15 December 2011

Disco Rock

At the 21st Grammy Awards in 1979, Saturday Night Fever (The Original Movie Sound Track) was named Album of the Year.  The album's featured group, the Bee Gees, received the award for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. By the end of 1979, the disco industry was estimated to be worth more than $4 billion, that meant that it was generating more money than the movie industry, television or professional sport. It was so big that The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences added Disco as its own category for the 22nd Grammy Awards. Nominated works for the award included "Boogie Wonderland" by Earth, Wind & Fire, "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor, "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough" by Michael Jackson, "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy? by Rod Stewart, and "Bad Girls" by Donna Summer.

An anti-disco sentiment had been building for sometime however.  By early '79 this sentiment was witnessed in the "disco sucks" and "death to disco" T-shirts and graffiti seen around the towns and cities of the USA.  Rock fans were particularly fed up with watching one "Rock" act after another fall to Disco's influence, from the Rolling Stones to Rod Stewart to David Bowie to Kiss

The anti-Disco movement hit critical mass on the night of July 12, 1979 (just weeks after Newsweek had declared that Disco had "taken over" the music industry) when a promotional event called Disco Demolition Night was held at Chicago's Comiskey Park.  It took place during intermission ata  double header where a young local radio disc jockey named Steve Dahl set ablaze a bin full of disco records and thereby ignited complete mayhem. The Chicago Police were called in with riot gear as 50,000 rioters took over the field, the ball park and an entire city block, forcing the Chicago White Sox to forfeit the second game of the double header.  An excellent discription of the Disco Demolition at Comisky Park is given in Josh Wilker's book Cardboard Gods, where he writes:

That night, in Chicago, the sky had rained flat black discs and lit M-80s. By the late innings, the visiting Detroit Tigers outfielders were wearing batting helmets in the outfield. A vendor reported selling forty-nine cases of beer, more than double the number he’d sold on any single night in his many years on the job. Smoldering bongs were passed from hand to hand like change for a hot dog, giant glossy airplanes made of promotional posters featuring a sultry blonde model known only as Lorelei swooped and dove amid the hail of explosives and Frisbeed LPs and 45s, and inebriated throngs in the parking lot jumped up and down on cars and set fire to white-suited John Travolta dolls and searched for illegal entry into the slightly more focused mayhem inside the packed stadium. As game one of the scheduled doubleheader progressed, this search gained urgency, for between games a local 24-year-old disc jocky named Steve Dahl and the aforementioned Lorelei were going to detonate a mountain of disco records.

Almost immediately after this detonation, a stream and then a gushing wave of longhaired attendees flowed onto the playing field…The revolution, the pointless, hysterical revolution, had come. Some lit bonfires in the outfield. Some wheeled the batting cage around like it was a stalled car that needed a running start. Some performed hook slides and headfirst Pete Rose plunges into where the bases would have been if they hadn’t already been ripped from the ground and stuffed between giggling rib cages and the fabric of Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith T-shirts. More than one person reported seeing couples fornicating…”

The Disco Demolition garnered national headlines that seemed to unleash a backlash against Disco.  Public support for disco music faded alarmingly fast.  At the time of the Disco Demolition (July 21, 1979) the top six records on the U.S. music charts were disco songs. By September 22, just two months later, there was not a single disco song in the U.S. Top 10 chart. Within months the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (that had just added Disco as it own catagory) reversed itself and eliminated the award category all together. Disco was officially pronounced dead and July 12, 1979 has forever since been known as "the day disco died".

This Aint No Disco!

I remember sometime around 1985 my good friend Ray gave me a mixed tape that included 90 minutes of Rock songs that were largely disco influenced.  He called it Disco Rock and to the best of my memory, here are the songs that were included on that mixed tape:

Pink Floyd - . Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2
ELO - "xanadu"
Exile - "kiss you all over"
Paul McCartney - "goodnight tonight"
BeeGees - Staying Alive

Blondie - Heart Of Glass
J Geils - Detroit Breakdown
Frank Zappa - "dancin fool"
King Crimson - "sleepless"
Talking Heads - "air"
Chicago - "street player"
Led Zep - "Carouselambra"
roxy music - angel eyes
Rick Dees - Disco Duck

Special mention should be made of the Jimi Hendrix Experience's "Message to Love" (1969) which is arguably the first disco song ever made. 

For more writing by Ed Wagemann click here: Ed Wagemann

©2006 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

21 November 2011

Rockism 101

I've waited hours for this,

I've made myself so sick
I wish I'd stayed asleep today,
I never thought this day would end
I never thought tonight could ever be
This close to me

Just try to see in the dark,
Just try to make it work,
To feel the fear before you're here
I make the shapes come much too close,
I pull my eyes out,
Hold my breath, And wait until I shake
But if I had your faith,
Then I could make it safe and clean
If only I was sure, That my head on the door was a dream

I've waited hours for this,
I've made myself so sick,
I wish I'd stayed asleep today
I never thought this day would end,
I never thought tonight could ever be
This close to me
But if I had your face,
Then I could make it safe and clean
If only I was sure,
That my head on the door, Was a dream

when the 1980s began I was 12 years old. At that time basketball players wore their shorts in a tight-fitting manner, with their socks pulled up to their kneecaps. There was no AIDS then, no HIV, no al qaida, no jihad, no hole in the ozone, no genetically engineered animals, no Savings and Loan scandal, no Iran-Contra scandal, no UN sanctions against Iraq (Saddam Huessein had actually been an ally with the US). There was also no Mtv, no CNN, no ESPN, no HBO, no celebrity televangelists, no personal home computers, no Nintendo, no Playstations, no cell phones, no gangsta rap/hip hop, no ‘sampling’, no grunge, no emo, no “alternative rock”, no compact discs, no Mp3 players, no Prozac, and no artificial heart transplants. The one thing we did have was Classic Rock...but by the end of the decade all of that had changed.

Who Killed Classic Rock?

Late 1983. I remember the exact moment Classic Rock died for Dave Gutley. I was 6 months shy of my 16th birthday, sitting Indian style in the middle of Gutley’s cluttered living room on shag carpeting that smelled slightly like cat urine. Me, Gutley and just about every other kid we knew were sitting in their parent’s basements or living rooms at that moment, glued to their TV sets, awaiting the premiere of Van Halen’s new video on Mtv called ‘Jump’. I had been friends with Gutley since I was in grade school, we had played baseball together, shot b.b. guns at each other. We had spent a thousand afternoons peddling our bikes over pavement and sidewalk, through gravel back allies and dirt path short cuts, puddle hopping our way to the snack shop/filling station a half mile across town. We listened to Ted Nugent and Foghat on the jukebox and oogled cheap porno mags that we stashed inside of Cracked or Mad magazines as we ate hot dogs and potato chips and drank Cokes. We were from the same social-economic strata: poor, small town white boys who lived on the run-down side of the tracks. The older we got the more we understood our station in life, and the more we understood this, the greater our urge to drown ourselves deep into the crevasses of our Rock-n-Roll fantasies.

Gutley cranked the volume on the television set to the point of distortion. The Mtv ‘World premiere video’ logo dissolved on screen and the boys from Van Halen, the last hope for Classic Rock, appeared. Van Halen was Gutley’s band.  He had two Van Halen concert shirts, he a Van Halen patch that he stole from the state fair sewn onto his jean jacket, he drew the Van Halen logo on his notebooks at school, he had a fold-out Van Halen poster scotch-taped to his bedroom door, and he had every one of Van Halen's album within arm’s reach of his record player.  But it had been nearly two years since Van Halen’s last album and the Rock world had changed dramatically.  How much it had changed was about to become painfully clear as Van Halen jumped to life on the TV screen and began striking their calculated rock poses.  Something was wrong.  First of all Eddie Van Halen, the guitar god of our generation, was fingering out some nursery rhyme chord progression on—what the fuck!—an Oberheim OB-8 synthesizer?  Eddie had this goofy, nearly retarded grin smeared across his face as if he had just farted in a crowded elevator. Then wham-bam, thank you m'am!  Out pops the spandex-clad David Lee Roth bounding across the screen in his un-laced hi-tops, giving us all a head cheerleader “We’ve got spirit, Yes we do, we’ve got spirit how bout you!” leg-splitting high kick followed by some sort of karate-kid back flip thing that was shown three times in succession…in slow motion. What the fuck is this? This wasn’t right. This was wrong--very wrong!  But it wasn't just that they were they looking and acting like total douche bags, it was the song!  The song was for shit! Doot-doot-doot-doot. Doot-doot—deet-dah-dah-doot. “Jump! Might as well jump!”

The disappointment in Gutley’s face couldn't have been more clear. His eye brows furled, the edges of his mouth took a downward turn. He appeared very old all the sudden. “Is that it?” his expression said. Is that all that our generation of Rock has to offer? I knew what Gutley wanted. He wanted Pete Townsend smashing his guitar across his amp, he wanted John Lennon saying the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, he wanted Jimmy Page pulling out a violin bow and butt fucking his guitar with it, he wanted Jimi Hendrix bowing down in front of his flaming guitar and giving praise to the Gods above for blessing him with the calling.  But what had we got? Synthesizers! Synthesizers and lip-synching and drum machines and spandex and cartwheels… And M fucking TV.

Maybe M fucking TV was just the scapegoat, maybe it was just a symptom and not the disease. But if you were a teenager in 1981 the one thing you remembered from that year was not what you were doing when the hostages in Lebanon were released or what you were doing when Reagan got shot. What you remember was the first time you ever saw Mtv. And I was as guilty of this fascination with Mtv as any. 

The End of The Innocence

Mtv's timing couldn't have been more perfect.  My disillusionment with Corporate America had just began to reveal itself about 9 weeks prior as the tv news was reporting that Major league baseball had gone on strike. There would be no baseball this summer.  I remeber this heart-stopping “What the fuck am I gonna do now?” pang pierce deep into my heart.  I simply could not fathom how these heroes, these pinstriped Gods whose images were magestically captured on the fronts of multi-colored Topps baseball cards, could NOT play baseball?  But as my baseball-less days of summer piled up, I began to realize of course, that it was all about money. Was everything just about the money, I wondered? Didn't anyone do things just for the love of it? So I said, “Fuck baseball!” Professional baseball at least. I still played myself, because I still had the love for the game, but I stopped collecting baseball cards, I stopped following the box scores, I stopped worshiping Pete Rose and George Brett. Instead I fond myself riding my bike around town alot that summer, rather aimlessly, looking for something to do, something that was cool, or at least somewhat entertaining.

And that's when it happened.  Late in the summer, my mother’s second husband Joe had splurged 10 dollars to provide the family with cable tv for one month. Every night that month Joe would pass out on the sofa with a beer can clutched in one hand and the remote control clutched to the other.  So one night, instead of being bored to death with some nature show Joe had left on, I surgically removed the remote from Joe's right hand and started channel surfing (with only 13 cable stations available at the time, surfing the TV waves wasn’t all that daunting). When I came upon a channel called Mtv my jaw just dropped. The first thing I saw was a split screen image of this spikey-haired, porcelain-skinned female (Laurie Anderson) singing “O Superman” accompanied only by the beeping sound of a telephone dial tone. If that wasn’t baffling enough, what immediately followed was some pasty-faced, pouty-lipped dude with a blond, ice cream swirly of a hair do (and who was dressed up like some kind of silky pirate) who was wheezing about in a roomful of mirrors singing “And I raaaaa-an, I ran so far aw-aaaay” as some never-before-heard-of chiming/mesmerizing echo-effect guitar riff ripped up the sound space all around him to shreds. Had Martians invaded the frickin planet and taken over the TV waves? What the hell was going on here? Whatever it was, I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

The timing was perfect.  This fresh young wave of artists from Europe with mathematically honed “post-punk” sounds had just started overpopulating the music scene.  Also the US of A had the newly elected (and ever optimistic) President Ronald Wilson Reagan promising to give the youth of the 80’s plenty to dance and be happy about.  And the 70s...man, they had been such a drag.  At least they had seemed like a drag. Our country had lost its first war (Vietnam), we had been crippled by Watergate, we had inflatation, stagnation, an energy crisis, a hostage crisis. Everyone was either uptight and bummed out or drugged up and out of touch.  But then Mtv came along, taking every screenager's attention. Things were bound to change.  And Mtv would be right at the forefront of it all.

It took less than two summers for every teenager in the country, including those in my small town, to become infected by the Mtv disease. Overnight Classic Rock was replaced by Hair Metal and New Wave in the high schools, and in the shopping malls, and the arcades, and on the radio. There was no stopping it. For those two years neither I nor any other teen across the land could take their eyes off of Mtv. What could be better in the life of a 13 year old than seeing flashy-attired pop musicians queer-dancing about under flashing, multi-colored lights in neon-tubed, disco-balled, maze-like rooms filled with abstract sculpture and expressionistic sets while the sounds of sugar-synthed pop songs riddled with dance beats permeating the air?

In teen culture Mtv had transformed everything. By 1983 Corporate Rock dinosaurs were jumping on the Mtv bandwagon in a frenzy--Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, John Cougar, Dire Straits, Starship. At the same time Hair Metal bands were suddnely being jammed down every teenager's throat: Ozzy, Quiet Riot, Randy Rhoads, a lot of Rock Posuery and theatrics, but not much else. And then came Michael Jackson. And just like that Mtv was ruined.

But at first, Mtv had seemed like it was the answer. As a 13 year old small town white kid the signs that the corporate consumer culture was gearing up to take over and squash the old, weird America that gave so much character to the first half of the 20th Century was not even vaguely apparent. Most teens didn’t realize what was happening--that the comunication age was here, and that from now on teens would slowly but steadily be lobotomized by an onslaught of overexposed media hyperbole and commercialized pop-spooge meaninglessness. The advancements in cable TV and communications technology were exploding all around us and within a very short period of time newspapers, magazines, radio and TV went from being acutal sources of information to being nothing less than co-opted corporate tools of necessary evil that were intent on distracting millions of American citizens into apathy, self-involvement and basic numbskullery
Dave Gutley may not have understood this on the conscious level, but subconsciously, the Van Halen video had evoked a primal instinct in him. The look on his face was disgust, utter disgust. He had had enough: enough of the jerry-curled, glittery, soulless twits with their one white glove and their 'moon walking' across the screen, enough of the permed-haired, hipster-vested snootworthies who crooned across the ballroom dance floor singing "Everybody wang chung tonight", enough of the caked-on make-up faced, chinless turds in parachute pants singing “shout, shout! let it all out”, enough of the poodle-groomed, guy-liner infested Pop Metal poseurs singing power ballads polluted with ridiculously formulaic guitar solos and pussy ass guitar riffs. But most of all, he had had enough of what Mtv had done to Rock music: turning our Rock ethos into corporate crap and our ROck Gods into sideshow barkers and trained monkeys. Balls to the wall guitar riffs were replaced by synthesized disco.  We were being spoon fed style over substance to us. Maybe this shit was acceptable to the typical high school meatheads, but for Dave Gutley a line had been crossed. He stood up, fists clenched and stomped off to his bedroom, shredding the Van Halen poster from his door and throwing it to the ground. And just like that, the Classic Rock Guitar Era was dead. Now there was only one thing left to do.


Every red-blooded American small town during the 1970’s and early 80’s had at least some semblance of a guitar rock scene and my small town of Pekin, Illinois was no different. The scene first appeared like blades of grass growing from cracks in a concrete sidewalk.  The concrete being the farmer/factory worker culture that dominated Pekin.  If you’ve never heard of Pekin, Illinois, you’re not alone. It has a population 33,000 and lies on the east bank of the Illinois River. During the earlier part of its existence, Pekin was a hub for farmers to congregate and load their grains and vegetables onto large barges that either headed up north to Chicago or down south to Saint Louie. After World War II though the local economy shifted as numerous factories began popping up along the river, all the way from South Pekin directly south, to Pekin’s ‘big city’ neighbor Peoria, 12 miles north. The culture of Pekin evolved seamlessly into that of a small town farmer/factory worker culture, and it would pretty much stay that way for the next few decades. A small town farmer/factory worker culture offered little to do beyond going to work, having babies, drinking alcohol and possibly attending the high school football games on the weekends. Like any small town, Pekin had a few rich folks, bankers, real estate folks and business men and such who would form committees and sponsor the yearly 4-H contest or the bingo nights three times a week or various church related functions around town.  Then each autumn these rich folks would get together to form the committees that put on Pekin’s Art in the Park Festival at the Pekin Municipal Arena. The Pekin Arena, the pinnacle of civic pride, was a large, aluminum-sided building that resembled a massive warehouse, except that it was painted red and white (school colors) and had a rather large parking lot. Directly south of the parking lot was the high school track and football stadium, to the west was the Pekin Park district with baseball diamonds, wooded pavilions, sand-filled playgrounds and a large lagoon. Then to the east, sitting atop a grassy hill was Pekin Community High School. As it turned out, the “Arena” as it was referred to, would come to play an important part in Pekin’s local rock lore, but initially it was built as a focal point for the annual Art in the Park Festival. During this festival the Arena, and its surrounding area, would blossom for a few days each fall, cram-packed with carnival rides, circus games, novelty booths and the sound of…oh, gospel or square dancing music generally. And that was pretty much the yearly highlight of social activity in Pekin’s farmer/factory worker culture.

That is until 1964. Even in a small town like Pekin the Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan show opened eyes and caused a small crack in the farmer/factory culture to appear. The first sign that the times where a-changin’ was when Chuck and Mary Perrin, a local brother/sister folk group, took top honors at a talent competition at the Illinois State Fair in downstate Springfield. At first the town was filled with pride for the sibling folk singers, but within the year, still riding the crest of his local fame, 20 year old Chuck Perrin opened a folk club in the basement of the Arcade Building located directly across the street fromthe Court House on Pekin’s downtown “square”. Then very shortly after that Perrin entered the Golden Voice studio on Pekin’s southside. Up to that point The Golden Voice studio had been the home to gospel acts mostly, the likes of the Barnhill Gospel Singers for instance. But after Perrin’s recordings of some Beat-influenced folk songs there, something queer began to happen. Random sightings of longhaired strays creeping about the streets of Pekin at the wee hours of the morn, sometimes in small groups, began to occur.  These were the first blades of grass to appear in the cracks of the sidewalk.  One of these longhair groups was a rock band called The Third Booth who recorded their regional hit “I Need Love” at Golden Voice studio, thereby putting the studio on the Pop map. Following the Third Booth into the Golden Voice studios was a band called the First Friday. First Friday would be remembered in Rock History because of their bassist Andy Wallace who would one day, years later, gain repute for being the mixing engineer on Nirvana's "Nevermind" (Walace would also work on recordings for Smashing Pumpkins, Sheryl Crow, Rage Against the Machine and Jeff Buckley). Slowly but steadily Golden Voice Studio reputation grew such that by the 1970s musicians and producers from all across the Rock landscape were booking time to record their songs. There was the bearded country rockers Heartfield.  There were Progressive Rock acts like Pentwater and Starcastle. And by the time the studio closed in 1975 Golden Voice had actually yielded four Gold records, including albums by Styx, Head East and local YachtRock stud Dan Fogelberg.*

*Dan Fogleberg was the son of Pekin High school’s music director/bandleader (who had been the inspiration for Fogleberg’s Top 20 hit “Leader of the Band”). Fogelberg actually grew up in Peoria however and his soft rock stylings never really garnered the kind of excitement that connected with a small town farmer/factory worker Rock mentality like that of Pekin’s.

But before any of that happened, and shortly after Chuck Perrin opened up his beatnik hangout in the basement of the Arcade Building (where all of these longhairs were becoming an infestation) a fresh-out-of-college program director working for the Pekin Park District named Tom Tomas began booking Rock-n-Roll shows at the Arena. Even though it was mostly innocent rehashed 50’s acts like Sha Na Na or local Beatle-wannabees like the Shags, these shows were looked upon with disapproving eyes from the conservative farmer/factory worker vanguard of Pekin. Despite this, or perhaps in spite of it, by the summer of love (1967), these Rock shows had become a regular Saturday night occurance and from those simple beginnings what might pass for a small Rock scene was somehow able to timidly sprout its head and grow. In the early 70’s the scene consisted of a couple dozen local guitar players and maybe six or seven (somewhat) dependable drummers—all of whom would occasionally grab a cousin or a younger brother, teach them how to play bass and then form various rock bands that mixed and matched members like schoolboys trade baseball cards. The home base for these wannabe rockers was a music store just north of the downtown square called Flores Music Shop, more commonly referred to as Flores. Flores had two claims to fame. The first was that members of REO Speedwagon (a regional Rock group that had made it big nationally) occasionally dropped by whenever they swung through the area on their way to a local gig. And the second was that Flores had been the daily hangout of Pekin’s first real Rock-n-Roll guitar legend/gunslinger, Terry Haggardy.

The Legend of Terry Haggarty begins in the ealry 70s when Terry was just 14 years old. Terry looked like a younger, skinnier version of Peter Frampton but he played guitar like a quicker, higher Richie Blackmore. He had been born and raised in Pekin and from the age of twelve on, was never seen without his guitar. But what made him famous was that he created what came to be known as “the Brown Note”. As the legend goes the Brown note was a note that, when played just the right way, was so ear-piercing that it would trigger a bio-physical reaction in the listener’s ear hole that would cause anyone that heard this note to instantaneously crap their pants. Literally. Stories of Terry jamming at parties and causing dozens of kids to simultaneously crap their drawers circulated the halls and stalls of Pekin high school in the spring of 1976. But just as Terry’s local fame was reaching its peak, Terry skipped town, hitchhiking to Los Angeles. Which is where the legend of Terry Haggarty really swelled to epic proportions. In L.A. Terry obtained a job in a guitar shop and met several local guitar slingers including a young unknown Eddie Van Halen. He and Terry became jam buddies and eventually Terry even taught Eddie how to play the infamous Brown Note.

Eddie Van Halen as everyone knows went on to use the brown note to fight the forces of evil on his way to fame and fortune, but what ever became of Terry Haggerty remained a mystery. Some say he became a studio musician, others say a guitar roadie, and others assume he got hooked on drugs, ended up on skid row and/or became a Jesus Freak.

But as intriguing as the Terry Haggarty story is to those who inhabited the Rock scene in Pekin, he wasn’t the biggest local legend. No, for that measure you had to turn to the likes of the infamous Jim Ballew—the mountainous, scruffily-bearded, beer-swiggin, Boogie-meistering guitar slinger that could have easily been mistaken for a close relative New Orleans legend Dr. John. Ballough was THE king of the Pekin rock scene in the 70s. His trademark was his gold-toothed grin, his flannel shirts and his worn and weather-beaten leather Cowboy hat, that was short and flat on top and which—depending on whether it was tipped back or leaned forward—seemed to dictate the tempo and style of the song he was jamming to. On or off stage Ballew embodied a certain type of small town 70s cool—part shit-kicker confidence, part friendly, laidback, straight-forward sincerity—which seemed to be the key to his local popularity. He had a natural knack for enjoying himself wherever he was, which was a sharp contrast to the constipated, expressionless farmers and fatigued factory workers of Pekin’s older generation, folks who weren’t exactly known for their sunny dispositions.

Ballow first emerged on the scene in the early 70s, playing aggressive, country blues rock, sometimes called southern rock, that sounded like .38 Special (at their best) while aspiring to sound more like the Allman Brothers. His band, creatively dubbed The Jim Ballew Band (or alternatively just Bellow), like every other band in Pekin was a revolving door of local stiffs, all jamming whenever and wherever they could. Ballew in particular would jam with anyone, whether they be a 14-year old kid who had just obtained his first guitar or an old jug-playing hermit, it didn’t matter. His life revolved around jam sessions and his never-ending quest for a good time.

By the mid 70s it had become a challenge to keep tabs on exactly who was currently in Ballow’s band at any given time. Every time it seemed like he perfected a set line-up, someone in the band would either get thrown in jail for fighting (or public drunkenness) or else wind up in the hospital from a motorcycle wreck. Another problem was that band member’s old ladies would threaten them with frying pans or steak knives whenever they went “out” with the band. Honestly though it didn’t really matter who was in the band, Ballew was the one all the locals came to see. His rise to major local fame came during the summer of 1975 after his band took first place in a Battle of the Bands contest (narrowly beating out two local stalwarts The BlackOuts and The Jets) and thereby winning the opening spot for a show at the Pekin Arena that was to be headlined by the painted-face, party rockers KISS. The kind of events that Tom Tomas was scheduling at the Pekin Arena had just recently progressed to the point where he was booking marginal hard rock and country rock bands that were touring anywhere and everywhere--the kinds of band that had the hopes of building a base in order to become nationally known. KISS fell into that category at the time, but fueled in part by the spectacle of their bass player Gene Simmons’ freakishly long tongue (that was rumored to actually be a cow tongue surgically grafted to his own) KISS’ stock was on the rise and a growing army of their loyal followers were rising up to rattle their party-metal sabers. In fact, just a month prior to the Arena show (Aug. 17, 1975) two natives of Terre Haute, Indiana had formed what would become the famed KISS Army. And it was right as this bizarre devotion of the KISS fanbase was exponentially escalating that the army invaded Pekin ready to rock the fuck out of it.

On the day of the show carloads of countrified kids in blue jean cut-offs from all parts of the Midwest Corn Belt flooded the Pekin Park district. Beer drinking, weed smoking and loud music playing from car stereos created a scene the likes of which had never before been seen in the small farmer/factory worker town. The parking lot between the Pekin Arena and the Pekin High School football stadium became a mini-Woodstock; women flashed their boobs, Frisbees flying across the air, firecrackers exploded as the party continued escalating throughout the day toward riotous proportions. Two hours before KISS even took the stage every available cop in the county was dispatched to the scene (imagine if you will two dozen or so Barney Fife-like fellas) who were quicly proven to be no match for the young, riled-up young hippy crowd as they made their way into the stadium in riotous fashion where they were greeted by the Jim Ballew Band who just so happened to be rocking the house. The mayhem kept rolling out of control. Ballew jammed like never before and the crowd just grew, until finally Kiss took the stage, clad in huge spiky wigs, painted faces, black and silver Halloween costumes and 8 inch-heeled space boots. There was an explosion and then Gene Simmons flashed his mammoth cow-tongue at the row of teenage girls up front. The crowd went crazy, banging their heads and pumping their fists, the riot was poised to continue all night long.

Afterward, the papers would report that the show had resulting in so many injuries that the Pekin Hospital was not capable of handling them all. It wouldn’t be until well into the next morning that the first real rock spectacle in Pekin’s history would conclude and the biggest benefactor of this heavy metal hootenanny was none other than Big Jim Barlow and his band—the band that had rocked the stage to set up the party—for they were now the touchstone for everything that was Rock in the town of Pekin.

With Ballew’s quick ascension to the status of king of the scene, his bands—in their various incarnations—were rewarded with a steady string of gigs at the muddy honky tonks and smoky biker bars that littered the banks up and down the Illinois River. Occasionally The Barlow Band would even venture to a college town a few hours away, but their most steady gig was as the house band at a large dance hall dive with an ancient Greek theme called the Colliseum. The Colliseum was on the main route than ran alongside the river between Pekin and East Peoria. It was the kind of place where teenagers hung out and smoked joints in the parking lot while the local working class twenty-somethings (dressed up in their tightest-fitting jeans) stood in line to pay a one dollar cover charge, then go inside and sip beers under the lights of a disco ball, hit on members of the opposite sex and listen to hard rock. An 8 foot by 8 foot marquee above the Colliseum parking lot had “The Barlow Band” spelled out in block lettering across it, and the crowds flocked to it like moths to light bulb.

By the spring of ‘77 however Barlow was ready to move beyond local gigs. He had amassed enough money and enough contacts that he was able to start taking his band on the road. Beginning with the summer of ‘77, Barlow and his band would disappear for weeks, even months at a time, returning intermittently to Flores music shop with tales of their beer drinking, skirt chasing and bar room brawling adventures to far off places all across the great Midwest landscape. This made every starry-eyed local with a guitar pick volley amongst each other for the opportunity to jam with King Barlow whenever he returned to town. As soon as it was rumored that Barlow was back in town the word went out, and every longhair who owned a guitar pick would be found loitering about Flores, politicking to get a chance to jam with Barlow, imagining how they’d be in that van with him on the next tour. Included in this batch of young starry-eyed locals was Bobby Dunkel, my long-time acquaintance, and poised to be Pekin’s next local Rock legend.

Gutley had been 12 years old when the first Van Halen album (Van Halen I) was released. Prior to that he had learned a few chords from some of the stiffs who hung out at Flores, even picking up a few pointers from the King Barlow himself on how to position his left hand. Gutley started studying tabs after that and taught himself to play songs by AC/DC, Budgie, Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, Foghat, Head East, Edgar Winters, April Wine and Thin Lizzy. All the same bands that Barlow listened to. But when Van Halen I came out, it was like Gutley had been hit by a lightening bolt. The release of Van Halen I had an immediate impact on the Pekin scene (beyond the rumors that Terry Haggardy had been a guitar tech for Eddie Van Halen during its recording). The Classic Rock sound and ethos was by this time totally ingrained into the fabric of life throughout the small town of Pekin, but Van Halen I, although still in the safe confines of the Classic Rock tapestry, seemed to be sewn from an entirely new thread. It was like an instant party anytime you put the album on. You could hear it playing from bedroom windows as you biked across town, from car stereos in parking lot, at the arcade, at the burger joint, everywhere you went there was an instant party. And at the center of this party was the new young gunslinger Eddie Van Halen whose spaz-out on ‘Eruption’ was obviously the sound of the future of Rock.

Gutley was one of the hundreds of Pekin teenagers who tapped in to their allowance money that summer, snatched loose change from their parent’s coin jar, and ruffled through the cushions of the living room couch to scrape up enough dough to buy the first Van Halen album. Gutley listened to ‘Eruption’ and like everyone else, he freaked out. Suddenly nothing else in the world mattered to Bobby. The only thing that mattered was figuring out how to emulate Eddie Van Halen's sound on his own guitar. But he didn’t even know where to begin. Eddie Van Halen used a method called ‘tapping’ to produce the incredibly quick and clean sounds on his Stratocaster, a method that he guarded so secretly that he would actually turn his back to the audience whenever he performed it at a live show so that no one could copy his method. Gutley played the album again and again trying to figure out how these notes were produced so crisp and clean. The more he heard it, the deeper the obsession to play like Eddie Van Halen became. Finally his only recourse was to ask Barlow. Surely Barlow could teach him to play ‘Eruption’.

But Barlow just shook his head at Gutley and sorta laughed.
“I really don’t know, it’s not my style,” he explained.
“What do you mean?”
“There’s no soul to it…” Barlow grimaced.
Despite this Gutley became more dedicating to the guitar, spending every free minute with the instrument, studying guitar guides and Rock magazines. By the time Van Halen’s 1984 came out five years later Gutley was considered to be the fastest and best technical young guitarist in town. He had eventually learned how to play “eruption” and would wow the locals at Flores by doing his rendition of it, along with other Eddie Van Halen-like licks everytime he was there. He was becoming the new Terry Haggardy, or the Eddie Van Halen of Pekin as some of the locals began calling him. But then...

But then came the betrayal. Sitting there, watching that frickin ‘Jump’ video…seeing Eddie finger that synthesizer, something clicked inside Gutley's head. This was supposed to be an important moment, and important album, an important song by the best hard rock band in the world. But suddenly Gutley realized that Barlow had been right. There was something missing. It didn’t feel like it should. It wasn’t just the music, it seemed to him that something huge, not just Classic rock, but something bigger had died. Quite honestly, Gutley should have been expecting this death for some time now—especially after Eddie Van Halen had been pimped out to play guitar on Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat it’ just a year earlier. That should have been the tip off. Yet Gutley could not bring himself to admit it. That was a fluke, right? But now, now that this Jump video was here, the shit was being rubbed right into his face.

A few seconds after Gutley tore the Van Halen poster off his door and slammed it shut, I heard the electric jolt of his red-bodied Stratocaster (dubbed “The Red Devil”) being plugged into his amplifier followed by the familiar siren call of Dave ripping into it, a noise that the entire house seemed to brace itself for. I looked at Gutley’s sister who had just watched the ‘Jump’ video with us. She looked back with a blank expression and shrugged. Then, after sitting there for a minute longer, I conjured up the courage to make probably tthe best decisions of my life. I walked down the hall to Dave’s room and slid inside without knocking. I looked down at the ripped Van Halen poster lying on his floor. Then Dave’s guitar playing stopped.

“You wanna learn how to play?” he asked me, motioning his eyes to a bass guitar leaning against his dresser.

“Fuck yeah!”

By 1983 Mtv had fallen by the wayside in terms of its relevence to me. The seed of discontent had already been planted and I couldn't buy into the mainstream media's Ronald Reagan-tinted world view of optimism and enthusiasm. As the media was trying to paint the world as one big Bananarama video filled with Valley girls in leg warmers who spent all day at the shopping mall and preppy jocks who wore $300 shades while driving around in convertibles listening to Duran Duran who all lived in a beautiful pollutin free America where there were no wars--Vietnam was many years in the rearview mirror--and where the good ole USA was winning the battle against Communism and Reagan’s Trickle Down Economics was causing unprecedented prosperity, where the hippies had "grown up" and were still “getting it done” via USA for Africa or Hands Across America or some other bullshit like that, and oh yeah, all black people were like the Cosby’s, I meanwhile was repulsed by the phoniness of it all, the utter bullshit of it all.

Just like when major league baseball had gone on strike, nothing made sense anymore, nothing had a purpose. Rock was dead. It had sold out. I wandered aimlessly through high school like a plastic bag floating aimlessly along the expressway. I stayed up late watching TV at nights and sleeping during my classes. Then one night, on Cinemax, a movie called Repoman came on. I didn't even actually watched the movie all the way through--it was horrid--but the music from the flick had shocked the life back into me. For the first time in years, I had this feeling that maybe Rock wasn't realy dead. The title track from this movie in particular, by some guy I had never heard of, some guy named Iggy Pop, about knocked my dick off.

That song, “Repoman” sonically, lyrically, and in every other way, perfectly summed up what life was like for me. It starts off with this intense, minute long escalating guitar duel intro that grabs you in such a way, that it's almost physical. It's something happening on a deep physical level that starts become emotional, almost like you are getting the shit beat out of you by a gang of bullies who show no signs of letting up. And it just keeps building in intensity until Iggy's deep baritone comes at you with:
I was riding on a concrete slab
Down the river of a useless flab (land),
it was such a beautiful day,
I heard a witch doctor Say,
"I'll turn you into a toadstool"
This opening stanza hit me like a bolt of lightening. What better metaphor to the state of total disillusionment and disenfranchisement of the youth of America during the 80s than this? Immediately I thought of Reagan in the line about the "witch doctor" and Reagan's America in the description of the "useless land". Then "Riding on a concrete slab down the river" connotated corporate coruption and pollution seeing how Reagan was at the center of the massive corporate DE-regulation that ran rampant in the 80s and which allowed corporate plants and factories to pollute our air, water and land...Reagan was going to turn our beautiful old america into a toad stool (a poisonous fungus...toad stool disease).

Maybe it was because of the baseball metaphor in "Divinity throws you a curve" that made me think of the major league baseball strike of 1981, where my disillusionment with America had initiated, but it became obvious to me that Iggy was singing about Reagan's America (the country with God on our side, the land that was founded on freedom of religion) and taking a dig at the Right-wing televangelists that were increasingly creeping onto the late night TV screens. But there is also something wistufl in Iggy's allusion to baseball as Iggy seems to understand and longs for that old weird America (which our national pasttime had so succinctly defined in the first half of the 20th Century). At the same time the words "divinity throws you a curve" perfectly encapsulates so many Americans disenfranchisment with the Vietnam War--the war in which America was first seen to lose its "moral" superiority in the world, where we no longer seemed to have God on our side.
As Iggy rages on, he comes to the famous stanza that begins "I was pissing on the desert sands". Desert sands being a referance to the Middle East and the oil crisis that early/mid 1980's America was in as the corporate oil companies sought to increasingly pollute our environment (as well as the minds of the American people). Further evidence of this comes from the lines "Things will never be the same" which means the American dream is dead, and "I run this gas and oasis."

Then toward the end of the song, Iggy sums up my existance at that point in time, alsmost to a tee, as the Repo man (Iggy) has become so disenfranchised with America, he sings "I was a teenage dinosaur"..."using my head as an ashtray"--which were my sentiments exactly (about myself) during the early/mid 80s.

But then the last stanza is brilliantly ambigous. Iggy proclaims that he is the Repoman, looking for the dope with a microscope. There are two ways to view this, either a glass half empty interpretation or a glass half full interpretation. To illustrate, think about what a Repo man does. He reposesses something that someone has bought (or bought into)...something which that someone can't actually afford. So is Iggy being critical of the Baby Boomers whom have bought into this corporate way of existance for America? And now it is time for the youth of America to take-back or "reposess" the country, to take back the old weird, American way? Or is he just saying its all a lost cause and lets just ride it out for whatever worth it has left then junk it? Either way, this song perfectly depicts the attitude and atmosphere of Reagan's America in the 1980s, at least for me,


My New Wave phase ended as abruptly at it began. One summer morning in 1983, I had gone bb gun hunting with Tommy Gunn, trekking deep into the woods on our bikes. There was a safe house fort that Tommy and I had built, not far from a dumping ground (of sorts) where kids our age hung out. When we reached our safe house, Tommy and I set up hedge apples and tin cans on a log, shooting at them until we got bored. Then we went after birds, groundhogs and other small defenseless woodland creatures as the morning wore on--thinking that we might cook up something that we killed. By noon though we hadn't killed anything and we were hungry. My bike had a spacious plastic mock gas tank painted red, white and blue on it. I stashed my BB gun (a handgun/pistol model) inside the tank and off I went, heading for the hot dog joint on Lincoln street. Tommy's BB gun was a rifle version that had a strap on it. He flung it over his shoulder and followed me. When we made it the hot dog stand he leaned his rifle against his bike and we entered.
There are a few different versions of what happened next, but basically as Tommy and I were ordering our grub we noticed some older teens (the Parker gang—who were always giving Tommy shit for some reason anyway) hanging out in the parking lot outside and messing around by our bikes. Then one kid, who I’ll call Freckleface picked up Tommy’s rifle and started clowning around with it. The guy behind the counter asked me for my order just as Tommy noticed Freckleface. Tommy immediately marched out and confronted him. I ordered my hot dog, but noticed that things were getting heated in the parking lot. It quickly escalated to he point where Freckleface shoved Tommy hard, causing him to stumble backwards and fall. I ran out to join in the frackus. But before I even reached the door Tommy had grabbed MY BB gun from inside the “gas tank” of my bike and at point blank range shot Freckleface right in the face. Freckleface cried out in horror, his hands covering his face, blood trickling down from the cheek, tears flowing. And Tommy grabbed his BB gun then jumped on his bike and took off. The Parker gang gaggled there confused, although I think one kid actually laughed. But another kid called out at Tommy “You little fucker!” And yet another stood there staring me down.

“Don’t just stand there,” Freckleface yelled at the others, “Someone go get that little shit!”
Standing beside my bike I had a decision to make. The Parker gang had never accosted me directly—usually these older kids wouldn’t pay attention to younger kids except to push you out of their way. But before they even had a chance to think about turning their attention to me, I jumped on my bike and tore off down the road, heading for the same short cut through the woods that Tommy had just disappeared into moments before.

The woods surrounding the hill that Marquette Heights rested formed a truly enchanted forest--at least in the eyes of any kid who considered them their his playground, like I did. There were dirt trails that wound and snaked throughout the entire woods. These trails twisted and turned, connecting into a network of passageways to the various hangouts throughout the woods. One hangout was the Caverns, a place were kids came to smoke cigarettes and carve their initials into trees. There was also the Killer—a cracked earth obstacle course off the side of a cliff that even the craziest of local daredevils would think twice about jumping down onto, battling the boulders and thick roots that haphazardly jutted out all along its steep path (and which was rumored to be named for a number of ill-fated attempts which landed a number of joy riders in the morgue--or at least the hospital). During the winter, when snow covered the hills of Marquette Heights, these trails were turned into sledding trails--trails that led from the top of Marquette Heights hill to the bottom. These trails were a huge part of the narative for most any kid who grew up in Marquette Heights. Yet no one knew when these trails had initially been forged. They could have been trails used by native Indian tribes for hundreds of years prior as far as we knew. They certainly went back to the very first kids that ever lived in Marquette Heights in the early 1950s. And over the years as the trails were handed down to younger siblings and then evolved as new generations came to use them, the paths became secret getaway routes from parents or siblings or whatever. There were certain landmark spots on the trails that seemed to attract one generation of kids after another. The trail that led to the safe house/dumpsite that Tommy and I made, forked off a main path about 150 yards into the woods then forked again down a rather sharp hill, not far from the Killer. I was sure that that was were Tommy was headed.
Before I made it to the woods though, the Parker Gang had got their wits about them and were giving chase. Once I reached the entrance where TOmmy had disappeared into I had to make a decision. I didn’t want to lead them straight to Tommy, so I jutted off to a side path and then jumped a bump that put me right on the path that led straight to the Killer. From behind me I could hear the rukus of the Parker gang. They’d never follow me down the Killer, I knew. I had never actually seen anyone attempt the Killer before. It was just something no one even tried. And I didn’t consider myself to be a crazed daredevil any more than half the other kids that scurried about these woods. I dug Evil Knievel sure, but who hadn’t? Still I had more than once entertained thoughts of taking on the Killer, preferably with a crowd of admirers around cheering me on and gasping in amazement. So when I rode up on it, down I went, for the first and last time, making my mark in the annuals of Marquette Heights lore, bouncing up and down, bumping to and for, racking my balls, nearly flying over my handle bars several times, until I hit the bottom of the Killer and hooked up with another thin dirt pathway that serpantined into the dense thicket.
This thin path was one that I rarely used, which led to the opposite side of town from where I lived. But as I followed it, I was surprised as it wound suspiciously close to the borders of a number of back yards not far from the junior high I had graduated from the year before. Before long the path leveled off and widened—it must have been used as a short cut for kids walking to school, I figured. Then as I passed one backyard after another, I could hear music in the distance. I was heading toward it in fact and as I got close enough to make out the tune, I found myself staring at the above ground pool in the backyard of Melanie Westgate’s parent's house. And then, floating atop an inflatable raft, there she was--in a two piece bikini and rock star sunglasses, one hand cupping the water, a boom box beside her towel on a lawn chair. Jim Morrison screeching out, “Hello...HELLO...HELLOOO!!!”

Melanie Westlake had been the shit in junior high. She was a year older than me, way out of my league and out of anyone else’s league for that matter. She was popular in a natural, effortless manner, even though she really didn’t have any tight friends who she was always associated with. She just had this independent, omniscent way about her that made other kids a bit intimidated. Early in junior high she turned 13 and 14 year old boys into drooling buffoons--even at that stage where 13 and 14 year boys refused to admit that they liked girls. All she had to do was give a wink or a half grin and all pretenses flew out the window. She would come right up to you and say and do the most amazing things. While in the 7th grade I had gotten my braces off. She was passing by me in the hallway one day shortly afterward, when she came up to me and calmly said, “You got your braces off.”

I stared at her like a deer in the headlights. “It makes it a lot easier to kiss, doesn’t it?” And then she touched her finger to my mouth. I was paralyzed, staring at her like a damn idiot until she grinned and trekked off to do the next unbelievably amazing thing that she did—whatever that may be.

Then a month later, in the very back seat of a school bus that shimmied and bounced along a desolate back road after an away basketball game, about an hour from Marquete Heights, in the middle of winter, cold and dark, while the other junior high kids all around me were doing whatever it was they were doing, somehow I was sitting next to Melanie, somehow she was leaning against me, then resting her head on my lap. I put my hand on her shoulder, petting her arm as if it were a dog. I was surprised, but it was so dark and the motion of the bus was so relaxing, the shadows from streetlamps so hypnotic as they ballooned by. I didn’t know it then but Melanie’s parents were going through a divorce. All she wanted to do was lay there in my lap with me petting her arm. By the end of the bus ride she had fallen asleep. When the bus came to a stop, the lights came on and all the kids started to unload. I asked her “Are you awake?” When she sat up, I quickly grabbed my duffel bag and quick-stepped off the bus without looking back.

As I came to a stop behind her backyard, two and a half years later, my experience and knowledge of girls hadn’t evolved much. In fact everything I knew about relationships between boys and girls came from what I had gleaned from Rock lyrics.  But I had just ventured the Killer.  Jim Morrison was bellowing out "Hello".  Synchronicity was certainly in the air and my timing, for once in my life, was perfect.

After reading Dee Brown’s Bury my heart at Wounded Knee as a sophomore in high school, I decided I wanted to live my life like the Indians. The Indians didn’t punch a clock, they didn’t wear neckties, they didn’t have tv commercials and they didn’t pollute the environment, they didn’t produce waste. In fact when they killed a buffalo they used every single part of that buffalo, for eating, for clothes, for making teepees, for tools, etc. The Indians had it right. That was the right way to live. They worshipped the Earth, the moon, the sun, the sky, the universe. They didn’t have child-molesters in robes telling them how to live their life. They didn’t have corporate-sponsored politicians making the laws to which they had to live by.

My idea was to live like the Indian…or at least as true to the Indian way of life…as is possible in the modern world.

I would have an accomplice…a peace-loving hippy chick that thought in realistic abstractions and spoke in poems.

Simple living (voluntary simplicity) is a lifestyle characterized by minimizing the "more is better" pursuit of wealth and consumption. Adherents may choose simple living for a variety of personal reasons, such as spirituality, health, increase in 'quality time' for family and friends, stress reduction, personal taste or frugality.

E.F. Schumacher: "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage - to move in the opposite direction."

Others cite socio-political goals aligned with the anti-consumerist movement, including conservation, social justice and substainable development. According to Duane Elgin, "we can describe voluntary simplicity as a manner of living that is outwardly more simple and inwardly more rich, a way of being in which our most authentic and alive self is brought into direct and conscious contact with living."

Simple living as a concept is distinguished from those living in forced poverty, as it is a voluntary lifestyle choice. Although asceticism generally promotes living simply and refraining from luxury and indulgence, not all proponents of voluntary simplicity are ascetics.

The recorded history of voluntary simplicity begins with the Shramana traditions of Iron Age India. Buddha and biblical Nazirites (notably John The Baptist) were early ascetics. Various notable individuals have claimed that spiritual inspiration led them to a simple living lifestyle, such as Francis of Assisi, Ammon Hennacy, Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi.

Simple living has traditions that stretch back to the Orient, resonating with leaders such as Zarathustra, Buddha, Lao-Tse and Confucius.

Epicureanism, based on the teachings of the Athens-based philospher Epicurus, flourished from about the fourth century BC to the third century AD. Epicureanism upheld the untroubled life as the paradigm of happiness, made possible by carefully considered choices and avoidances.

Various religious groups including the Shakers, Mennonites, Amish, Harmony Society, and some Quakers have for centuries practiced lifestyles in which some forms of wealth are excluded for religious or philosophical reasons. There is a Quaker belief called Testimony of Simplicity that a person ought to live their life simply.

Henry David Thoreau, a North American naturalist and author, is often considered to have made the classic non-sectarian statement advocating a life of simple and sustainable living in his book Walden (1854). In Victorian Britain, Henry Stephens Salt, an admirer of Thoreau, popularised the idea of "Simplification, the saner method of living". Other British advocates of the simple life included Edward Carpenter, William Morris and the members of "The Fellowship of the New Life.” C.R. Ashbee and his followers also practiced some of these ideas, thus linking Simple Life ideas with the arts and crafts movement.

George Lorenzo Noyes, a naturalist, mineralogist, development critic, writer, and artist, is known as the Thoreauvian of Maine. He lived a wilderness lifestyle, advocating through his creative work a simple life of sustainable living and his spiritual reverence for nature. During the 1920 and 1930s, the Vanderbilt Agrarians of the southern united states advocated a lifestyle and culture centered upon traditional and sustainable agrarian values as opposed to the progressive urban industrialism which dominated the Western world at that time.

From the 1920s to the 1960s, a number of fairly prominent modern authors articulated both the theory and practice of lifestyles of this sort, among them Gandhian Richard Gregg who wrote a book entitled The Value of Voluntary Simplicity (1936) and many decades later Duane Elgin wrote the highly influential book Voluntary Simplicity (1981). There are eco-anarchist groups in the United States and Canada today promoting lifestyles of simplicity. In the UK the Movement for Compassionate Living was formed by Kathleen and Jack Jannaway in 1984, to spread the vegan message and promote simple living and self-reliance as a remedy against the exploitation of humans, animals, and the Earth.


Some people practice voluntary simplicity to reduce need for purchased goods or services and, by extension, reduce their need to sell their time for money. Some will spend the extra free time helping family or others.  Others may spend the extra free time to improve their quality of life, for example pursuing creative activities such as art and crafts. The philosophy behind these choices is examined at length in Ernest Callenbach’s 1972 non-fiction book Living Poor with Style which also devotes hundreds of pages to practical tips and how-to guides for both voluntary and involuntary practitioners of simple living. 

For more writing by Ed Wagemann click here: ED WAGEMANN

©2006 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

30 April 2010



The Worst Mustaches In Rock History

The mustache plays an important role in Rock History. In fact the mustache was so integral to mid 70s Guitar Rock that the genre was at times referred to as Mustache Rock (mostly just by hipsters though). When done right the mustache serves a purpose that goes far beyond simply keeping the upper lip warm. The mustache is able to make a statement. What kind of statement, you ask? How about this kind of statement:

...or this:
Or even this kind of statement (known as the French Tickler):

Or this (one ming AND one french tickler all in ONE band):

But inevitably there would be "those" who got it all wrong. Here are some of "those" and their sorted stories:

Exhibit A:

Prince played guitar leads that would have made any lead axeman in any 80s Hair Metal band proud. He also was very short, and short men naturally have a Napoleon complex and therefore must compensate by displaying their manhood in the form of facial hair. His first attempt was the ever-famous 'chocolate milk mustache' or just simply the 'chocolate milk'. This didn't last long, and by the early 80's, when Prince inherited the wardrobe from The 1976 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie, he also streamlined his mustache into an elegant, pencil-thin, Little Richardesque piece which began referring to itself as the "mustache formerly known as the Chocolate Milk".

Exhibit B:
This one really needs no explanation. The classic "porno stache" that was all the rage among every Debbie Does Dallas Porno-star-wannabe of the late 70s. Perhaps the only time in the history of Western Civilizaton that this stache could have been taken seriously was the late 70s/early 80s. But when sported along with the 'Brady Bunch fancy-boy perm' and 'jazz hands', you have a walking, breathing, living douchebag.

Exhibit C:
Q: What do you do when you are an internationally famous singer-songwriter at the peak of your skill living during the long-hair 70s, but rapidly going bald as the nation turns their lonely eyes toward you? A: You grow a mustache. Actually, first you try hiding the baldness by wearing hoodies, cowboy hats or ballcaps. Eventually, you get so desperate to see hair growing somewhere on your head that you embrace the mustache. Simon decides to go with the "fluffer". Not quite as blatant as the Porno stache, but equally ridiculous. But by the late mid 80's, Simon saw the error of his ways and axed the stache, got a hair transplant, then married Edie Brickell (religion, is a smile on a dog...).

Exhibit D:
Known as the she-ming or the FeMing, the female "Ming" is one of the hardest staches to pull off (particularly for non-Hispanic womyn). If anyone could pull it off, it would have been the punk pioneer Patti Smith. But after rubbing our noses into her hairy, unkempt armpits all throughout the 70's, some see the mustache as a bit too much...follicle overkill. As we all know, the reason woman rockers grow 'staches or beards or let their armpit hair go, is to give a visual ''tease" to male audience members, as if to say, "Look, this is basically what the hair of my vagina is gonna look like--are you turned on?" Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't.

Exhibit E:

Known as the 'walrus' (sometimes also called the Wilfred Brimley) this stashe is uncommonly popular among recovering drug addicts whose best years are obviously a distant memory in the rear view mirror. This mustache says "I'm the kind of guy you would have liked smoking a doobie with and getting a little 'weird' with back in the day." It was first popularized after Dennis Hopper famously unveiled it in his portrayal of a free wheelin' hippie sidekick in his film masterpiece Easy Rider

For more writing by Ed Wagemann click here: Ed Wagemann

©2006 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

Signature Rock Poses: The Frontman

Welcome to installment 3 of our five part series on "How To Be In a Tribute Band without having to mortgage your home". Today we look at the frontman -- the lead singer, and the signature Rock poses that he (or she...but mostly he) has to master in order to succeed.
One of the most important and often overlooked posing opportunities for any lead singer comes during that so-called 'downtime' when the frontman is not the focus of attention. It could be during a bass solo, or an intricate 3 part instrumental jam that the other band members insist on wallowing in for 5 to 10 minutes. But when that downtime comes, as a frontman you must be prepared.

So, how do you handle this? Do you shuffle off to the side and twiddle your thumbs? Hell, no. There are a myriad of ways to subtly give the audience a little eye candy (or in the case of David Lee Roth, actually steal the limelight) during these 'musical' moments.
Take for instance, Mick Jagger. Pretty much a total wanker, yet Rock fans pay hundreds of dollars to crowd together in sweaty, smelly, 20,000 seat arenas just to watch this 60 year old walking marvel of plastic surgery (who hasn't written a half decent tune since the Carter Administration) strut around like a rooster set loose in a hen house while Keith Richards stumbles over a guitar solo as if he were trying to climb a coconut tree. Why would any Rock fan do this? Mostly because they are idiots, but also because of the eye candy Rooster strut (and a few other reasons that I'll save for another time).

Fortunately for Mick, the Stones' guitar solos are basically short and sweet, but what do you do if you are in a Led Zep cover band and your Jimmy Page-wannabe is making a career out of the 'Dazed and Confused' solo? That's when you go to the tapes and study the master (Robert Plant) himself-- and you just 'groove, man'. Close your eyes, throw your head back, sway your hips, and throw in a few moaning, sexual, orgasm-ish sounds. It also doesnt hurt to have long, luscious, flowing, golden locks and an armadillo in your trousers as well...

You looked, didn't you? (freaking weirdo) Anyway, neither Mick's nor Plant's tactics are really that difficult to master, but if you are really lucky you will find yourself in a Ramones tribute band. The Ramones decided to bypass this entire guitar solo bullshit and blast out two-minute thrash-fests in which Joey barely had time to catch his breath and part his hair between choruses.
But even then, Joey had to rely on what all frontmen secretly need, and that's a good prop. Something they can fondle or twirl or rub their crotch against while the rest of the band is jamming away. Joey had his hair and his sunglasses. But other singers need bigger props. Roger Daltrey, for instance, was famous for his microphone twirl.
Axl Rose, of course, was known for using his mic stand to gyrate against. Elvis used a prop guitar to accentuate his pelvic liberations. Steven Tyler needed Gypsy scarves. David Johansen used 6 inch high heels. Alice Cooper used everything from snakes and straight jackets to electric chairs and guillotines. Then there was Gibby Haynes, who used an assortment of props (including a live nude female whose oil he would check right there on stage).
Let's also not forget Ian Anderson, who used his flute, which technically IS an instrument, but come on--its a fucking FLUTE! And what better classic frontman pose is there than the famous one-legged 'I gotta let one rip' flute-stance right before squeezing out a medieval flute solo?

But the all time master of the Rock pose had to be David Lee Roth. No frontman in the history of Rock ever had his work cut out for him more than Diamond Dave. Not only did he have to steal the limelight from a bass player who looked like an out of work plumber and whose guitar looked like a whiskey bottle, but he also had to outshine the Stravinsky of the stratocaster, the innovator of the axe, the Mammoth of the modded Marshall amp, Edward Lodewijk Van Halen himself.

But how exactly did David Lee accomplish this? Well, he actually used his entire body as a Prop. He studied martial arts and was an avid mountain climber. All of which came in handy when he'd be required to do his patented backward flips, or his head-cheerleader-esque "I've got spirit yes I do! I've got spirit how bout you!" high kicks, or his olympian somersaults and so on. And then, if that wasn't enough, he'd punctuate it all by fluffing his hair as if he were in a shampoo commercial or else holding his hands in front of his cock in a suggestive manner, as if he was offering it up for auction. All of which, by the way, makes Van Halen the most difficult band to tribute. There have been other physically active frontmen in Rock, guys like Anthony Keidis and Henry Rollins, but none of them really had the poses like Roth did. (Only Jim Morrison, who once whipped his wang out on stage just to see what it looked like in the spotlight, could possibly challenge Roth as the most commanding frontman in the history of Rock...but that's a debate for another day).

Since every frontman can't be a martial arts expert or whip out his wangdoodle on stage, there are other ways to compete with spotlight-stealing gunslingers who engage in gravity defying, high flying guitar leaps like this:

Or guitar smashes like this:

One thing you might do to steal the spotlight back is to bite the head off of live bats a la Ozzy.
Or stagedive into the crowd...

Or slice yourself up with razor blades...

Or maybe just throw your guitar player on your shoulders and go for a piggy back ride...

Or hell, why not just say fuck it all to hell, like Arthur Brown and go light your fucking head on fire (afterall the burns only last a few days but the memories last a lifetime)!
But for god sakes, whatever you do, Please don't burn off your penis--else you be doomed to a life as the frontman for an Emo/BritPop coverband, in which case you would have to learn the unfortunate 'little sister tattling on her big brother for blowing the head off her Barbie with a M-80, hands-tied-behind your back, deepthroat' mic sway, like this(tamborine optional):
Poor Freddy Mercury must be turning over in his grave...

©2006 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

Almost Infamous

I didn't really know what a groupie was until I was about 14 years old. I had seen them at local fair grounds and other places Rock bands performed, but I didn't know what they really were until one day I read a magazine article that detailed the infamous Led Zeppelin episode in which John Bonham 'made love' to a groupie using a trout (or some kind of fish). After that I became kind of fascinated with the entire groupie culture, and I soon came to realize that it was an instrumental part of Rock, going back to the beginning days when Elvis Presley had his manager line girls up outside his hotel room for him to pick and choose from. So I began to study groupie culture and the groupie phenomenon. Here's my report:
By the mid 60s, in many ways, the Groupie factor had become a force that was shaping the Classic Rock landscape. The key was that, although there were some groupies who were famous within Rock circles at that time, for the most part, groupies were NOT famous. They were almost famous. This was important, because it meant that they would have to fuck and suck their way through managers, promoters and roadies to get to their desired rock star. Occasionally they would be rewarded with a song written about them:
~'200 Motels' or 'Our Bizarre Relationship' by Frank Zappa.
~'American Band' by Grand Funk Railroad who paid homage to a wild, almost famous groupie from little rock Arkansas named Sweet, Sweet Connie (who was also a school teacher).
~The Beatles' 'Polythene Pam' and 'She came in through the Bathroom window' which was a tip of the hat to a band of groupies called the Apple Scruffs who stood post outside the Beatles recording studio everyday.
~In the Rolling Stones song "Rip This Joint" they reference 'the butter queen' who was a groupie from Dallas Texas named Barbara Cope who was well known for using butter as a lubricant when she gave blow jobs.
~Kiss wrote a song called "Plaster Caster" that made reference to Cynthia and Diane Plaster Caster, who were possibly the first groupies to actually become semi-famous. The Plaster Casters had a niche. They traveled to various rock venues carrying around a small briefcase that held the tools with which they created plaster of Paris duplications of the Rock god's penises. They would finagle their way into the back stages and hotels, use their powers of persuasion to get the rock star naked and then make a molding of that Rock star's famous penis. Their collection eventually contained casts of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Noel Redding, Eric Burdon, Peter Shelly, Jello Biafra, Richard Lloyd of Television, and a cast of dozens.
The first
semi-famous band of groupies was the Frank Zappa-inspired GTO's (which has been said to stand for Girls Together Outrageously, Girls Together Occasionally, Girls Together Only, or Girls Together Often). Their group included Miss Christine, Suzi Cream Cheese, Miss Lucy, Miss Mercy, Sparky, Cinderella, Miss Sandra as well as probably the most prolific groupie of all-time: Pamela Des Barres. Miss Pamela had personified the free-spirited, free-lovin' '60s groupie. She managed to become involved with many of the biggest rock stars of the Classic era including Jimmy Page, Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison, Nick St. Nicholas of Steppenwolf, Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Waylon Jennings and the Who's Keith Moon.
In the 60's, most groupies were harmless hippie chicks but by the 70's groupies like Des Barres were setting the foundations for what would become the Super Groupie. By the 70s, the role of a groupie had evolved into being a necessary rite of passage for any girl who wanted to eventually enter into a relationship or possibly even get married to a rock star. One legendary super groupie who worked this angle was Bebe Buell. Bebe dated Todd Rundgren, Mick Jagger, Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Jimmy Page, Steven Tyler (whom she had a kid with—actress Liv Tyler), Rod Stewart and Elvis Costello (who she claimed had gotten her pregnant and had written a number of songs about her—which Costello denies). Buell also claimed that Prince had written "Little Red Corvette" about her in which Prince sings "Bebe, you're much too fast".
Another super-groupie was Cyrinda Foxe-Tyler who worked with Andy Warhol and was best know for her role in "Andy Warhol's Bad." She also had an affair with David Bowie, got pregnant and had an abortion then worked with David Bowie as a Marilyn Monroe look-alike, appearing in his "The Jean Genie" video before marrying David Johansen, frontman for the New York Dolls, in 1977. Cyrinda then bounced off of Johansen a year later and landed on Steven Tyler. Her last marriage was to musician Keith Waa which lasted 3 days.

The list of Super groupies of the 70's is a long one, there is Sable Starr, whose sister Corel was also an important groupie. Sable Starr had gotten into the groupie trade at the age of 15 when she met up with the New York Doll's Johnny Thunders. Later she hooked up with Jimmy Page, Marc Bolan, and Iggy Pop.

Then there was Angie Bowie who married David Bowie in March 1970. Angie was as well known for her female sexual conquests as her male ones, including Cyrinda Foxe-Tyler, Marianne Faithfull and Cherry Vanilla.

Cherry Vanilla herself was also part-groupie. She had been one of the first DJ's of the late 60's club scene. She also worked with Andy Warhol in various plays until she met David & Angie Bowie and began an affair with the both of them. Later she was the original singer for the Police and she also helped Debbie Harry get started. Her book Pop Tarts is considered to be the prototype for Madonna's book Sex.
These SuperGroupies of the 70s all set the stage for the drastic changes in the role of the groupie that transpired in the 1980's. In the 80's, aided by Mtv, it had become possible for the Rock groupie to go from being 'almost famous' to being just as famous as the rock stars they were humping. (Winona Ryder, Pamela Anderson, Kate Hudson). The first Super Groupie to actually attain this kind of break-through fame was the legendary Tawny Kitane. Kitane first came to fame as the spread-leg video vixen and girlfriend of Whitesnake's lead singer David Coverdale. Coverdale famously gave Kitane a part in his music video. This led to a lackluster career in the movie industry for Kitane before she ended up marrying major league baseball pitcher Chuck Finley--a relationship that ended with Kitane being arrested and charged with spousal abuse and battery after she allegedly kicked and twisted the ear of Finley during an altercation where she used her fists and boots to beat the snot out of him. She then accused him of being a boozer, a pot smoker, and a steroid user to the press. I guess this is what happens when sports stars trying to enter the mysterious and dangerous world of Rock...
Occasionally a groupie will come along that seems to be like poison. They somehow become responsible (or at least blamed for) either ruining a Rocksters career, breaking up the band, or causing him to get hooked on drugs and every other bad thing that happens in his life. The three most famous evil groupies are: Courtney Love, Nancy Spungeon, and Yoko Ono.

For more writing by Ed Wagemann click here:  ED WAGEMANN