10 Legendary Music Venues That Shaped Modern Rock Music

The rock club.

It’s loud, often cramped, low-lit, with sweat beading on the walls. It’s perfumed with a whiff of spilled beer, filled with cigarette smoke (and other smoke besides) and the frisson of sexual excitement. The shrieks and yells of the crowd co-mingle, and bodies press together, sometimes meaningfully as the music blares.

Through the decades, not much has changed on this score. And yet in some of these little clubs, and in larger theaters and auditoriums too, legends have emerged. This isn’t just about some of the acts that have risen to greatness while treading the boards of these locations, although that certainly isn’t to be dismissed.

But in this case, it’s about the venues themselves. As rock history has developed, many of these places have been transformed from simple places of business, mere bricks and mortar, and into cultural nexuses that resemble something more transcendent, closer to Valhalla, to Mount Olympus.

So, when it comes to rock music, where are these places of power from which the musical genetic material of all we love about rock music today sprang forth? Well, here are 10 such places, 10 temples of transformative song, that have so altered our world as music fans, and as citizens of planet earth, that they have become as legendary as the gods and goddesses that emerged from out of them. Take a look.

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Classic Rock: Guilty Pleasures, Alcohol and Experiments with a Cat

This month’s guest post from music fan, pop culture critic, and author Geoff Moore places him in the role of musical scientist, with labcoat and clip board, possibly safety goggles. Geoff answers the question of what happens when the common house cat is exposed to music of varying genres and degrees of quality.  Put down the catnip, pop a beer, and read on!


There’s a throw on the couch in the living room (which may be a great room in current real estate jargon) because Angus the tabby likes the couch a lot. The little bastard is the only one who uses the couch and he sheds grey, white and caramel fur as he kneads the cushions before he settles.

And once the yogi-yoga position gut grooming is completed, all limbs are tucked away out of sight as he assumes the regal pose of a decoy duck, or maybe the Sphinx, but on a substantially smaller scale and with a genuine cat head. Television entertains him, but only football and hockey and he’s savvy enough to know that the figures on the screen cannot be attacked. Everything else in the cable universe induces sleep; he’s like a lot of people that way.

Twenty-five year-old Mission stereo speakers are on the TV bench, on either side of the screen. There are some claw marks in the fabric grilles, down near the logo plates, but they’re relatively ancient as Angus has come to understand a bit about what may and may not be used as a scratching post. When music is playing he stares at the black rectangles. Excessive volume seems to have the same effect on his ears as a strong wind, they drop like bent fighters.

The only living thing that looks more pissed off than a cat with its ears flattened is Lou Reed.

Certain instruments and pitches induce Angus ear reactions. A couple of the pet’s sound peeves include the guitar solo near the fade of ‘Stray Cat Blues’ and Roger’s scream in ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ (although this may just be the element of surprise despite repeated listenings). The Replacements are cool with the cat. As is Squeeze. And, if cradled comfortably, Angus will slow dance to ‘Incident on 57th Street,’ at least until Spanish Johnny decides to go and sit out on the fire escape.

Now, as the Boss sang in 1978, everybody’s got their secrets. Walk-in closets or IKEA wardrobes rife with skeletons; virtual vertical mass graves of gone but not forgotten trespasses, embarrassments and venial sins, some so fresh they’re still smarting. And down in the corner under the ashes of your first cigarette is that compilation of songs, those guilty pleasures that are best listened to without snickering friends or appalled family members present. But if you really like a song, there must be some merit to it, how bad can it be? But who’s to judge with steely-eyed impartiality?

When your wife travels frequently you must be mindful of what you get up to when you’re at loose ends. RDS, Quebec’s French-language TSN, is a welcome distraction and a thrifty buy to boot: all 82 Montreal regular season hockey games for less than five bucks a month. Twelve-packs of amber ale and shots of Bushmills come in handy while watching the Canadiens nurse, then blow, one-goal leads.

Siren goes, game’s over and the screen’s blank; you’re standing there looking down at the tabby cat. The cat looks back, bored, yawning, mildly curious about the next activity… A half-baked idea begins to germinate, gestate, gesticulate and then gyrate – or maybe the great room is just spinning like a CD. So…

Eleven (because Rob seems fixated on the number 10 – which is brought to you by the letter T) guilty pleasures critiqued by a cat:

Angus listens to big, dumb rawk!

Def Leppard: “Animal”. The 1910 Fruitgum Company meets Free? Same girl-as-prey lyrical turf as Free’s ‘The Hunter’ but somewhat less meat-headed and with more hooks than an abattoir.

Angus ear reaction: <> Both flattened, too much multi-tracked noise to process.

Billy Squier: “My Kinda Lover”. At its basest, rock ‘n’ roll’s about doing it without actually coming right out and saying it. Kinda graphic, but not crude and you can, er, dance to it.
Angus ear reaction: ^^ All up, nothing offensive here.

Cinderella: “Shelter Me”. Bad 80s hair and a worse name, but Stonesy. Of its time, but it’s refreshing to be reminded that hypocrites like Jimmy Swaggart eventually get what’s coming to them and the inconvenient truth is that PMRC co-founder Tipper Gore is an uptight fascist in a Democrat’s dress.

Angus ear reaction: ^> Mixed, Tom Kiefer’s voice takes some getting used to.

Journey: “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'” Imagining your significant other with another can lead to madness and tragedy, but when it’s all wrapped up in a slick stadium sheen, well, who’s crying now?

Angus ear reaction: <> Oh no! The experiment’s controls go awry as Angus leaps from the couch and settles in the penthouse of his nearby six-storey cat condo.

Motley Crue: “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away)”. Thanks for the memories, now get lost. If the Stones had been ambitious enough to make a triple album sometime between 1973 and 1977 this song or something like it (and Cinderella’s Shelter Me or something like it) might have been buried on side six.

Angus ear reaction: ^^ But the cat frantically bathes himself and understandably so – just look at them.

Bryan Adams: “Diana”. The only song he’s ever sung in which he sounds like he means it. The flip side of the 12″ single was called “Camilla”. Honest.

Angus ear reaction: <> Chunky guitars and too much thumping for the tabby’s tastes.

Angus listens to sensitive, emotional stuff.

Carly Simon: “You’re So Vain”. Big LP covers were so enjoyable to look at. Chuck Berry wishes he’d rhymed ‘Nova Scotia’ with ‘Saratoga’ and ‘gavotte’ with apricot.’

Angus ear reaction: ^> Once you isolate Mick Jagger’s backing vocals, that’s all you hear, donchu?

George Michael: “Waiting for that Day”. The ultimate rueful, post-relationship, wrist-slitter is the Band’s It Makes No Difference, it’s untouchable, but George takes his best shot at a forlorn Jim Cuddy/Blue Rodeo ballad. The segue into “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” slays.

Angus ear reaction: ^^ He still misses Emily the calico who had to be put down a couple months back.

Madonna:  “Crazy for You”. A fine ballad from a forgettable movie which is maybe why it works so well. It neither sounds nor feels like a typical Madonna album track or single (whatever her current incarnation) per se; here’s hoping Alison Moyet takes a run at it some day.

Angus ear reaction: <> Flattened due to some romantic man-on-cat, forehead-to-forehead nuzzling and baby talked endearments.

Jann Arden: “Insensitive”. Field notes from the broken hearted. Beautifully sung by a discarded angel.

Angus ear reaction: ^^

A lullaby, but only because any language beyond “Angus!” and “No! No!” is simply a series of sounds to be ignored.

Genesis: “Throwing It All Away”. Yes, an 80s Phil Collins ballad as Genesis goes pop! Motown-inspired backing vocals behind a lead which manages to convey the anguish and resignation that accompanies a cratering couple’s morning after discussion; the fighting’s over.

Angus ear reaction: ^> The breathy sighs may be a little too reminiscent of the wind on a chilly fall day.

Hair metal, AOR, singer-songwriters, adult contemporary, diluted prog… Well, that was cathartic. The shame and self-loathing in the room are as palpable as the disturbed furballs that hover just over the hardwood when you walk into the kitchen to get another beer. Angus’s stomach is big enough to hold an ashtray but smoking in the house is verboten. You light up on the deck outside, exhale at the moon and then notice that the window was wide open the whole time. And while the cat won’t ever confess, you wonder what will the neighbours think.


Geoff Moore scribbles his thoughts in Calgary, while Angus looks on, unimpressed.  So far, the SPCA has not yet been alerted to the fact of his prolonged exposure to 80s hair metal.

Rock Music and Pop Culture: What’s Puzzling You?

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.

Goodbye, Michael Jackson

michael-jackson-human-natureHere’s a clip of Michael Jackson with a song from his most popular album, 1982’s Thriller.  It’s “Human Nature”, my favourite track off of that smash LP which solidified Jackson as a worldwide phenomenon in a manner that I believe, for good or ill, will never occur again.

There is a lot we didn’t need when it came to Michael Jackson.  There was the eccentric behaviour, the self-mutilation disguised as serial celebrity surgical procedures, and of course there was the speculation about his sexual proclivities.  But, what is measured against all of that is his immense talent that seemed almost supernatural.  And where he drew inspiration from Jackie Wilson and James Brown, he inspired Justin Timberlake and every other dancing R&B pop singer in turn.  Love him or hate him, that’s what true artists do; they pass it on.

And of course there is his worldwide fame and celebrity, from smash albums in America, Canada, the UK and Europe, along with similar success in every corner of the planet for years and years from Thriller onward.  In the days before music, movies, and TV were at one’s fingertips through various online channels whenever we wanted them, Michael Jackson dominated popular culture, with his songs, his face, his influence pervading nearly every medium.  And it strikes me that in this current age of media fragmentation, such influence, such fame, can never again be so ubiquitous.

But, fame destroyed Jackson, argubly never having developed as a person, as a man, due to all of the other things on his plate when other kids his age were playing baseball, hide and seek, and out on their bikes.  For Michael, it was stage shows, Jackson 5 TV appearances, and (incredibly) a concurrent solo career by age 11.  He was the image of a person who was victimized by fame, becoming a parody of himself; an image that subsumed the man.

And why did this happen?  Why did he allow himself to get swallowed up by his own success?  Was it the money, the love emanating from his fans which he didn’t otherwise get when he needed it as a kid, or was it just insecurity, the insecurity of a child trapped in the shell of a grown man walled off from reality?

Whatever the reason, he was only human, and subject to the very human nature he sang about.

RIP Michael.

Bob Dylan Meets the Beatles

I’ve found a hilarious, and (perhaps not surprisingly) drug-related reference to the first Dylan-Beatles meeting in 1964. Another Beatles/Bob thread; I can’t help myself.

Take a look!

This is actually based on documented events, when Bob allegedly brought along a bit of greenery to the Beatles hotel suite while they were in New York. The Beatles up until then were speed users from their days playing 8-hour sets in Hamburg, but had never tried smoking marijuana. Ringo was, according to legend, the first one to toke up. Then, all the Beatles indulged, including manager Brian Epstein.

Source: iwouldwalkmiles.tumblr.com via Patrícia on Pinterest

By the next year, they were all potheads, particularly during the filming of Help!, where they were viewed as a giddy bunch of guys, often prone to fits of laughter at the slightest provocation.

The Beatles Perform on the Ed Sullivan Show – Feb 9, 1964

It was the performance that launched a thousand beat combos; the Beatles performed five songs on the celebrated Ed Sullivan Show on this day,1964. Those songs were:

  • All My Loving
  • Till There Was You
  • She Loves You
  • I Saw Her Standing There
  • I Want to Hold Your Hand

Part of the greatness of the event was the record breaking audience numbers who tuned in: 73 million viewers. The little studio held a grand total of 728 seats, even in the face of the 50 000 ticket demand. And poor Frank Gorshin (who would later find fame as the Riddler on the Batman TV series…) who was on the show as an impressionist had no chance to make any sort of, um, impression. Even Davy Jones, who sang “I’ll Do Anything” from the musical Oliver that same night would have to wait a year or so to join the Monkees before he could get the kind of love these four guys from Liverpool were getting.

The Beatles 1964 The show was all about the Beatles, whose hit in ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ alone had preceded them to the States, spearheading what became the group’s success, embodied in what was called Beatlemania. And Beatlemania wasn’t just all about girls screaming and fainting. That night, all transportation was in gridlock. The TV sets of the nation were held captive by the curious as well as the devoted. And criminal activity across the continent? – fegeddaboudit! According to urban myth, even the criminals stopped their nefarious activities to tune in.

The group would appear on Sullivan’s show a number of times during the decade, initially in person on this single historic date as well as on film. But, the excitement of that first night was a revolution; not just for the Beatles or for pop music, but for television, and for the culture as a whole. Bands were formed because of this appearance – it was a historical event, gone well beyond the light entertainment of Sunday night’s past. And, as mentioned, everyone watched; everyone. It drew people of different circumstances, beliefs, and cultural backgrounds together, a glimpse at a possible future when it was possible for the world to stop for an instant in order to appreciate something that was intrinsically good. It is with a sense of bittersweetness to me that such an event of this kind will probably never happen again. But, maybe that’s another reason to celebrate it.

Here’s a clip of the Beatles, performing their monster hit ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ the song that did what no other song from a British act at the time had done – break in America!

The Beatles on Ed Sullivan

[EDIT: February 9, 2011. Apparently, this event doesn’t belong to history, it belongs to SOFA entertainment. Therefore, no clip. Sorry, kids.]

[EDIT: February 9, 2012. I can assume that this clip of the Beatles first press conference at JFK, in 1964 will not be taken down since it was uploaded by the official Beatles YouTube page. But, in this era of corporation technophobia, who knows?]


Sometime in the Fifties, there was a crackdown on comic books, the extent of which was so far that kids used to read them as if they were sneaking a look at a copy of Hustler under their covers at night, hoping they wouldn’t be found out by their parents. The charges against them were many and depending on the genre, the books in question were either socially frowned upon, or banned altogether. One of the most astonishing aspect of all of this was the supposed harmful nature of superheroes, those guys (and girls) in tights, masks and capes, who fought crime and had secret identities. Batman and Robin were apparently a newsprint, three-color gay couple. The thing of it is, the sensors were right in a way; not specifically about Batman and Robin, but about the nature of comics themselves; I believe they were, and are subversive. This term is loaded now, but imagine how loaded it was in the Fifties, when subversion meant blasphemy, anarchy, and a threat to freedom. Many writers of this sort of material were blacklisted, much like the screenwriters of Hollywood were during the HUAC hearings, and many were ruined just because they had once written comics. But now, subversion is more of a fluid term. Now the idea of The Establishment is different, and where heroes were once incorporated into the Establishment as many of the heroes of DC Comics silver age were, it is now that we see that things have turned completely around.

When I was young, I was attracted to superheroes because they were alien, because they were not the norm and in fact fought against the status quo. They didn’t wear suits, or live in neat houses in the suburbs. Superman, Batman and Spiderman were other, they were outcasts. This much came through to me. I liked that they were, in a certain sense, strangers in their own world. I believe that the censors in the Fifties were either very aware or very unaware of this dynamic, which is why these characters suffered so much until the Sixties, when Marvel Comics really emphasized it more so than had ever been done before. When looking back on that decade, which in many ways is looked upon as an innocent and ideal time for many, but seems to me to be one of the most repressed times in our history, I can well understand the fear of making a fuss over heroes who were out of step with the norm. Remember, these heroes were vigilantes, operating outside of the world of law enforcement, and defining justice on their own terms. Batman, in the late 1930’s, was a figure of fear, a haunted man driven by pain, not a campy send-up as portrayed in the comics and on TV up until the end of the 1960’s. Even Superman was a misfit, having super powers only because he was the last of a race that had been eradicated. By the 1950’s, he was a father figure, like a bulletproof Ward Cleaver. It wouldn’t have done to remind everyone that he was the victim of a tragedy, and that the world is not as easily controlled, as many in society would have the rest of the population believe. These were characters that were created out of a sense of unfairness, out of the fact that sometimes the world doesn’t work in the way we think that it should. It isn’t a just world. I think that beyond the tights and the charges of homoeroticism, perhaps this is what they were guarding against; the knowledge that sometimes justice is not done and that sometimes the perpetrators of crime are not punished.

What superheroes meant to me as a young comics reader were characters who took their own fates in their hands. They took action. I knew that Batman was born because Joe Chill had murdered the parents of Bruce Wayne while the young Bruce looked on, helpless. I knew that The Batman was a terrible creature of the night because that’s what he had to be, because that’s what he was on the inside and he was working it out by becoming someone else. In this sense, he was an honest character, despite his secret life. For the same reasons, Peter Parker fought crime as Spider-Man because of a mistake he’d made and because of what happened to someone he loved as a result of that mistake. These are hard lessons, which many people even today feel is not appropriate for children, so these elements had been often excised or downplayed from the histories of these characters in the past. In today’s world, very few children are afforded the luxury of extended innocence. Most of the children in today’s world are not allowed innocence at all, with starvation, disease, illiteracy and substance abuse not only prevalent in the Third World, but also in many cities in North America. I believe that characters of strength, which have demons and overcome them through action, but do not win every time, are needed now as much as they ever were. There are many demons to fight, both inside and out and I think that television and film and any other medium that does not acknowledge this in some way is more harmful to a child than any ultra-violent equivalent. Maybe that’s why there has been a resurgence of super heroes in recent years – because we are aware how much heroes of this kind are needed.

I believe that every child should enjoy a time of innocence and play, but also have the means to explore some of the darker shades which life reveals in their own time, to get a sense of perspective of their own. I think that this involves reading history, being aware of the news, and in reading stories about characters who are faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, but manage to come up with their own solutions both for themselves and for the good of others too. This is an important element in building a more just society, a key element that is a necessity, not a luxury, which needs to be available to children. I think we need to trust them more than we do to be able to take those stories, these myths, and apply them even in a small way, to examining the status quo, questioning it, and taking action. In this era, when the Far Right seems to have a foothold in the politics of the West, I hope this will unfold, as it should, before we are forced to repeat a history where books are objects of fear rather than keys to a new way of looking at things.


The year 2000 was, for most of my life, a different world. It was not just a date on a calendar; it was “The Future”. It was jet packs and food in pill form. It was interplanetary travel and bases on the moon. It was holidays on the moons of Jupiter. There is that sentiment often spoken by adults which states that time moves more slowly when you are a child, that the days are extended in such a way as to make a decade when you were young seem like a geological period during which continents may drift. This made the Twenty-First Century seem like an eternity away. But here we are, in the supposed age of science-fact. In some cases, many expectations have indeed been met. We have computers in our houses as a matter of course and information at our nearest convenience through the Internet. We have mobile phones, some of which flip open in a Captain Kirk style. We have special effects in movies which could not have even been conceived in 1979, when computer programmers based in garages all over North America were still trying to figure out what computers were meant to do without a thought to the concept of making walking, talking movie characters like Shrek or Golem, or even (dare I say the name) Jar Jar Binks. We can download any music we can think of, share that music with our friends in Timbuktu, or hold in our own private libraries in digital form. We live in the future, just like we all knew we would.

But, it isn’t what we thought it would really be like, is it? The technology is there, but we’ve taken it on board as a matter of course, after only a brief feeling of amazement. We’ve adapted. But, we were supposed to feel differently, weren’t we? We were supposed to get to the place where our world would make more sense somehow, and be bigger, with more possibilities and less suffering and worry. We were looking for something that would transcend our expectations of each other and ourselves. This is what we look for when we think of the future – something better, something to make us think that there is more. Why then, now that we’re here, are we obsessed with the past? I am guilty of this too. Much of what I think about these days, and as much of what I have already talked about has revealed, is about the past and how it ties in to my life right now. It seems as a culture and as a world, we’ve stopped in our tracks and are mired down in the same things that mired us down in years previous to our current century. We still worry about health, about money, about being safe. We still wonder about our purpose for being here, and where it’s all headed. But now, it’s with less hope as a culture. We seem to have given up on reaching into space and seeing if we are indeed alone. The game seems less about idealism and looking beyond ourselves to the possibilities and is more about protecting our patch.

I think that the advantage we had before the millennium was a milestone. Two thousand was a good, round number and with all kinds of spiritual connections for many of us. It gave us something to look to as a line from one way of life to the kind of life we’d envisioned for ourselves. It was something measurable. Now, we’ve got an expanse of years stretched out before us, undefined by cultural expectations, and without constraints. Time is like an animal we thought had been trained, but has revealed itself to be untamed and unwilling to leap through the hoops of our expectations. So, what’s to be done, other than create a parade of nostalgia programming on TV, laughing at the fashions of yesteryear and casting patronizing eyes upon our former perceptions?

Maybe what is needed is more connectedness to our present, rather than a fanciful world of the future. Perhaps if we recognize that the world will only really get better in the future if we are more aware of things as they are now. Perhaps this means acknowledging that certain realities still remain, here in the exotic Twenty-First Century that new technologies cannot address. There is still ignorance and unkindness, love and desperation. There is still human weakness, and human strength. There is that ever-maddening search for meaning too. Maybe this was the point after all. Maybe the toys of science fiction and the worlds which have been imagined were meant, and are meant, to prepare us not for the future far away but for the moment that we realize that awareness or change, or both, is required of us.

Johnny Cash

Johnny CashWhen I was growing up, country music was music for old people. It was a world that had nothing to do with me in my childhood introduction to music of my own; as important and as interesting as income tax and home insurance – it belonged to grown-ups who didn’t have the wherewithal to love the Beatles, Blondie or Gary Numan. But there was a certain power to it that did reach me in places, although I was too young to admit it at the time. One of the major proponents of this undeniable power was the voice, and face of Johnny Cash. I remember his lined, frowning face on weathered album covers and the deep resonance of his voice, embued with a sort of alien beauty. He was, to me, like Elvis’ older and less convinced brother, visiting from another world of trains and of prisons which stood as shadowy counterparts to Elvis’ joyous “Jailhouse Rock”. His music was for grown ups as well, and yet in a different way from other country music I’d ever heard. It wasn’t about irrelevance. It was about ideas that were beyond me at the time; despair, tortured love and redemption.

I suppose the old cliché comes to mind when reading about a legend that has past – that we really don’t know what we had until it’s gone. I think this is certainly true of country music’s establishment in Nashville, who effectively supplanted him and many of his contemporaries from country radio in favour of the big-haired and big-hatted younger artists, many of whom had ironically admired the man from their own childhoods. There is nothing particularly marketable about an old man singing about death from the standpoint of commercial radio and yet this is where country music comes from; a world of isolation, poverty and violence, not unlike the place out of which hip-hop springs. Many of the murder ballads that Cash sang during his 50 year career predated his own birth and were complete with the kind of raw imagery which would later be reflected in numbers like “Folsom Prsion Blues”. Perhaps it is this that former Def Jam founder and producer Rick Rubin saw in Cash before undertaking the now critically acclaimed American Recordings. The thug life was older and more far removed from Compton and Bedford Stuy than he, or anyone else, thought.

Johnny Cash’s death hit me harder than I ever suspected, I suppose because his music has only recently begun to make sense to me. Cash, having come out of a tradition which eluded me for most of my life, has in the end proven to be everything I think an artist should be – impassioned, frank, open-minded, and with a unique voice that is entirely compelling.In the end, Cash saw no walls musically, generationally or otherwise. To Cash, the kind of heartache found in Hank Williams’ “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry” and Trent Rezor’s “Hurt” are the same kind of heartache. Cash could see that the genres in which the sentiments are expressed are merely the vehicles for the ideas, and older than those genres themselves. This is an example of his genius as an interpreter, the kind we’ll never see in the same way again. Here is a man who has seen and done much, both positive and negative, and has lived out the consequences of both. Even if no autobiographical information existed, we would believe him because of the authenticity of the voice. We as listeners believe him because he operated within the province of the universal – loneliness, the need for redemption, the drive to harm and the equal drive to stop oneself from harming. Never have such themes been managed with such nakedness and lack of artiface. This is, in the end, entirely relevant to everyone and if such an overused term as “relevance” can be applied to music, surely this is the most meaningful.

Johnny Cash image courtesy of Roberto Garcia

I hate Emo and other ramblings

I sometimes listen to the modern rock station, but I’m good for about two songs in a row before I am swamped by all of the earnest, angst-ridden roaring in the same minor key ( no doubt, d minor -the saddest of all keys).

It’s hard to argue with someone who likes that kind of stuff, when one of my favourite eras, the post-punk period, had it’s share of idiosyncratic singers too. And yet, it least it was an era which wasn’t so self-important, in a “what I’m saying is the most significant thing anyone has ever said” sort of way”. It least it was fun. Listening to Chad what’s-his-name from Nickelback, or any of the other bands of this ilk is not fun. Even if you’re a fan, I don’t think “fun” is a word you can use. It’s just one dirge after another to my ears, with no sonic higlights or contrast or signs of any kind of influence you don’t expect.

I suppose this falls under the “kids today have no sense of history” rant which often rears it’s head among musical curmudgeons. The old fart speaks again…