Home > Uncategorized > The romance of rock and roll

The romance of rock and roll

Is that the right thing to call it?

I’ve never really been in it though. I’ve merely traveled its periphery. Listening to it, obviously. Reading about it. Watching it. Doing it in small doses, on local stages. But I never had to courage to pile into the van and make a go at it…day after day…night after night. Chasing whatever it is that this music forces you to chase. If I had a do-over, who knows? But as that theatrical rock star O’Neill once said, it’s a late day for regrets.

But still…after all these years I’m still in love.

guitarYou can’t do it alone. Rock and roll is not a solitary pursuit. Even Dylan said “fuck this” and grabbed an electric guitar and a band. I suspect because he was hearing sounds in his head that required a gang. And since that day at Newport, Dylan, that most lonely of loners, has rarely gone anywhere without other noise-makers alongside him. He may not have ridden the same bus (his guitarist on the Rolling Thunder tour was Mick Ronson, who once answered the question “Isn’t Bob great?!” with the reply “I don’t know. He’s never spoken to me.”), but he knew stuff “Like a Rolling Stone” needed more than its brilliant lyrics and his Woody Guthrie cap.

My friend Bret Alexander (former member of a pretty decent band himself) told me once that there’s a tendency for bands, retrospectively, to (quoting a Jackson Browne song) “forget about the losses and exaggerate the wins”. I suspect this is true in the same way it might be true when any old friends get together over a nice warm fire and choice beverages. In my very regional experience as a musician, my eyes light up over the memories of good nights. I have to think harder to conjure up the shitty ones. Oh they’re there….but I just have to dig deeper for them. It’s very much like being in love.

I just finished making a record with my band the Shillelaghs. I think that’s what kick-started this train of thought. Because it was everything rock and roll is supposed to be. It was just us….all friends…..creating new music…..bouncing ideas off each other….trying new things. The control room looked like a dorm room…..beer cans and chip bags and odd aromas when the drummer was there, and when it wasn’t filled with music it was filled with laughter. I wanted to make a double album not because I had that many songs (I didn’t), but because I didn’t want to stop hanging out with these guys. And for a brief moment (Ok, maybe more than one but still)….I pictured us piling into that van and playing these songs wherever anybody would have us, like circus performers. But an early alarm clock beckoned, along with bills that I still can’t pay even in my 9-5 existence. Not to mention the fact that I failed to live out the lyrics to “My Generation”, which means I’m old. Sooo…..

And who knows? If we were all 20 somethings and took that leap, we might’ve ended up wanting to kill each other in that van…..our camaraderie replaced by fear and loathing. In other words, we’d end up like 99% of bands in the history of the world.

But still…..the stories we’d have for that night by the fire, eh?

And at the tail end of all this, I discovered The Tragically Hip.

The great Canadian rock and roll band.

I’m almost ashamed to say that it took me this long, because I thought my snotty “I have better taste than you” radar was infallible. The fact that I could completely miss one of the great turn of the century catalogs in rock and roll while it was happening both pisses me off and makes me feel like an American dolt. It took a fucking Netflix documentary about the band’s last tour and the subsequent death of their lead singer to brain cancer for me to jump on their bandwagon. I’m sure they appreciate my impeccable timing very much.

Their final concert was broadcast live in Canada….and one THIRD of the entire nation watched it. The Canadian Prime Minister was there….wearing a band T-shirt, singing along to every single word. The band has no equivalent in the United States. Nothing even comes close. When their leader Gord Downie died, the entire nation mourned. A US pundit suggested that if Springsteen, Dylan, and Michael Stipe all died on the same day in this country, we might understand, but even then probably not.

They were together for over 30 years. The same guys. Friends since childhood. They were a gang. They were what a band should be. They had what I wanted. I’m sure they wanted to kill each other at times….but they never wavered and never let anybody else inside that circle. On the last tour a terminally ill Downie insisted on kissing each band member on the lips before each show, whispering “I love you so much” into each ear.

It’s all impossibly romantic…..and it only seems possible through the prism of rock and roll.

In a bit..


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