Saturday, May 26, 2007

Rock is dead they say.

In a post a few weeks back, I asked where the danger has gone in rock music. I’m sure that quite a bit of the danger that surround rock and its fans and its musicians, transferred to the hip hop scene some years ago and has transformed into an implied violence of an entirely different nature. There was a time, and a certain number and type of bands, that once elicited the possibility of a fan riot, especially if the police got too hostile or made a show of force. This happened many times at punk shows in LA during the early 80’s.

I don’t believe that the possibility of physical violence was an essential component to the spirit of what was rock and roll, but the danger subtext was always a central and essential component to the music. When I say danger I mean the word in more ways than a simple description of the possibility that people will be harmed. Danger, depending on the era and tone of the community, could mean many things.

The great Wayne Cochran built a reputation of putting on energetic, emotional and wild shows in certain clubs and during a certain time where he pushed boundries that weren't supposed to be pushed. Cochran, the man for whom the term “Blue Eyed Soul” was created to describe, often crossed over to the chitlin’ circuit clubs in the south at a time when not only was segregation was the norm, but also at a time when dogs, black jacks and bullets were used on the black community with little care or concern. This was dangerous. Add in a massive, platinum blonde pompadour haircut and it’s a wonder the man was never beaten half to death by the rednecks with badges.

The act of pure physical expression by young people at shows and their styles of dancing were dangerous to the status quo. Pete Townshend recently posted a quick description of something to his biography blog, which makes this point even more tangible in this regard. Townshend described a woman dancing at an early Who show and this was what he had to say,
“At an all nighter at the Club Noreik I noticed a very sexy blonde girl dancing in front of the stage. She wasn’t a Mod. She looked more like an art student, and was dancing like a lunatic, all arms and boobs.”

If you’ve been to enough shows in your life, you know exactly what Pete is talking about. You’ve seen it, you’ve done it yourself, you’ve probably dated a girl who danced exactly like he’s describing. Maybe you married her. Maybe you were that girl. Whenever I have imagined in my head exactly what describes the essence of rock music, in all it’s flavors, what Pete describes is an image I’ve always drawn upon among others. I even have my own stories where what he described was something I personally experienced. The girl who was a few rows down from me at a James Brown show in 1986, who wore a tight black sweater, and whom I wished was my girl when I saw her letting it go. The girl I dated briefly in Virginia, who danced like that at a Smithereens show we went to in Virginia Beach in 1988 or 89. This girl made other guys give me the eye of envy and anger. It’s an iconic image and so very powerful on levels beyond what you first imagine.

I’ve been feeling very sentimental of late regarding music. Not the syrupy sweet form of sentimentality. I’m talking about the sentimentality that comes from looking back while asking questions about today and tomorrow. The curse of getting older and coping with middle age is looking back with eyes that still see the past as though it happened only yesterday.

I don’t want to go back and live it all over again. I don’t want to be young again today. I simply wish there was a touchstone that I could see which reflected what it is to be a person in middle age today, that spoke to me in the same way that The Minutemen’s “This ain’t no picnic” or Alice in Chains’ “Got me wrong” spoke to me back then. Sometimes the real danger that embodied rock wasn’t violence or girls shaking for all they were worth or young men with pumped fists in the air. Sometimes the real danger of rock was when it spoke of the realities of life and the fans responded with, “Thank God someone said what I’ve been feeling and thinking!”

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