(Re)Collection #42: Dead Like Latin
Updated: Mar 31, 2020
Rock and roll is dead to me. It feels that way inside of my heart. My head tries to make sense of it and argue against it. But it was not my head that convinced me to love rock music in the first place. My heart glommed onto it and my head went along for the ride and tried to make sense of it.
Rock and roll was once everywhere. It did not need me to keep it alive or argue on its behalf. I liked it that way. My parents did not indoctrinate me in it. In fact, they were a little old for it. When Elvis played on Ed Sullivan, my mom was 22, my dad was 19. When the Beatles played on Ed Sullivan, my mom was 30 and my dad was 27. Not exactly teeny boppers or high school hell raisers.
I heard all that 50s, 60s and 70s rock and roll music on the radio, out in the world and from my sister. It was in the air. My parents were not invested in me knowing much of anything about music. They weren't musicians.
In elementary school, I associated music with parties and with girls I liked. My friends and I never sat around and listened to it on purpose. Then I hit junior high and my friends started bringing their favorite music into my world. If I am honest, it still didn't move me too much. I liked skateboarding, riding my bike and playing hockey.
Then I heard songs that made an indelible impression. The B-52s' Planet Claire springs to mind. The Sex Pistols' Anarchy in the UK and the Dead Kennedy's Holiday in Cambodia. What on earth was this? David Bowie's Panic in Detroit. Neil Young's My My Hey Hey, Iggy Pop's Lust for Life, Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers' Bustin' Loose, Blondie's Heart of Glass, AC DC's Back in Black, U2's I Will Follow, The Smiths' What Difference Does It Make and New Order's Age of Consent.
It was all good to me. Before that, I had never felt any real pressure to like one type of music and resist another. Then I realized, oh, I have a choice here. I can claim a style. I can answer the question about what type of music I like. I like New Wave and Punk. I like "new music".(None of it was really so new, but I was young and uneducated).
But that does not mean that I stopped liking what I once liked. Punk Rock was not Year Zero for me where I disowned and disavowed all that came before. It was an entry point. I found DC hardcore in the form of Minor Threat, American punk rock bands like X, the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag and Husker Du, and disparate English bands like the Psychedelic Furs, the Specials, the Cure, New Order, Depeche Mode, OMD, the Buzzcocks and the Clash.
Even as I got more and more into music and started to really need it, rock and roll did not need me. It was doing just fine without my direct participation. It sustained itself. Then I went to college and did college radio. I started to participate in how music entered into other people's worlds. I would be fooling myself to think that I was influential. I was just one more person pushing music out in front of people.
At that point, I became an evangelist. The desire to be around it pulled me out of my insular zone and into clubs and shows and parties and get togethers. The virus found a host. Meanwhile, the world still had a place for the music that I loved so much. I was surrounded by it.
I took the next step and joined a band. It took me 5 years to take that leap of faith. It seemed like forever. I began to play shows, make records and tour. Predictably, the rock world lost a lot of its mystery. It became a system, a network, an economy. I became a part of the machine. The machine needed to sustain itself. I went from consumer of the product to producer, salesman and consumer of the product.
In 2002, I exited the system of bands, labels and tours. I became a regular person again. I still wrote and recorded music, but I lost my spot inside the machine.
I locked up so much of myself in that music. It was my identity. But the culture kept on changing. My taste, musical touchstones and cultural landmarks, which were all related to my age, social class and upbringing, were now firmly in the rear view mirror. And I stopped hearing the music that I knew so well coming out of cars, open apartment windows, restaurants and people's headphones on the bus and train.
Cultural movements come and go. Rock and roll retreated like big band, jazz and doo-wop before it. The shared musical language of rock and roll got codified, transmogrified and folded into the next dominant musical language.
I am sad that I have to get old and that things change. That I have to put one thing down in order to pick something else up. That said, I am ok with both burning out and fading away. Stasis is death.
Rock and roll is dead like Latin. For me at least.