Saturday, March 29, 2008

Who's the Boss?

Over on my bookshelf I keep a small 3X5 photograph of a church in Joliet, Illinois. It’s not an LDS church; in fact, I don’t even know what kind of worshipers go there. All I know is they’re not keen on Mormon missionaries.

As a missionary in Illinois years ago, I used to drop in on neighboring congregations from time to time. I wondered if they would be like the congregation at the beginning of “The Blues Brothers”, or if they might invite me up to preach for a while.

They weren’t, and they didn’t.

Instead, most of the time we would get harangued by the local minister, who’d corner us after the service and launch into some sort of Bible-bash. Stupidly, I’d let myself get drawn in, and inevitably go home feeling frustrated because there was never any interest in conversation, only competition.

But things boiled over when I was serving in Joliet. Joliet, Illinois is a colorful town, to say the least, a city of around 200,000 people an hour south of Chicago that boasts two major prisons, an asylum, and three riverboat casinos. This is why it is always ironic to say, “I served in Joliet”.

We lived in a basement apartment of a house on the west side of town, where you could frequently catch chickens walking across the road as you drove through. One cold Sunday night in January, I trooped into a local church with my companion and our Spanish-speaking roommates to catch a late service. The chapel was massive, and only partially full due to the late start time. The dreary atmosphere of the Illinois January outside transitioned perfectly into the macabre shadow and emptiness inside the building, and for forty-five minutes we watched as a pair of enthusiastic preachers stomped and wailed back and forth across the stage, working a massive PA system to scattered applause and calls of appreciation.

Then as the service was wrapping up, the preacher in charge called attention to the four kids in shirts and ties who had come to visit. One by one we introduced ourselves and gave our sincerest greetings, until Elder Diaz mentioned that we all carried the Book of Mormon.

The moment he did, the preacher cut him off, and the pleasantries ended. For the next ten minutes, as we stood there in a row, the preacher ranted and mocked and told everyone why he thought we were the devil incarnate. The concert-worthy PA jeered and sneered at us, making it quite clear that our message was not welcome within their walls. The scattered patrons called out their two cents, then in a move that still amazes me today, one of their Deacons held out the collection plate to us as we filed out the front door.

It wasn’t anything we hadn’t heard or experienced before—though never quite through so much wattage—but as we made our way back to our Ohio Street apartment, the night felt a little more oppressive than usual. I’d been in the area for a little over two months, and what little success I’d seen had been modest at best. The Spanish boys weren’t doing much better. The preacher had crystallized the feeling we’d all felt building over the weeks: the town was totally against us, and there wasn’t anything we could do about it.

When we got home, we gathered in the Spanish Elders’ bedroom and talked about our situation. To his credit, my companion Elder Ayres was trying hard to be optimistic about the encounter, since truth be told, we had contacted a large group of people about our message. Still, we all felt kind of humiliated, and were made painfully aware of our own weakness.

But then we realized that it really wasn’t about us. We weren’t the source of the message; we were just the couriers. Who was really in charge, anyway?

Bit by bit our spirits lifted as we started to realize that it didn’t really matter what some late-night preacher said, because if we truly had the right message, no one could stop it anyway. Slowly pessimism and doubt changed to optimism and hope, and finally to sincere excitement. We were going to show that place who was really in charge.

Over the next two months, the area transformed. We didn’t baptize thousands, or even hundreds, but something had changed. I did see more success in those four months than in the rest of my mission combined, but it wasn’t just the numbers that were different. It was the attitude. We had momentum. We had faith. Opportunities started to pop up more frequently, and in time, the area split, the local members got more involved, and little miracles started to happen. Shortly after getting transferred to the area, a member of the ward had told me his inactive family had decided to have their records removed from the Church. Before I left, I watched this same man baptize his nine-year-old daughter, fully active and worthy of the Priesthood.

It wasn’t me; I had hardly anything to do with it. I just finally figured out who was in charge.

Before I left town for my next area in South Chicago, I had Elder Ayres pull over in front of that old church. I wasn’t going to go confront the pastor, or do anything spiteful. If anything I would have thanked him, anyway. The best statement I could make was to stand in front of the place while my companion took a single photograph to remind me of what we had learned by visiting it.

In the years since, I have never forgotten what happened to me in Joliet. But I haven’t always remembered, either. Memory is kind of funny that way. The frustrations of the mission changed after I came home. Sub-Zero wind chills became murderous college courses. Door slams became employers that didn’t want to hire me. Investigators that stopped taking the discussions became girls that didn’t feel like dating anymore. Brand new areas became the general feeling that I was meant to do something with my life, but I just didn’t know where to start. The circumstances and the details changed, but the principle stayed the same.

And yet often I still get hung up thinking it’s on me to do all of this stuff. I try and fail repeatedly, then throw my hands in the air because I know that in spite of everything I do, timing and circumstances and “what’s best for me in the long run” will ultimately overrule any agenda of mine. I never doubt that the Lord is capable of delivering a blessing, but sometimes I doubt that he will, or that he wants to. As Stephen Robinson might say, I believe in Christ, but sometimes I struggle to believe Christ.

Then I’ll have one of those epiphanies and get my head on straight, and go right back to work again. Not because I finally got a break, because in the depth of my humility the Lord decided to throw me a bone, but rather because I saw things a little more clearly, and chose to act. Because belief is a choice. Faith is a choice. That’s taken a long time to learn.

It helps to have a little picture around to remind me.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Catch of the Day

Last Friday marked two months that the KJZZ Cafe has been on the air, and after that span of time, my two biggest surprises have been:

1. I haven't been fired, and
2. I get away with a lot.

As for #1, from what our News Director tells us, the ratings are actually going up. Of course, I have no way of really confirming this. I just tend to trust what my News Director tells me. Tomorrow morning he could announce that aliens have purchased KJZZ from Larry Miller, and I would just say, "sounds great, Dean. Would you like me to start writing for the extra-terrestrial demographic?"

Surprise #2 is actually a bit more shocking, though a pleasant surprise at the same time. My natural inclination is to write comedy rather than hard news, as anyone who has read this blog will attest. Check natural inclination is to attempt to write comedy rather than hard news, so I wasn't quite sure how I'd fit in on a straight news show. But so far it seems like the Powers that Be are amenable to the idea of presenting a show with a sense of humor, and I've tried to take advantage.

One of my favorite segments to write is something we call "The Catch of the Day", an Internet video--usually yanked from YouTube--that is either appropriate to a daily topic, very popular, or just something I find funny. It's "fresh off the Net", so to speak.

Anyway, here are a few of the clips we've run over the first two months, along with a bit of interpretive commentary. (After all, the KJZZ Cafe is about analysis, right?)

Spiders on Drugs:

Somehow in all of my YouTube travels, I missed this one until about three weeks ago. I can't say much about it without giving the punchline away, but this was a perfect opportunity to get something on the air that really fit my comic "style". And yes, we did have to do some censoring at the end of the clip.

The Onion on Nascar:

It's not very often you can find anything on the Onion (text or video) that can be shown on the air, but this was a great exception to the rule. This clip is a wonderful example of how a writing team like The Onion can take a one note joke (Nascar is nothing more than turning left) and not just milking it for two and a half minutes, but making it really, really funny for two and a half minutes. My personal favorite moment: the blank look on the anchor's face when the guest is explaining how Nascar tracks are oval-shaped, as opposed to circular.

Sexist Tab Commercial

I linked to this ad in a previous post, but here I'd like to explain my affection for it. The reason I find this ad so hilarious is not because it is sending the message that a woman should "keep a good shape" for her husband. That's the same message most ads send today. The difference is that this ad states it so explicitly, without any attempt to soften the blow or make any token nod towards female independence. I would have given good money to have been in the planning room when the ad agency dreamed up this one.

Castro Tribute:

Those that know me well are aware of my unexplained fixation with (now former) Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. I've got this great poster of him playing baseball on my wall, and I even went as far as to write a 200-page novel about his beard. Needless to say, with all the hoopla surrounding his recent "retirement", I had to take the chance to give him my own kind of nod on the show. I showed this clip--taken from Woody Allen's "Bananas", a parody of Latin American political instability--for Catch of the Day on the day he officially stepped down.

Mr. Rogers Prank Call:

On the anniversary of Mr. Rogers' death, I came very close to showing a clip of his show where this ten-year-old kid tries to teach him to breakdance. But as weird as that one was, it still wasn't even close to the level of insanity as this clip, one in a series of phone pranks where a guy with a computer calls up random people and plays them sound bites from some celebrity. I'm pretty sure it's the same program Mitt Romney's kid used to get him. Great stuff.

Japanese Game Show:

Might be my favorite Catch of the Day so far. I don't even remember why early one morning I got on a kick of looking up crazy Japanese game show clips on YouTube--do you even need an excuse at 3AM?--but after a long and dedicated search, this one took the winner's spot. Just too many classic elements to describe, from the contestant strapped to a launch pad with rockets strapped to his legs, to the helmet cam that captures his face when he lifts off, to his ancient grandmother who has to answer enough trivia questions to keep him from getting launched, to his impassioned screams of "GRANDMA! GRANDMA" (with subtitles!) when he does, to the inhuman groans he lets out as he swings out over the canyon, to the muscle dudes in speedos that turn up in the next round, to... see what I mean.

Incidentally...if you have any clips you'd like to recommend, I'd love to see them. Always looking for a good catch.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Mr. JoJo Risin'

It seems fitting that the first time I’d see Jonathan Richman in the flesh, he’d be playing ping-pong. In spite of a salt-and-pepper goatee, nearly forty years of touring, and an uncanny resemblance to a counselor in my old Bishopric, Richman still bears the wide-eyed innocence of a lovestruck teenager.

I spotted him in the band waiting room at Kilby Court Thursday night while I was waiting in line for the restroom before his show. Kind of funny to see the man some consider the “Godfather of Punk” working the paddle with his drummer as if he were no more than a University student up at the Institute Lounge. It answered the question of “what do musicians do backstage while I’m waiting for the concert to start?” For some it might be shoot cocaine, start orgies, or hold human sacrifices. For Richman apparently it’s ping-pong.

It’s been almost ten years since I discovered Richman by accident when my buddy Steve got one of his CD’s from the BMG Music Club. Steve hadn’t ordered it, but instead of just turn it in to a local CD exchange, we decided to play the mysterious disc, mostly because we were curious to see what kind of music the funny-looking guy on the cover would write. What we heard was an astonishing array of sincere and off-key ditties about love, pain, and Abominable Snowmen running amok in supermarkets.

I was hooked immediately.

It was perfect that a longtime cult hero like Richman (some of you might recognize him from his cameo in "There's Something About Mary") would be playing a spot like Kilby Court. Kilby is a priceless venue, little more than a converted garage at the end of an alley in Salt Lake you wouldn’t feel comfortable approaching at 3AM, let alone 10PM. But you have to make sacrifices for cult heroes, you know.

My attendance came thanks to Breto, who had already seen Richman in Seattle several years ago, and still has enough of a finger on the underground scene after a wife and three kids to spot important upcoming engagements. We waited patiently in the little twenty by fifty-foot venue enjoying a brief opening set from local acoustic artist Libby Linton, before Richman took the twelve-inch stage with his drummer, fully warmed up after their round of ping-pong. As he started into his first number—a song that like most that night, I had never heard before—I quickly remembered what made him such a unique artist.

Richman sings his lyrics like he’s having a conversation with you. If he’s telling you to let some girl go because she’s hanging out with druggies and it’s just not going to work out, that’s exactly what he says. There’s no flowering it up with odd rhymes or strange metaphors. It’s almost painfully sincere, especially when he sings about extremely personal subjects. His big brown eyes search the crowd expectantly, almost as if he’s pleading for understanding and waiting for judgment at the same time.

It’s this innocent sincerity that makes him a respected underground artist instead of a novelty act. Weird Al Yankovic writes a song about Yoda and becomes a comedian. Richman writes a song about Pablo Picasso and becomes a cult hero. The difference is that with Weird Al, you both know the song is a joke. With Richman, you know he’s completely serious. Richman embraces the disregarded details of life with the same zeal as Ray Bradbury, taking the obscure and romanticizing it with poetic nostalgia. To Bradbury, a God-forsaken Mexican village is a bastion of mystery; to Richman, so are traffic lights.

This is why it didn’t even matter that I only recognized three of his songs Thursday night. With Richman, every song has that same loving quality, so it almost doesn’t matter what he’s singing about. And though I admit it would have been cool to hear some of his early punk-style tunes, he did play one of my favorite songs, a song that lets you know that in spite of his innocence, the Boston-bred Richman is well aware of the humor of his work. Only with Jonathan Richman can you find yourself in a garage with 200 people getting down to a song called, “I Was Dancing at the Lesbian Bar”.

“In the first bar, things were stop and stare…
But in this bar, things were Laissez-Faire…”

Remarkably, the music quality itself was quite full and vivid. Ever since the mid-seventies, Richman has stripped his act down to a minimalist construction. It’s pretty much just him on classical guitar—he’s been on a Flamenco kick for several years now—and his drummer. Gone are the bass and keyboards that powered the Modern Lovers in the early 70’s, when Richman pioneered the art of punk and bridged the gap between the Velvet Underground and The Ramones. Once Joey and the rest got in gear, Richman downshifted his and reversed field in a move that was probably more “punk” than anything the Sex Pistols were doing. The liner notes to that first CD I encountered tell the story of a concert he played soon after the switch, when an audience full of fans lusting for his early punk tunes like “I’m Straight” and “Roadrunner” were instead treated to a ten-chorus encore of his new song “Ice Cream Man”, a playful track which would have fit in nicely on an episode of Captain Kangaroo.

While his original keyboardist Jerry Harrison went on to join the Talking Heads and drummer David Robinson moved on to The Cars, Richman held tight to his cult hero status and put the emphasis on baring his heart to his audience in a way that couldn’t be masked or mistaken. Being a fan of Richman is like being in on a secret, but it’s also like having a close friend in as powerful a way as any novelist or writer can create. It’s fun, it’s hokey at times, but it’s also real, and it never fails to make you smile.

I noted during the evening that I got the same vibe from the Richman crowd that I did from the Bradbury crowd last summer, genuine affection from an audience that was perfectly in tune with the message. It was every bit as passionate as a fan’s love of a band like U2, with the difference being that Richman’s fans relate to him because they are misfits, too. True to form, three songs into his encore, Jonathan capped the evening with his quietest song, a melancholy but loving tune about the death of his mother. At times it became almost inaudible, but that was by design. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

JoJo at his finest.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Macchio Effect

A few weeks ago my roommates and I threw an 80’s party. Technically we called it the “Super Fun Happy Pat Morita Memorial Kung-Fu Party Event”, because I didn’t want to use a clich├ęd theme like “The 80’s”, but it was an 80’s party.

To create the proper ambience, I put together an 80’s music mix, featuring stuff like The Bangles, A-Ha and The Specials, plus we managed to score some vintage 80’s drinks like Tab and Orange Crush (in bottles, no less). I’ve already commented on the Tab thing.

In order to achieve a proper Pat Morita tribute, I played his most notable movies on the different TV’s around our house. Upstairs we showed “The Karate Kid”; downstairs we showed “The Karate Kid, Part II”. I decided to pass on renting “Collision Course”, the seminal 80’s classic pairing Mr. Miyagi with Jay Leno, mostly because I have never seen the seminal 80’s classic pairing Mr. Miyagi with Jay Leno.

I’ve played movies at our parties before, and they always served as a nice background effect to the standard socializing as it filters through our house. But a good hour after our 80’s party started, a dozen people were sitting silently in front of the TV in our living room, mesmerized by “Karate Kid”. As new partygoers would arrive at the front door, they would walk in the room and find a place to sit down with everyone else, until the entire house was empty except for in front of our TV.

At first I tried to crack jokes and give a running commentary, explaining the inner workings of the film, such as how Daniel-San seemed to have magic healing powers that cured his black eyes within 24-hours, or how funny it was that Elizabeth Shue was his love interest when she looked 25 and he looked 13—even though in reality Ralph Macchio was about 21 when they made the movie. But eventually I got tired of my own jokes, and began to panic whenever a quiet moment in the movie would arrive and the entire house would fall silent. I had this feeling that when the movie ended all of my guests were going to stand up, stretch, yawn, and decide to call it a night at 10pm.

See, everyone at the party had encountered what I now call “The Macchio Effect”. The effect is named for Daniel-San, but is not limited to viewings of “Karate Kid”. There are other iconic films—not even necessarily good films—that magnetize random viewers. I think “Independence Day” is one of these films. But since I have seen this happen twice during “Karate Kid”, I think it deserves the moniker.

A few years ago, when I was living in Logan with eight other guys and attending Utah State, I popped on “Karate Kid” one night as I ate dinner (probably tacos). Over the next hour and a half, just about everyone in the house wandered in and sat down, transfixed by the movie. By the time Daniel-San took out Johnny and the Cobra Kai with the Crane Technique, we were having a religious experience.

Now, obviously “Karate Kid” is one of the all-time greats, possibly even on my all-time top ten list. So it’s not shocking to see others drawn in by it. But I think the reasons for its attraction, the reasons it falls in that special “Macchio Effect” category of “movies people stop whatever they are doing to come watch”, are more specific. Here are a few ideas:

Killer 80’s Soundtrack: I’ve often said that music is one of the most important aspects of any film. Honestly, would “Star Wars” be “Star Wars” without John Williams? “Karate Kid” boasts one of the great soundtracks of the 80’s, combining mainstream hits like Bananarama’s “Cruel Summer” with semi-cheesy rally themes like Joe “Bean” Esposito’s “You’re the Best”. Well, actually those are pretty much the only two songs. But the soundtrack still kicks butt.

Classic Underdog Motif: Only bona fide movie geeks would recognize that the same guy that directed “Karate Kid” also directed the first “Rocky” film. The real one, not the “Rocky IV: Sylvester Stallone Inexplicably Ends the Cold War By Beating Andrei Kirilenko Into Capitalist Submission” one. They have the same music guy too. I don’t care how many of you loved “Rudy”; you want to talk about classic underdog movies, “Karate Kid” and “Rocky” have to be on your short list.

Comic Bad Guys: I’m guessing that had I attended high school in Southern California in 1984, a group of young men who rode around on dirt bikes and all attended the same Karate dojo might have been intimidating. In “Karate Kid”, it’s just funny. Seriously, everything these guys wear in the movie has some sort of Cobra Kai logo on it. If you tried to do the same thing in high school now, what would your social status rate? Then you tack on John Kreise, the manic Vietnam Vet “show no mercy” sensei who fills their minds with ultra-competitive rubbish behind wild eyes. Classic.

Compelling Female Lead: 1. Elizabeth Shue is beautiful. 2. In a perfect world, rich blonde girls with great personalities will always go for the 90-pound poor imports from Jersey who are constantly picking fights and hanging out with 90-year-old handymen from obscure Asian islands. 3. Elizabeth Shue is beautiful.

Iconic Lines: “Put him in a body bag!” “Sweep the leg.” “Wax on, wax off.” “Hey, it’s the 80’s!” “Strike first! Strike hard! No mercy, sir!” I could go on and on. Plus I’d just like to point out one more time that Karate lives in your mind and in your heart, but not in your stomach. It’s kind of like the Midichlorians.

The Complexity of Daniel-San: Ralph Macchio plays Daniel San as a classic flawed character. As in, most everything that happens to him is his fault. Sure he was just trying to stick up for Ali with an I when Johnny first pummeled him on the beach, but did Daniel really have to start throwing punches when Bobby tripped him at soccer tryouts? And did Daniel San have to spray Johnny with the hose while he was rolling doobies in the boy’s bathroom? Yeah, maybe Daniel San felt a little insecure because he was the new kid from Jersey, and maybe he was embarrassed that Momma had to drive him on his first date with Ali with an I in the family station wagon (that had to be push started in front of her parents as they got out of their Bentley in striking tennis jumpsuits). And sure, maybe at fifteen we can’t totally be blamed for being stupid, but that’s just the point: Daniel-San’s flaws make him compelling. He’s Luke Skywalker without a Lightsaber. Or the Force. Or R2-D2. Or John Williams.

The Intrigue of Miyagi: Like Obi-Wan Kenobi, Pat Morita acts as spiritual guide and father figure to Daniel-San/Luke, demonstrating in perfect metaphoric clarity through a series of common household chores how the path will lead to growth and success even if you do not understand just how it is doing it. Then when you get there, you get a big yellow convertible.

Eventually the party got up to full speed and all was well at Casa Josh. I may even learn from this experience and begin to design special parties based around “Macchio Effect” films, like “Superman II” and “Better Off Dead”. I know “Karate Kid II” won’t work. Other than the Peter Cetera song and the time when the whole cast shows up in some obscure Okinawan bar to watch Daniel-San break ice blocks with his bare hands, it just doesn’t carry the same gusto.

Incidentally, for anyone interested, the Cobra Kai guys got together a few years back for a music video. It is truly a must-see experience.


Monday, March 03, 2008

The eighth time isn't the charm

Vantage Point
2 ½ out of 4 stars

Some of my favorite novelists have become famous for messing with traditional narrative structure. Joseph Heller wanders so much in his prose with references to future and past events that Catch-22 becomes more of a portrait of WWII than a linear story. Kurt Vonnegut takes a more explicit route, and completely detaches his Slaughterhouse-Five protagonist from time altogether, choosing instead to bounce him back and forth throughout time so that one minute he’s in his 20’s in a POW camp, and the by the next page he’s in his mid-40’s during an alien abduction.

A lot of movies these days do the same thing. “Pulp Fiction” did it. “21 Grams” did it. “Memento” tells its story in reverse. Experimenting with the narrative structure has breathed a lot of life into some otherwise boring films.

“Vantage Point” tries to do the same thing, but once the credits rolled, I wasn’t sure it needed to. Basically, the film tries to tell the story of a political assassination attempt through the eyes—or vantage points—of several of its involved characters (Dennis “Randy is my cousin” Quaid, William “I did lots of drugs in ‘Big Chill’” Hurt, Sigourney “I used to fight aliens in outer-space” Weaver, and four or five others). The first two thirds of the film is nothing more than the same event presented through eight different perspectives. But the whole story, from the event itself through the conclusion that extends beyond it once we get past the vantage point gimmick, only lasts about forty-five minutes in real time.

It is kind of interesting to see the layers peeled back one by one, and to learn little details that color previous scenes when you have the additional information, but I’m not sure it was all necessary. It felt more like the structure dictated the story rather than the story dictated—or necessitated—the structure. And if there has been one thing I have picked up as a writer, it’s that you shouldn’t be clever for the sake of being clever. Do it because the story demands it.

Of course, as is usually the case, most of the audience won’t care too much about whether the story needed to be told eight different ways. They might get a little bored when the film rewinds for the fifth and sixth times, and they realize they’re about to see the whole scenario yet again. But people will still enjoy it, even when an otherwise plausible film goes AWOL the moment the obligatory “insane and completely ridiculous car chase” begins.

All I’m saying is that this is a film people will enjoy now—I’ll admit I did, but when they find it three years from now in the Wal-Mart $5 bin, it won’t be a favorite. Thus…2 ½ stars.

“Vantage Point” is rated PG-13 for lots of explosions and loud stuff, plus some profanity I can’t remember too well because I picked the spot in the theater between the woman who had to answer her brightly flashing phone, the girl who had to text her friend every five minutes (until I kicked her seat) and the other woman who started to laugh hysterically during the last fifteen minutes of the movie.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

How the 1980’s Destroyed Classic Rock

The music scene seems to purge itself every ten years or so. Sometimes the purge can be traced to a specific event, such as when Buddy Holly’s plane crash in 1959 closed Rock and Roll’s Golden Era, or when Martin Luther King’s assassination changed Motown and soul music into Black Power and Funk.

Other times the purge is more generally executed, like when Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath killed the hippie era, or when Nirvana and grunge came along and annihilated the Butt Rock giants of the 1980’s.

But the transition that is most fascinating to me is the one that took place during my own personal movie golden era. At the same time George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were shaping my youth with movies like “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, the music world was taking a laundry list of classic rock acts and crushing them into mind-numbing adult contemporary submission.

One could argue that the punk and new wave revolution of bands like The Ramones, The Clash and U2 saved rock and roll every bit as much as the Beatles or Nirvana. Because when you take a hard look at it, the 1980’s killed just about every act that was cool in the 70’s. In some cases it did so in such a comprehensive manner that most of my contemporaries don’t even know the artist ever was cool, that they were ever anything other than the sap-beast churning out synth-heavy pop ballads when we were kids.

Here’s a simplified casualty list:

Led Zeppelin: No other band embodies the term “classic rock” more than Led Zeppelin. The hammer thud of their first album was the beginning of the end of the Love Generation, and they owned the 1970’s with their heavy-blues infested rock epics. At the same time, for anyone who listens to anything past the five songs that get radio play on 103.5, Zeppelin also boasts a musical versatility that can only be rivaled by The Beatles (or the Brian Jones-era Stones).

RIP: Then John Bonham decided to knock back forty shots of vodka back in 1980, and no one was left to stop that horrible process that took us from the sincerity of Zeppelin to the transitional rock-junk of Boston to the tragic pop-metal of Poison. “Unskinny Bop”, indeed. Can you imagine anything like that showing up on a Zep album?


The Who: I’ve been lucky enough to see rock’s original Masters of Mayhem twice, but they were always at half-speed. By the time I saw them in Salt Lake in 2006 only half of the original line-up was still intact, with bass player John Entwhistle having succumbed to a cocaine overdose some months earlier.

RIP: The one rock band to ever completely spurn the ballad gave up the ghost when Keith Moon OD’d on prescription drugs back in 1978. After that, they could still rock, but there was no one left to drive Cadillac’s into hotel swimming pools.


The Rolling Stones: I’ll readily confess that I’ve eagerly attended concerts by many of the acts on this list, even though they were well past their primes and on the short side of this 80’s genocide. It’s the only option I have. But for some reason, I still draw the line at the Stones. There’s still a big part of me that wants to believe that—like Michael Jackson—the Rolling Stones were replaced by aliens back in the mid-1970’s, and that everything that has happened since then is a sad fraud that really shouldn’t impact the value of the band’s earlier work.

RIP: Once Mick Taylor officially left the band and was replaced by ex-Faces guitarist Ron Wood in 1975, the Stones went from writing classic albums to writing occasional cool songs, and then by the 1980’s, they became a sad self-parody of their “World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band” status. You want to know why Mick Jagger can still jump around on a stage like he’s in his 20’s? BECAUSE HE IS AN ALIEN.


The Beatles: Yeah, I know the Beatles broke up in 1970. But until John Lennon was assassinated in 1980, there was always an outside chance that The Beatles could get back together. Lorne Michaels almost pulled it off on Saturday Night Live. But once Mark David Chapman decided to cash in his fifteen minutes of fame and impress Jodi Foster, that dream died. Those singles off the Anthology set were cool, but they were only a faint flicker of what probably would have been.

RIP: Chapman shoots Lennon in the back outside the Sheraton Hotel in December 1980.


Rod Stewart: Here is where we get into the “he used to rock?” realm. The first Stewart track I ever heard was “Love Touch”, a track written for the early 80’s Robert Redford romantic comedy “Legal Eagles”, which would have been a harmless pop theme if it hadn’t come from the same guy that recorded the Every Picture Tells a Story album in the early 70’s. Trust me. Listen to it. The spiky-haired goofball that keeps putting out strange pop cover records now used to rock the house back then.

RIP: Disco killed the Rod we once knew. Do we think you’re sexy, Rod? Well, I guess it depends on your point of view. It was the beginning of the path to “Downtown Train”, that’s for sure.


Elton John: The Elton of the 1970’s may have never quite been the epitome of the macho classic rock superstar, but he sure as heck wasn’t that guy that primps around England fraternizing with royalty and singing at national funerals. Take the time to listen to his early 70’s catalog and you realize that, like Rod Stewart, he could actually rock pretty hard. Even when he wasn’t, songs like “Tiny Dancer” and “Rocket Man” were still great.

RIP: Then somewhere along the line he wrote that song about Marylin Monroe, and by the mid-1980’s he was ripe for my favorite Rocker Cat Fight of all time, where he accused the Stones of being repetitive and Keith Richards responded by accusing John of only writing songs for “dead blond chicks”.


Billy Joel: As a child one of my favorite albums was Joel’s The Stranger, one of those rare records where you actually dig every song. “Movin’ Out”, “Only the Good Die Young”, and “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant” were just a few of the tracks that came out of Joel’s Golden Era, where Mr. Piano Man ruled the dingy bar sound with his rag-tag group of Long Island cohorts. But…

RIP: Then he met Christy Brinkley, and by the end of the 80’s he was recording strange life retrospective songs that popped up in junior high history class curriculums.


David Bowie: More than anyone on this list, Bowie probably best came to represent the musical style of the 80’s, rather than come off as a watered-down rocker trying to fit in with an era he didn’t belong to. That’s mostly because Bowie had already made a habit of re-inventing himself every fifteen minutes anyway. But even if you like tracks like “China Girl”, if you take the time to listen to the stuff from Bowie’s Mick Ronson era, you’ll have to admit that the guy used to be a lot more about rock, no matter how insane an outfit he was wearing on stage.

RIP: The process probably started the time he got suspended mid show out on a stage crane arm in the middle of his Ziggy Stardust tour, but it was cemented in stone once he showed up opposite Jennifer Connelly in “Labyrinth”.


The Police: This is always the one that gets me in trouble, because so many of my friends are big Sting fans. Nevertheless, I must hold my ground. In the late 70’s, Sting led the Police through the crest of the punk/new wave movement, slamming down killer tracks about hookers named Roxanne and student-teacher crushes. But by the end of the 80’s, Sting was off hanging out with the Royal Family like Elton John. And why is this?

RIP: Because for some, strange reason, Sting thought it would be cool to show up in David Lynch’s sci-fi epic “Dune” wearing an inflatable Speedo. I kid you not.


Joe Cocker: The vast majority of the population doesn’t read the liner notes that come with their CD’s. Well, actually the vast majority of the population doesn’t even buy CD’s anymore, but that’s another post. What I mean to say is that 99 of 100 people have no idea that the same guy that sang that awesome epic cover of the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends”—the one that starts off “Wonder Years”—is the same guy that teamed up with Jennifer Warnes to record that cheesy love ballad “Up Where We Belong” they used in “Officer and a Gentleman”. Yeah, the same guy in the sweat-soaked tye-dyed T-shirt at Woodstock that looked like he was having an exorcism on stage sang a love theme for Richard Gere and Debra Winger. Oooohhhh…..

RIP: “Up Where We Belong” may have been the nail in the coffin, but the process probably got started after Cocker’s infamous Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, which supposedly brought him close to death after a huge record-setting substance abuse marathon.


Jefferson Airplane: In the late 60’s, Haight Ashbury’s auxiliary Royal Family (next to the Dead) were recording protest songs, playing at Woodstock, and taking lots and lots of drugs. By the 1980’s, The Airplane had evolved into Starship, they were singing about how they “build this city on rock and roll”, and lead singer Grace Slick was greeting the press at her front door with a shotgun.

RIP: Somewhere in there someone spent a little too much time with the White Rabbit, and never made it back from Wonderland. As Rick James might say, LSD is a heck of a drug.


So it’s sad that so many great 70’s acts got wiped out in the 80’s, but in recent years I’ve come to know the great bands that emerged from their ashes. The 80’s gave us Poison, but it also gave us The Specials, U2, REM, and a whole host of other legitimate acts. Maybe the folks down at CBGB’s saw it coming, and made sure to book a generation’s worth of rock-saving punk and new wave bands. Maybe people will always be moved to make cool music. I hope that’s true.