Has rock music become more widely accepted as culturally significant? Or, has it been relegated to a series of cultural footnotes? Guest writer Geoff Moore muses on the more recent, seemingly prominent position that rock music and rock history has taken in the annals of popular culture: the nationally syndicated newspaper crossword puzzle clue…
Sure signs that the boomer generation is almost grown: Life magazine celebrated rock ‘n’ roll’s 40th and 50th anniversaries with special issues. Media doesn’t get much more mainstream than the once venerable and now defunct picture magazine. And the music itself, once in the vanguard of youth culture, has been relegated to a sub-genre by an industry scrabbling to rebuild its shattered business model in the digital age (Alas, all of the airplane glue was sniffed years ago). Rock ‘n’ roll is mere crossword puzzle clue fodder these days.
And that’s all right now, Mama. Especially if your Latin is rusty, your atlas out of date, your periodic table is for monthly poker games and your exposure to opera is limited to Bugs Bunny and the Marx Brothers. Because you need an ANKA when you’re ASEA on an ocean of ORR, ORE, OTT, ORTS, OKRA, OLIO and OLEO. Crossword puzzles are elegant and esoteric; patterned grids demanding to be filled in through knowledge, recall, intuition and blind guesswork. And cheating.
They can be eerily synchronous. If the grid teaches you a new proper noun, that person, place or thing will be an item in the newspaper the next day or mentioned in the novel you’re reading. The music clue is playing on the radio. Crosswords are as addictive as drugs and alcohol and almost as much fun.
‘One of two cars besides a Cadillac named in Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac'” was 5 down on the New York Times puzzle a few Saturdays ago. Six letters. Like asking a metallurgist about alloys or a doctor about symptoms. Oh, it was the beginning of a fine, fine day.
The most popular rock group in the crossword world is the Electric Light Orchestra, ELO. On a Monday or Tuesday the clue might read ‘”Evil Woman” grp.’ or ‘”Don’t Bring Me Down” grp.’ As the week progresses and the Times puzzle becomes more difficult with each new day, those same three letters may be elicited with something a little trickier to those who don’t read liner notes: ‘Bev Bevan’s band.’
REM could easily take the number two spot, unfortunately they answer to both ‘Murmur group’ and ‘_ sleep’ thereby halving their appearances. The Who are infrequent guests in the crossword perhaps because of the sequence or combination of letters in their handle – ironic as Pete Townshend took years to piece together his sci-fi rock opera about a grid. Proggie dinosaurs ELP and Yes apparently, and mercifully, have no fans among puzzle makers.
The Rolling Stones’ biggest songs are ‘_ Is On My Side,’ ‘Time _ Side’ and ‘Time Is On My _.’ Yet ANGIE’s (‘1973 no. 1’) kisses may still taste sweet after so much time has passed so many times. ‘Let It _’ always results in the simple, obvious and disappointing BE. ‘Let It _’ BLEED, RAIN, ROCK or SNOW sometime, please and thank you. And for Neil, rather than the too clever punning of ‘”Old Man” singer,’ how about ‘”F*!#in’ Up” singer’ just once? Just for laughs.
‘One-named singer.’ Sometimes it’s SADE or even BONO, but usually the answer is CHER. Though she had a memorable stint has the lead vocalist of Black Rose (Where have you gone, Les Dudek?), it’s really only the daily crossword puzzle that guarantees her immortality. Yoko Ono will not be remembered for her art or her deft way with a lyric. But she will always plug the gap in ‘John _ Lennon’ when WINSTON doesn’t fit.
And ONO is not to be confused with ‘Musician Brian’ ENO who is also the ‘Creator of the “Microsoft sound” played when Windows 95 starts.’ Encountering the common ‘Rocker John’ clue your mind always scrolls through surnames before concluding it’s ELTON. ‘Australian rock group’ is almost always ACDC unless it’s INXS, but never Mental As Anything.
And what of Ike Turner who may or may not be the father of rock ‘n’ roll? With the publication of ITINA (‘1986 Turner autobiography’) we learned that he wasn’t just a bad dude in the good sense, but a bad man of the sort whose actions seem to smear an entire gender. The man’s just not PC in these hyper-sensitive times. The three letter answer to ‘_ Turner’ is always NAT, a more significant, more complex and an even more difficult figure in American social history but distanced from us by centuries. When IKE is the answer, you know that for sure, the clue references the 34th President of the United States whose WWII command was, of course, the ETO.
Geoff ‘Bond actor Roger’ is relieved that ‘”Titanic” diva’ and her husband and Quebecor Inc. are not a component of the new ‘Mtl. team informally,’ ownership group. The dilemma of whether or not to buy all of her CDs or hang himself has been deferred indefinitely.
Geoff Moore is a writer based in Calgary, Alberta.