So now we are getting down to, as President George Bush 41 might have said, the Nitty Ditty Nitty Gritty Great Bird. Only one song left. One more song to represent all of rock’n’roll, and this is the hardest choice of all, because of everything that will have to be left off. No David Bowie, can you believe it? No Rolling Stones. No Pixies. Bob Dylan, Creedence, Iggy and the Stooges, the Who…sorry about that, fellas, you didn’t make the cut.
After much debate I finally settled on a song by the Clash because I thought it was important to represent the key role punk rock played in the history of rock’n’roll. I was reminded of this recently when I had occasion to visit the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in scenic Cleveland, OH. I had always thought the Hall of Fame was a bad idea, but since I was passing through, I decided to check it out. Turns out I was right. The moment rock’n’roll starts getting full of itself, patting itself on the back for all it’s accomplished, is the moment it starts to die. You can’t really freeze it and put it in a museum. Sure, it was cool to see Jimi Hendrix’s fringed jacket and childhood artwork, John Lennon’s Sgt. Pepper outfit and report cards, David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” outfit and solid gold coke spoon (just kidding on that one), but in the end so what? What do I take away from that experience?
The one voice crying out in the wilderness that was the R’n’R Hall of Fame was Joe Strummer’s. Appearing in one of the movies in the Hall’s dedicated theaters—the best part of the museum, by the way, but did I need to go to Cleveland to see a movie?—he gave a great little speech about how rock’n’roll was meant to capture the passion of the moment. And this was what punk rock did: When rock’n’roll had become bloated and sanctimonious, punk came along to remind us that passion was what mattered—not classical chops, not clever time signatures, not being able to play a keyboard with each hand and a third one with your feet.
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