Yes I’m back

At the end of a long and uneventful commute to work this morning, I had to stay in the car for an extra minute or so. I was in the middle of listening to AC/DC’s Back in Black on the radio, and nothing I could find in the office would be any better than that.

It’s funny what you can remember sometimes. This morning, once I turned the car off and headed into the building I work in, I recalled the very first book I ever read as part of a class. It was 1981, and I was struggling to get through eighth grade. I was a geeky, awkward kid, and I was transitioning into adolescence. It sucked to be me back then.

But I was beginning to get into music a little bit, and AC/DC was a big part of that. Back in Black was, and probably always will be, the album that I could always put on and listen to, start to finish. I wonder if, in the thirty-plus years since the album came out, that there’s ever been a day where a rock station like the Loop in Chicago hasn’t played at least one song from it. It wouldn’t surprise me if the answer to that was “no.”

So back to the geek-boy for a moment. My 8th grade teachers had assigned us all to read “The Good Earth” by Pearl S. Buck. I’m not sure how I learned of the existence of Cliff’s Notes, but I acquired a copy to help me understand the parts of the book I didn’t get. Cliff actually helped me get through high school, now that I think about it.

But on the cover of my Cliff’s Notes for “The Good Earth” were dozens of handwritten AC/DC logos, including the lightning bolt between the letters in the middle. I just thought that looked especially cool, so I made sure to include it. Somewhere on this planet there’s a Cliff’s Notes covered with AC/DC logos, courtesy of a confused and awkward young kid in Springfield, Illinois. I actually smiled at the thought of this, too.

So whenever one of the songs from that album, or any other song that AC/DC ever did, comes on the radio, I make sure to listen to it. And I’m glad that music takes me back, not to a time that I would ever want to re-live, but at least to a time and a place that I can still remember, while appreciating all that’s happened since then.

A Sure Shot for the Rock Hall

To me, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a fraud. Rock and roll began as an expression of rebellion, and that gleaming building on the waterfront in Cleveland is anything but rebellion. Some of the bluesmen who helped to create rock and roll are enshrined there, but too many of them have been lost to history, unrecognized for their contributions.

Rock and roll was born when white folks began dabbling in “colored” music during the 1950s. The best Broadway show I’ve ever seen, Memphis, tells a fictionalized story about this time and place. It’s still playing in New York, and there’s also a touring company out there somewhere, but it’s well worth spending some time and money on if you have the chance.

But back to the hall of fame for a moment. The continued exclusion of KISS from the hall makes no sense at all. If there’s any better expression of the rock ethos than “Rock and Roll all nite,” please tell me what it is. But beyond that song, there’s a whole Army (literally) of fans out there who go to the concerts (with or without face paint on), buy the merchandise that has made Gene Simmons and the others rich, and keep the band going so that they’re more than an REO Speedwagon-type nostalgia act.

The first concert I went to as a 13-year old was KISS and the Plasmatics, and the clothes I wore that night probably still reek of pot. And the most recent concert I’ve seen was also KISS, at the United Center in Chicago. That might change when the Wall comes to Wrigley next summer, though. I’ve seen a lot of shows in between, but KISS brings it to the stage as well as anybody, and better than most. Why that’s not hall-worthy is beyond me.

But with this year’s nominees, there’s one I feel strongly about in a good way, and one I feel strongly about in a bad way. The good way goes first. With my non-existent vote for the Rock hall, I would put the Beastie Boys in, without a doubt.

A rock purist might disagree with me on this, because they aren’t a band in the Led Zeppelin mode of drums, guitars, and bass. That’s true, but they sampled Led Zeppelin repeatedly on their first album (which was my introduction to the group, even if I can’t listen to it anymore, since catchy and goofy isn’t a good mix). They clearly appreciate Zeppelin, and I can appreciate that.

They’ve also sampled the Beatles, Bob Marley, AC/DC, the Ramones, and many others. Their song “High Plains Drifter” is essentially the Eagles’ “Those Shoes” with a story told over it. They’re brilliant at what they do, and they couldn’t do it without rock records to draw from. Grandmaster Flash is already in, and Bono has given his blessing to Public Enemy, so there’s no reason why the B-E-A-S-T-I-Es shouldn’t be there, as well.

The one I feel strongly against is Guns n’ Roses. If you could just put one album in, I’d be fine with Appetite for Destruction being enshrined. Start to finish, it’s as good as anything that’s ever been released when it comes to rock and roll. And if you could put one video in, I’d cast my vote for “November Rain.” It’s head and shoulders above any video that’s ever been made. But the band itself now seems to consist of Axl Rose (which is an anagram for “oral sex” by the way) and whoever he can find to play with him.

Slash, Duff MacKagan, Steven Adler/Matt Sorum, and Izzy Stradlin are the band’s so-called “classic lineup,” but I promise you that not one of them would show up for the induction ceremony. No, it would just be a vanity night for the cornrowed Axl Rose, and a night in the spotlight for guys who didn’t write or record any of their classic work. Can you name any of them? I sure can’t. It gives me no great joy to say this, but putting Axl and his traveling sideshow in the Rock hall would be a mistake.

I’m curious to know how it all turns out, though. Heart is also on the ballot, along with Donna Summer (a true WTF moment for me), Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and others I can’t think of right now. But there’s only two that matter to me this time around.

A rock and roll miracle

I’ve been on vacation with my family for the past week, and haven’t had any time to blog lately. But it’s late at night, and I’m in the business center of a Holiday Inn that apparently doesn’t limit its internet usage, so here goes:

Country music has never been my thing. I live in a city with just one country station, and people who like that sort of music know where they can go to find it. And everyone else knows where to avoid it. But every so often, when I find myself out on the road and far from home, things get more complicated than that. As they did recently somewhere in Wisconsin.

I had just come from House on the Rock near a town called Green Field (a fitting name, I suppose) and was heading for points west. The exact location of my destination isn’t really important, but I will say that my preset stations weren’t doing me any good. And then the country takeover of my radio set in.

And so, after going up and down the dial looking for something I could listen to, I heard just a few bars of AC/DC’s “Rock and Roll ain’t Noise Pollution,” as follows:

Heavy decibels are playin’ on my guitar/ We got vibrations coming up from the floor

Well, just listenin’ to the rock is givin’ too much noise/ Are you deaf? You want to hear some more 

And that was all. It faded out and I wasn’t able to hear anything else. At the drop of a hat, I was back to sorting through country stations again, which I did for another ten minutes before turning the radio off in defeat.

Those few bars of rock, in a sea of other music I couldn’t listen to, were like giving a few drops of water to a man lost in the desert. My favorite album ever, my favorite song on the album, and the introductory words that set the philosophical stage for the entire genre itself. Yes, rock and roll will never die–as the song itself says later on–but has morphed recently into things I don’t fully recognize. But at least they still play AC/DC on the radio once in awhile, and I’m good with that.

I want my remains cremated and scattered around the earth when I die, but if I were to have a tombstone, I want it to be engraved with AC/DC’s words of wisdom, and the title to the track that “Johnny” is playing here. Enjoy it, indeed.

It’s just-a rock and roll, yeah