And Then There Was Rock by Jonny Steiner

Posted: March 12, 2008 by Maximum Mike in The Rocking Chair Blog

I remember the first CD I ever bought. “Purple” by Stone Temple Pilots. In those days (1995) STP was hated by the media and critics for pinching themes from the “real” Grunge acts like Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam. As a thirteen year old I was unaware of all that. All I knew was that the album kicked ass. It’s funny, as my taste has grown and my scope of musical understanding broadened, I can still come back to the album, and appreciate it as much as I did as a teenager. Not for nostalgic reasons, but for the simple reason that the album rocked.
Isn’t that why we are here? To rock? As much as big crunchy guitar riffs and screaming vocalists are the stereotype of rocking, there is so much more. Sure Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden rock. But you know who else rocks? Paul McCartney. Seriously. Listen to “Live and Let Die.” Granted the movie it was attached to is probably the worst James Bond movie of all time, but that song. The deep ominous tones, of the verse, when paired with the jovial Reggae themed chorus, seemed so urgent. Much of Rock is based on that urgency, The need to transmit ideas and feelings in the most efficient way possible. The Beatles were experts at that, writing economic songs that perfectly transmitted their feelings to the listener in two minutes or less.

I have joined the Rock 4 Rookies team to bring you what I hope can be a more practical understanding of the Rock music and its endless subgenres. There is so much music, so many predecessors and antecedents. They say that no one is truly original. With this column I aim to show you that while that may be correct, it is the marriage of ideas into an artist’s music that sets him apart from the rest. To stay with the Grunge model, the similarities between Nirvana’s “About a Girl” and The Beatles’ “Eight Days a Week” are quite easy to pick out. What sets the two apart is what lies behind the similar structure and chord progressions. “About a Girl” sounds dark and cynical, even though it is one of the lighter tracks in the Nirvana catalogue. The guitar buzzes throughout giving a sense of raw basement tape quality to the music which in some ways recalls early Beatles recordings, like “I Feel Fine.” Curt Cobain may have been fascinated with Punk Rock, but his love of sixties Pop is apparent.
Part of this week’s playlist is a tribute to Dream Theater, a band that has achieved a wide following and successful career with little or no radio support. Aside from obvious Heavy Metal influences Dream Theater represents another field of music known as Progressive Rock. Created mainly in England at the end of the sixties, Progressive Rock was a movement to forgo the Blues and Country inflection inherent to Rock for an approach more firmly influenced by Classical and Jazz. The Genre was quite popular early on with bands like King Crimson and Yes, but fell when Punk Rock began to dominate the industry in the late seventies. Oddly enough those two types of music which are diametrically opposed to one another are coming together now with bands that seem to straddle the gaping chasm between the two. Avenged Sevenfold, the Mars Volta, even the RX Bandits are examples of bands fusing the two (to varying degrees of course.)
That first CD still works. Its scratched to hell but it will still play. Even the Johnny Mathis inspired hidden track hums with the warmth of plastic. I remember when the disk was too scratched to work for a while my friend Zev lent me his CD Repair Kit. It polished the life right back into my disk.
You know to our kids a story like that will be like hearing about records and eight tracks from our parents. Imagine explaining a cassette tape to them. What is gratifying is that as the technology changes there are still some constant. There is music out there that rocks. I guess it’s up to Mike and I to help you find it.


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