It’s been awfully quiet in this little corner of the Web lately, partly due to the usual laziness and ennui, and partly because I’ve been superstitiously afraid to write about the one thing that’s been most on my mind. I’m still afraid to even say what that is, but I think you know what I’m talking about.
This month’s cultural menu has included a couple of heavy foreign films (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and The Counterfeiters) counterbalanced by the usual diet of Boston Legal and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, as well as some legitimate theater (Tom Stoppard’s Rock and Roll) and a couple of concerts, Mavis Staples and the Kings of Leon. Reading has included Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and a renewed assault on Bob Spitz’s enormous, over-researched Beatles book.
Reuters reports that restaurants in Tokyo are using monkeys as waiters (really, more like busboys — they’re not taking orders — but so what?), and I say, what took so long? Hopefully soon some visionary will have the courage to bring this trend to the U.S., and health codes be damned. If I could have a monkey bring me sake, I would pretty much have achieved everything I’ve ever longed for in this life.
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.