Danny-and-The-Juniors

Four Reasons They Can’t Kill Rock N’ Roll

by Paul Feldman

Rock N’ Roll is here to stay
it will never die
It was meant to be that way
though I don’t know why
I don’t care what people say,
Rock N’ Roll is here to stay

Danny and the Juniors recorded Rock N Roll Is Here To Stay in 1958. Over half a century later, their prediction holds true. Rock N’ Roll’s been declared dead and buried more times than Jason Vorhees. Yet the old bastard keeps clawing its way out of the ground to bite and infect a new crop of youth and scare the crap out of their parents. Call it what you will: “Punk”, “Grunge”, “Metal”, whatever: The same primal energy released by the Holy Trinity of guitar, bass and drums that drove 50’s youth into frenzies of post-malt shop knickers-dropping now sends 21st century youth into frenzies of post-Instagram-updating knickers-dropping. By no means all-encompassing, here are Four Reasons They Can’t Kill Rock N’ Roll:

1. Rock N’ Roll Forever Rises Phoenix-Like from its Ashes

“What we were doing was changing the course of rock history and changing culture and changing people’s lives and bringing back the Rock N’ Roll music that we’d lost” — Joey Ramone

ramones

Every time the self-indulgence of successful artists or the greed of industry executives turns Rock N Roll into gutless slop, a new crop of younger, angrier rockers take up the banner: The Ramones, Nirvana, The White Stripes, etc. They are all the Great Serpent discarding its old skin and emerging renewed.

Why does this continue to happen? Perhaps it’s because when the music becomes less relatable to the disenfranchised: the young, the angry, the desperate, the lonely, it’s up to the young, angry, desperate and lonely to get a fire under their ass and make their voice heard again.

Granted, there’s A TON of shitty bands walking the Earth at any given time. As with the other arts, the advent of technology and the Internet has given equal voices to amateurs, adepts and total hack-asses alike. But every so often an ever-so-precious diamond that remains forever in the rough gets through. Someone who’s able take that basic primal brew of three chords and a gut-punch beat and work their own alchemy on it. We’re presented with something brand new that we feel like we’ve been waiting for forever. Something that you play over and over and over again, like the tape (am I dating myself here? CD? Wax Cylinders?) you wore out when you were 14.

There is nothing like a piece of music that makes your heart and soul cry out “Yes! THAT.”

2. Most Teenagers Will Always be Pissed at the World.

When I was 12, I carried a Talisman with me everywhere I went, an omnipresent oblong lump in my acid washed pocket. It was Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction. I’ve often described it as my first Middle-Finger Album.

Being 12, by in large, was a drag. I was exploding with emotions, hormones and nascent, deviant urges. There were stains to be explained, shameful messes to be cleaned up. Long showers. Really long showers. Like Ozzy before me, I was going through Changes.

And while on the inside I raged with the fury of a thousand suns, on the outside I looked like this:

MS ID

Rock N Roll was empowerment. Axl, Lars, Glenn and Lemmy weren’t just cool – they were bad. Those dudes took no shit. Just like I didn’t want to take any shit, despite the profuse amounts of shit I was in fact, taking.

axl lars glenn lemmy

Those minor chord progressions through Marshall half-stacks made the pudgy Jewish kid with braces and glasses think if he let his hair grow it would one day approach the glory of the Metal Manes he saw on the pages of Metal Edge and Rip…not the Jewfro so dense not even light could escape from it.

I didn’t know what I was pissed about, I just knew I was pissed. I didn’t really understand what sex was, but it was all I thought about. More than anything, my inside didn’t feel like it matched my outside. That was disempowering and confusing. Appetite for Destruction, Master of Puppets, The Misfits Walk Among Us… they all sounded how I felt. The crunch of the power-chords crystalized abstract emotion into something real.

3. Rock N Roll is a Manifestation of an Ancient, Universal and Ethereal Energy

black notesRock N’ Roll evolved from the ceremonial music brought over to America by African Slaves. These ceremonies offered a communion and connection between humanity and the Universe, a connection that was often found missing in the corrupted religions and rituals of the Colonizing Powers. Vestiges of this ancient power in the music still move audiences today. I’m gonna get scholarly and drop a QUOTE from a BOOK: “When you look at cultures…like Africa… they understand music primarily to be the connection between the individual speaking and the Theos”. That’s William Banfield being interviewed by Brian C. Brown in Black Notes: Essays of a Musician Writing in a Post-Album Age.

At the risk of sounding woo-woo, if you’ve ever been to a live rock show, you know there’s a palpable summoning, release and exchange of energy on a massive level. If you want to get mechanical about it, sure, electricity is drawn up into the amplifiers, the house speakers, and lights, and then blown out in an explosion of sound and color. But there’s an emotional charge too. If it’s a big show, there’s that incredible instant of “Ohhhh Shit!” when the lights go down before whoever it is comes out on stage for that moment everyone’s been looking forward to all week, all month, maybe even their whole life. But no matter how big the venue or how legendary the act, if you’re lucky, there’s a true Communion between performer and audience. When people are in the groove (that expression comes from the needle on a record player being in the groove of a record), whether that’s a stadium, a filthy night club, or a kid on a school bus shutting the world out with headphones, Rock N Roll has the power to set people’s guts on fire in the best way.

In a less cynical age, that might be called magic.

4. In spite of itself, Rock N’ Roll Will Always be Big Business.

david bowie shirt

Because it is self-renewing, because the audience will always be there, and because that audience has more disposable income that nearly any other demographic, Rock N’ Roll is an immortal cash cow.

It’s true that in the last sixteen years the business of music has changed in ways no one could have ever imagined. Some say the days of the insanely rich rock stars have passed. Maybe so. But human beings haven’t changed much at all. Being 12 still sucks. (If you’re 12 and reading this, it gets better). There is no glowing screen that can duplicate actually being at a concert: concerts that have admission fees. There will always be disaffected young people in need of a logo emblazoned on a T-Shirt to broadcast to the world, and most importantly, to Fellow Travelers, that “Hey Man. I get it. I’m One of Us”. (I count myself among their numbers) Those T-Shirts are usually around $35. It costs a lot less than $35 to silk screen a skull on a Hanes Beefy-T.

If there’s one guarantee of immortality in our Brave New Word, it’s profitability.

****

I’m a Dad now. Middle age looms. I can’t be cool anymore. In the privacy of my internal dialogue, I actually entertain thoughts that fall into the realm of “The kids today with their hair and the music”. Which is as it should be. There are few things as unpleasant as watching someone cling to something they should let go of.

But I still play the Good Stuff loud in the car with the windows open. Sure, I turn it down when I pull in to pick my kid up at school to be polite. And yes, I tune in now and again to hear what’s doing in Lake Wobegon. But I still go back to the music that put the coal in my stove when I was a kid, it does the same for me now.

Whenever my son finds his Appetite for Destruction, I probably won’t be able to enjoy it with him. I get it, that’s not how it works. However, I do hope I have the wisdom to appreciate it for what it is.

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