ’80s hard rock, new wave?

Paul Byrd, the band’s other guitarist, says, “I put the band together because I was having an ’80s party. I didn’t know that it would take two months to convince Michael [to join]. He was much too cool of a blues player to be bothered with the campy ’80s. Now he can’t get enough of Journey.”

Neon Nation can be seen around San Diego and Orange County performing at clubs, bars, restaurants, outdoor festivals, birthday parties, weddings, and corporate events.

Clarissa Bruno is the lead singer, Big Lou is on drums, Carl Nelson is on keyboards, and Scott Gaines and Joey Ancona switch off on the bass on different nights.


Michael: “Judas Priest. Those first albums are hook central.”

Paul: “How to Turkey Call. I bought a mouth call and instructional CD to call turkeys for an upcoming turkey hunt.”

Clarissa: “Carole King’s Tapestry. I’m a girl, and I am moody right now, like the album.”


Big Lou: “Someone got pepper sprayed in the parking lot, and the spray made it into the club. Everyone inside was coughing and had watery eyes.”

Michael: “When we started, I didn’t know anything about drawing crowds or playing bars with built-in crowds, so I booked this middle-of-nowhere dump. We showed up dressed in cheeseball ’80s costumes — something we don’t do anymore — and played to a packed house of five people. Three were friends, and the other two were there to play pool. Man, we sucked.”

Scott: “A club owner double-booked us with another band. We set up, sound checked, and we’re ready to start, and the genius comes in and says, ‘Sorry, guys, but I’ve got another band that’s gonna play tonight.’ We had to tear down and leave a houseful of confused friends, fans, and club patrons without playing a single song.”

Clarissa: “I was in a teen-bop trio called Knockout when I was 15 and we had a junior high/high school tour. One of the performances was inside a gymnasium, and a kid pulled the fire alarm and the water sprinkler system went off.... The firefighters who came to save us helped us pack up our equipment. Firemen make great roadies!”


Michael: “Rock-paper-scissors. Me and a buddy stumbled into a RPS tournament after boozing all day, and we both got promptly eliminated. I’ve been training for my comeback ever since. My scissors delivery kills.”

Clarissa: “The best story is when we learned ‘I Love Rock and Roll’ for this gig that I got smashed at. I woke up the next day and chewed out a bandmate for not playing the song after I had spent all week learning it. He told me that we actually closed the show with it. I was so hammered I didn’t even remember, but apparently I rocked it and remembered the words.”


Michael: “Kurt Cobain. That jerk single-handedly made flannels cool and killed hair metal.”


Big Lou: “I would love to hear what former president G.W. Bush has to say over lunch.”


Big Lou: “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” — Rush, “Freewill.”

Michael: “Some people say that I must be a horrible person, but that’s not true. I have the heart of a young boy — in a jar on my desk.” — Stephen King

Scott: “Luminous beings are we…not this crude matter.” — Yoda

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Someone please tell Michael that his quote about the heart of a young boy is from horror writer Robert Bloch (Psycho, etc.), not Steven King.

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