Vol. 3, Issue #2 January 25th - February 7th, 2008

Tiger Bear From Hell at NONzine.com

By: Wilhelm Murg

Do You Listen to Rock Music?
Or Do You Live By It?

Now that we’re here, many years after all the excitement, there’s still a lot of debate over what happened to rock’n’roll. The music was once an instrument in social changes, from civil rights to the anti-Vietnam war movement. It was hip, intelligent, dangerous, out of control, drug addled and silly, but most importantly, it was relevant and “about something” other than the lyricist’s mental problems. Today a hit song is about as relevant as the latest McDonald’s commercial - and sometimes they are even the same thing!

Based on anecdotal evidence, it seems that as a people we are a lot more self-absorbed today than ever. There was a time, roughly 1955-1980, when everything was a political statement, from men’s hair-length to comic books, tie-dyed shirts, humor, pornography and even television shows - and people were aware of it.

The early sixties battles over young men wanting to have “long hair” like The Beatles had on their first American tour is a perfect example. Just as the Vietnam War was based on the domino theory (that every Asian country would fall to Communism one by one like dominoes, unless we got involved) a young man with long hair was just the first sign of trouble; it could lead to growing a beard, studying Eastern philosophy and even dancing with negroes. There were hearings over comic books in the 1950s where Wonder Woman was seen as a gateway to lesbianism, and E.C. horror comics would lead to degenerate, if not murderous, behavior with their images of decapitated heads and freshly slaughtered human carcasses. Showing up in a tie-dyed shirt - yes, the kind Wal-Mart markets to your mother in the summertime - would be enough to keep you from getting a hotel room in some areas of the country. Lenny Bruce’s humor, which included words like “fuck,” was seen as so dangerous that he became one of the most embattled people in the country; he was literally harassed to death by the police. The Smothers Brothers television show was one long battle with the network over silly things like bringing in the great (if Communist affiliated) Pete Seeger to sing an anti-war song. The battles over the attempts to suppress the film “Deep Throat” and Hustler magazine were not just attempts for perverts to get their hands on smutty material, but a constitutional crisis over freedom of speech.

As our society goes to hell in a hand basket, the main thing I notice is that we are not connecting with music like we used to, nor comics, comedy, pornography, or whatever else you would throw into the mix. Part of it, I’m sure, is the explosion of data available. I remember being 12 years old and having just enough money to buy an album - so you pick one and learn every word on the album, take in every detail, inhale it like a an exotic drug, and it became a part of you. Those days are gone - a couple of hours on a P2P website and you can download an entire library of music you’ve never heard before - including tons of songs you’ll never have time to digest.

Rock music has become a soundtrack to our lives, and thus it misses that direct hit from the days when it was something special. I’ve known people who lived Journey’s “Escape.” I’ve personally lived out The Eurhythmics’ “Love is a Stranger,” Iggy & The Stooges’ “Gimme Danger,” and Billy Idol’s “Flesh for Fantasy,” to name a few; these weren’t just songs, but roadmaps to new paths of one’s life. It’s hard to find such maps when a Michael Jackson wannabe, like Justin Timberlake, is considered a musical genius, or when half of the top twenty are by losers from “American Idol.”

Perhaps the most profound disappointment is the way even early rock’n’roll has fallen by the wayside. I remember becoming obsessed with the music of the 1950s when I was in my early twenties and feeling every beat and breath of Elvis, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Bo Diddley, as they rolled on tape on my car stereo. I felt the angst of Roy Orbison and Gene Pitney, and I pounded the perfection of Phil Phillips’s “Sea of Love” into my soul. I put myself back in that place and tried my best to play out the dream rather than ignore it as old music, and it became my lifeline over the years.

Even in the late-1980s LSD explosion, I saved my hits for listening to the masters of acid rock. There’s a big difference in trying to play Jimi Hendrix’s “Littler Wing” note for note, and simply finding yourself in outer space and suddenly realizing that you’re still listening to “1983...A Mermaid I Should Turn To Be.”

Ironically, you don’t need drugs to understand the music; I don’t know how many times I sat through “The Porpoise Song” by The Monkees before finally finding acid a decade later; if you play it loud enough you might find yourself there.

So this is for all of the people who hurt themselves playing air guitar. It’s for people who have blown out speakers listening to Todd Rundgren’s motorcycle guitar solo on Meatloaf’s “Bat Out of Hell,” it’s for the kids who were sent home in the seventies for having hair too long, and for kids in the eighties who were sent home for wearing their hair too short, for the assholes who have sang “Louie, Louie” while drunk and wearing a toga, and even bigger assholes who started riots in punk clubs with less than twenty patrons in the club, and the roller girl who weaves in and out of traffic while listening to Dire Straits through her headphones; you know who you are, and where you were when it all still seemed heavy with meaning. Now the question is: How do we get back there?

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