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Through the Danger Zone

Many artists claim to have been the soundtrack of the '80s; Kenny Loggins really was. In my Strawberry Shortcake-inspired bedroom of 1984, "Footloose" helped me burn a hole in the center of my bright red rug. I was prone to dancing alone, and with gusto, and the title song from the Kevin Bacon film obviously required a great deal of dramatic knee-slides, followed by hand claps and impressive split-type maneuvers. Loggins' number-one hit from Top Gun, "Danger Zone," was harder to dance to; with those driving beats and that slow-build verse, it was more of an air-guitar number. But I could pirouette as gracefully as a butterfly to "Meet Me Halfway," the heartwrenching ballad from Sly Stallone's 1987 wrestling movie Over the Top. Like Huey Lewis before him and Darius Rucker after, Kenny Loggins was an unlikely musical superstar--an average guy with average looks and above-average appeal. But he was the undisputed king of '80s movie soundtracks, with a winning streak that lasted from 1980's Caddyshack ("I'm Alright") to 1988's Caddyshack II ("Nobody's Fool"). And I loved him.

So if you're anything like me, news of an upcoming Loggins and Messina appearance yields one question: Umm, who the hell is Messina?

"I ran into a string of real interesting bad luck," says Jimmy Messina, 57. At age 22, he was the successful songwriter and producer who introduced the world to Loggins via the 1972 album Kenny Loggins With Jim Messina Sittin' In. In the 1960s, he played with Neil Young in the influential country-rock band Buffalo Springfield and later found mild success with the offshoot Poco. After his debut with Loggins, he enjoyed six years as part of one of the most succesful duos of the early '70s, releasing eight albums that went gold or platinum.

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Loggins and Messina perform at Nokia Theatre on Thursday, September 1.

But the '80s were not kind to Jimmy Messina. His marriage fell apart. Columbia Records shunned his first solo effort, Oasis, a Latin rock experiment. He went over to Warner Bros., but his next two albums never picked up steam. Over time, his sound became jazzier, scurrying further from the mainstream. As his one-time protégé released number-one single after number-one single, Messina hobbled along, looking for some kind of break in the clouds.

"It was frustrating for me, because I could see that both of us had great music to offer," he says now. "I was glad to see Kenny was doing well. If he hadn't, it would have looked even worse for me because I discovered him. But it was frustrating."

Eventually, Kenny Loggins' pop-chart domination came to an end. By the '90s, he disappeared into the fog of adult contemporary, releasing such soft-focus pap as Christmastime and More Songs From Pooh Corner. Financially, he was doing fine, living off nostalgia tours and critically ignored studio albums. But when his own 13-year marriage came to an end recently, it was Jimmy Messina who helped him break the funk.

"I was quoted more than once as saying I was having too much fun to step backwards in time and get back together as Loggins and Messina," says Loggins from his home in Santa Barbara. "My dollars were up performing. There wasn't any financial or aesthetic reason to go back. But because of the divorce I'm going through, I felt ready. Jimmy knew what I was going through. He reached out as a partner and as a friend. He's given me a lot of emotional room. And this is a good place to go back to--to go back to who I was as a young man."

Kenny Loggins is 57 now, and this is how he speaks. In fact, this is how both men speak--like they've spent time in Santa Fe burning incense with spiritual counselors. They talk about emotional growth and self-acceptance in hushed, careful voices. They've ridden out fame and its sad flipside for a quarter century, and they're happy, finally, to be onstage together again.

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The collaboration began when both men were performing separate benefits in California and decided to hook up on a lark. "It was scary at first. I didn't know what was going to happen," Messina says. "But as time went on, we became acquainted with each other and realized we weren't there to upstage or hurt each other. What were supposed to be two-hour shows were four-hour shows, every night. The audience wouldn't leave."

It's a different scene than when the two were first together--competing for the limelight, struggling for artistic control. "As young men, we found ourselves submerged in this duo," Loggins says. "There was a level of competition that's natural for young men struggling to find their identities. When we broke up, I was pretty impatient with him. I felt cooped up. I was ready to move on." After two decades on his own, however, Loggins enjoys his old partner sitting in again. "We sound like brothers when we sing together," he says. "We have these beautiful sibling harmonies."

The set is an exhaustive three hours, with both men switching between their independent work and their Loggins and Messina classics, which include such folk-rock hits as "Angry Eyes" and "Your Mama Don't Dance."

"It's inspiring," Messina says. "There really and truly is an audience who wants to be reunited with our music." That's good news for Kenny Loggins. And great news for Jimmy Messina.

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