Eulogy for Rock and Roll

(or what I love about unsung heroes of rock and roll)

Absurdity in D-minor
by Adam McIntyre

I bought your album and it had so much unbridled enthusiasm. It had power. It had innocence. It was painful because initially you failed and it was difficult. But the bigger picture is that thousands and thousands of kids like me listened to it and got off of it for its energy and beauty. Nobody with any experience spills their guts like that, and that's why I loved it - that's why it worked. Thank you Alex Chilton for Big Star.

You were the sound that I looked forward to as a child. The sound that seemed to come from aloft, butterfly wings just above me yet untouchable in another dimension. "I will NEVER make music like this, but I sure would like to." I could tell that Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding were obsessed with everything I liked about pop music. They dug Syd Barrett's half-genius, half-insane 3-minute pop opuses. They worshipped at the altar of the Fab Four. And so many influences I'd yet to discover were at work. All while this crazy egghead rattled off lyrics that astounded and astonished me. They were gluttons for punishing and rewarding their listeners with more meanings and sounds than possibly can be comprehended on a first listen. Just when you thought XTC had written a simple pop tune, you looked at the lyrics and broke it down line by line only to discover the history of the world etched into the inside of an ivory egg. Yes, Apple Venus is an ivory egg. The pure, lush orchestration and harmonies, the allusion, the triple meanings... "Dear God" the writing on the wall by an insane man who has, in a moment of pure clarity, figured everything out. Maybe that's how Partridge does it. Maybe he is so insane that he's come back out on the other side of the black hole and is signaling back to us that he's got all the answers. How inconvenient. We listen all the same, trying to decipher a semi-prophet's messages, born and bejeweled through song.

Andy Sturmer, the poet of my generation. My generation sat down with headphones and listened. My generation knew what came first and what could happen when all the influences and great albums of the 60's and 70's were broken down and recombined by a genius. Saying that Jellyfish were not great is like saying that Andy Warhol lacked talent. You either spy something great in what was being done, or it just goes over your head. Jellyfish took "Pet Sounds", "Sgt. Pepper", "A Night At The Opera" and plucked bits of Badfinger, XTC, Big Star, The Kinks, and made this big wedding cake out of all the ingredients. Ornately designed, very big, very filling. Fattening. They made "Spilt Milk", one of the greatest albums of all time. And nobody's ever heard of the damn thing. Layers upon layers of sugarcoated PERFECT POP SONGS kiss the ears and make love to the mind. Give it to me, fill me with your song. The holy choir of voices leading in, the godly rock taking it away, the quick trip to euphoria via the heavenly melodies and silvery guitar solos of side one. The pink, thick in milky dream side one of "Spilt Milk" captures the imagination and won't let go until it's finished with the long, deep kiss. Side two begins and takes you off to the deepest, nonsensical (and yet perfect sense) dreams of late night, early morning. "Russian Hill" takes you for a drive in the country under a glowing strawberry sky. Roger is at the wheel of a Duezenberg with driving goggles on. Andy sits high on a blue cloud over the dreamland and tells you the story like so much Cheshire Cat floating in midair. By the end of the nightmare, you're never wanting to come back to the real world - the real world is even scarier. You'd rather join the endless parade where the circus never ends. Wouldn't you rather run away forever? You'd like to live a neverending carnival of freaks and door-to-door salesmen? Just as you reach for the trapeze, the alarm clock sounds and you're transported magically back to your living room, where you've been set back down, headphones firmly in place, with a big smile on your face. "Daddy?" "Yes, honey?" "Sing it for me again." "Well, just one more time...go to sleep and hush, little darling..." Andy tends to his infant daughter, never noticing you were there listening at all. God reached down and touched that man, whether he knows it or not.

"OH MY GOD!" Shouts the sweaty frontman of the small earthquake we've come to know as The Shazam. Yeah, he's a good ol' boy with a southern accent. But he ain't stupid. No, if you're willing to bestow the title upon any rock and roller, call Hans Rotenberry a genius (to plagiarize/paraphrase John Mendelssohn). The Shazam put one foot forward, put one hand fifty feet in the air, and roar to life like a boxer with something to prove. Just when you thought rock was over. Just when it all seemed like a big meaningless, worthless waste of time to buy anything new. Just as rock and roll breathed its last gasp, The Shazam gave it a shot in the arm, woke good old rock and roll up, and went dancing in the moonlight instead. You should come along. Yeah, another gift from God. The Shazam's first album is a piece of pop genius disguised as a hard rock record. But it ain't anything but music. Powerpop, whatever. "Sleepy Horse" is one of the greatest songs ever written. "I Hate That Song" is a classic. "Blew It" is a classic. They make rock and roll fun again. They bring the brains back to the brawn. They do it both with a hand behind their backs and the other hand twirling a drumstick.   If only I could go back to being a little kid, I'd put on The Shazam and jump on the bed all goddamn night just to express the way they make me feel. Boundless energy, good vibes, great words, and limitless possibilities. Like The Beatles, they're your best friends in the world from the word "go".  "Godspeed The Shazam" is the supposed last gasp of a band that never was supposed to exist in the first place... not in the nineties or 2000, anyway. And it was the 2nd beginning of The Shazam. Now a new record's coming and it's sure to change the face of my world yet again. "Are you listening... are you listening to me?!" Yes, I think so. Tune me into the secret frequency, we wanna know. Pluck that truth from the tree of life, boy. I can't reach it. Can you, Hans? Thanks. OH MY GOD! It tastes great.

But if anybody were going to finish off writing all the great songs before the next generations could come along and steal them, Ray Davies would be the architect of that great crime. Yes, Ray is out to write all of them before you and I get a chance. You bastard, Ray! You've been up all night reading my mind and writing my life. Have you no respect for my privacy? Have you no soul of your own? Why can't you just write mediocre songs like the rest of us? God intended for each of us to do one great thing with our life. To create one great, incredible work that makes every passer-by stop and rethink their entire existence. Or at least, open the doorway to the artist's soul so that we don't feel so empty inside. Ray does it daily. I feel pain because The Kinks told me to feel it. I cried because they showed me how to cry. I exist because The Kinks said I would some day. I know loneliness because Dave Davies reached out his hand to me - and I could not reach it - in "Strangers". Ray Davies turned the world upside down for me and set it all straight during the course of his career so far. I know freedom in its purest form because of two chords that his monkeybrain strung together. I know the deep, dark secrets of his mind because HE sang me a melody so sweet, I nearly cried for days. Why on earth... HOW could a human being write "Waterloo Sunset"? The same human beings capable of destroying anything God created also can create a beautiful song that can restore my faith in humanity. Ray Davies is the mouthpiece through which humankind screams its final screams for redemption. Ah, the world has crashed down more than once because Ray said it would. Just when this careless bastard has played with my soul, my heart, my feelings until I can't take any more, he sits me down and tells me "It's Only Jukebox Music". DAMN YOU!!! You declare that the music doesn't mean anything, but you wink back and smile while saying it. A knowing nod from the old bugger saying "yes, I have done it all now. I have told you one thing to get you to believe the exact opposite. I am in your head and you can do nothing... NOTHING to get me out." How does a human being DO such a thing? Playing with our feelings like a cat with a toy, walking off when disinterested as we agonize, waiting for more. It isn't fair. "Live your life" you say... writing books, putting on plays... but I'm sorry, we can't. I can't go on until you have told me how to live my life. The Kinks fan is but a pathetic, weakened, empty soul without the music. But I'd rather die an empty Kinks fan than a person devoid of the music. The gorgeous strains of the 2-3 minute pop ditty, the long primal scream of "20th Century Man", the fully-packaged albums-as-a-statement like "Village Green Preservation Society". What are we to do? In "Rock and Roll Fantasy", we the fans are introduced to ourselves, "Dan is a fan and he lives for our music, it's the only thing that gets him by," is he in our head or are we in his? Oh, it's a conceited statement, but a love letter to each and every fan who has felt pain and reached to The Kinks to feel that warm lovers' embrace to return them to comfort. Oh, what would I do without them? Well, I would do what any sane man would do. I would write songs every day for the rest of my life to try vainly to fill the void. And I will. My high is gone. My fix is broken. My love is lost. Is the golden age of rock and roll over? Not if I can help it. If I see the flag lying broken, I will mend it and march on into battle. I must face life with the mind of a lunatic artist, in cohouts with my alter-egoes and worshipping the almighty song. In which I shall find salvation for each moment that I hear it. The song calls to me through the fog. The bridge lures me onward. The solo leaves me alone, lost. The chorus lifts me up and carries me home. Thank you all for Rock and Roll.

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Copyright 2001 Adam McIntyre