Monday, May 01, 2006

A word for those who Rock, and for those who Roll.

It’s been said that during a live concert, there exists a certain type of magic.

A type of magic that drives people insane.

Yes, magic. Magic that sends Men and Women, suddenly locked within an instance of mob mentality, all of them dropping sweat as if their flesh were clouds full of rain. Sweat drops flying off the faces of the surging mass, instantly condensing into steam upon hitting the blood/vomit/dirt/life of the floor. Steam that moves through the gaps between the moving, the churning, the living bodies, once again connecting them all, a moist unifying pulse, based on something that everyone in the crowd knows, something that all of them understand, something that they cannot speak in words but can indeed sing in tongues, something that they know within every part of their body, something that makes everything in that one split second alright, be it through anger or love or laughter or truth or justice or thought.


There’s just something special about rock and roll. Something special, something that all of us who listen to music that’s been spawned in dank basements and on roofs underneath an overcast sky, something that we know about it.

Even so, I’m approaching this as somewhat of an outside observer. Because much as I love it, I am not one of those people. I’ve never driven 600 miles in the back of a van for the chance to catch a single underground show, and I’ve never collected ticket stubs from the band that I’ve gone to see over and over, and over again. Truth be told, I’ve only been to a handful of concerts in my life. Few were really of consequence. But one of them…

One of them was the first and only chance I had to see the first band that I had truly connected with in person. A small club, in a small town. A band that you’ve probably heard of, but probably don’t usually think about. A band that I have loved, for a long, long time. I saw that band, and I was under a spell. One that I hope I shall never forget, even as I forget everything else that seems to matter. Rock. And. Roll.

Just what is it about Rock music?

What makes it different from the rest of the musical conglomerate? What makes it so unifying, so much so that different iterations of it have spread out to nearly every walk of life, different veins that appeal to colors and creeds, that are different but still connect in a way that makes them somewhat the same? Rock and Roll. Folk Rock, Blues Rock, Punk Rock, Alternative Rock, Grunge Rock, Pop Rock, Metal Rock, Progressive Rock, Synth Rock, “Classic,” Rock?

Just what is it about Rock music?

Something about emotion, perhaps?

Of course, the truth is, all good music is emotion. All pure music, no matter who it holds allegiance toward, is something that comes from our boiling underbellies, with classical sonatas being about everything from violent confrontation to torrid sexual encounters. Music is a channel for which we know in our hearts but cannot express any other way, human emotion mixed with human ideas into their most appealing form. So which emotion does Rock embody?

All of them. Rock can be about any emotion, from the most peerless of rages, to tender loves, thoughts of scorching deserts and cooling pools of water, anything and everything within the human experience. Some might say that Rock is about anger. That the apex of its musical innovation and invention and experience can only be felt when it’s a terrible wailing growl about the hatred for this and that and the other thing. Bob Dylan’s normally calm voice going low in a Folk Rock tune, sending out an “I hope that you die.” Masters of War is a great song. But it isn’t all of what Rock is. It’s part of it, that much is certain. But not all.

Just what is Rock and Roll music?

It is emotion. But what makes it what it is, what makes all of it unified underneath itself, what makes it whole; is actually not an emotion, but a lack of one.


The existence of Rock is the absence of fear.

Rock songs can be about fear. But the best of them, the truest of them, never have anything resembling it being sent forth within those crackling voices, those voices that are rarely -- if ever -- classically trained in the ways of the vocal vocation, and are altogether better for it. Rock isn’t about training, it’s about passion. It’s about not caring about how your voice sounds on its lonesome, how your guitar sounds if it’s out of tune on a massive stage. It’s about being fearless, the instant you step out onto that stage.

It’s about leaping into the air with a tremendous scissor kick and coming down with a THUNDERING chord, sending a bone-chilling reverberation throughout the heart of the crowd. It’s about a driving bass-line suddenly thumping through the aftermath of that chord, drawing a sudden connection between it all. It’s about the Tommy Gun of a BRAT-A-TAT-TAT that moves out of wood striking drum skins. It’s about that voice tearing itself apart as it sings with everything that it has, and still manages to shout out just a little bit more. Pulling out that encore, whether we’re ready or not. And send us rolling forward on your wave of mutilation.

It’s about sending out something that transcends words, even though words are a vital part. It’s about creating a collective that surpasses individual chords and notes, even though that’s the ground that the up is built from. It’s about creating a hand built of pure adrenaline that is shoved into the collective heart of the audience, massaging into arrest and punching it back to life. Making our bodies alternate between tense stillness and uncontrollable motion. Waving lighters and fists forced towards the heavens. All of those things at once. And all without a hint of fear.

This lack of fear leads to freedom. Freedom of sight, freedom of mind. Freedom that takes hold of everyone that wants to move, even if it does nothing else than give them an inch that they can breathe in. It transcends all else. And it can come from anywhere.

I can remember hearing my favorite song for the very first time. It was on the soundtrack of something that I was watching on DVD. A song attached to a scene in which a Robot was standing amidst a field of burned ruins, and all of a sudden began to rise towards the heavens. I was sitting on a couch in a well lit room, casually sprawled on a lazy Sunday afternoon. But when that song began to play…

It was like life had suddenly stopped, and was teaching itself to begin again. All within that moment, all within the small space that I was in. I was gripped by the images and the motion, the words and the voice, that voice that I could hear was giving all it had to that instant, giving all it could give, not stopping to be afraid of giving up everything. It really didn’t matter that the song was by a band that I had never heard of.

And it really didn’t matter that the song was in Japanese.

I was lil’ Pete Wrigley, standing in front of that garage, being exposed to something that I didn’t know the name of, but knowing that it was meant for me. My song is your song. And so on.

It took me a long time to find that song again. To find the band, to find the song. To finally learn its name. To finally discern the literal meaning of the lyrics. But all of that came later. What really matters is that first moment, that first moment when it took hold of me, with nothing else giving a damn. Setting me free, if only for that moment.

Showing all of us what it means to not be afraid.
Which is the best place I can think of to bring this to a close.



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