I was The Perfect Age For Rock & Roll when punk-rock vinyl began to arrive in the Midwest in 1976. I was 24 years old and had been buying records since I was 12 in 1964, half of my earthly existence. I’d dabbled in punk earlier, sending away for Patti Smith’s “Hey Joe/Piss Factory” single back in 1974 when instructed to by my Rock & Roll Bible Of The Time – Creem magazine. I don’t remember if it was Creem or Who Put The Bomp! Magazine that brought the pride of Boston, Massachusetts – Willie “Loco” Alexander – to my attention in 1975, but I was glad to send my hard-earned Service Merchandise warehouse cash eastward to get the “Kerouac/Mass. Ave.” single, and thus begin a love of Boston Rock & Roll that carried me right through the 1980’s. (Willie Alexander begat DMZ who begat The Real Kids who begat The Nervous Eaters who begat The Neighborhoods who begat Scruffy The Cat who begat The Blackjacks, etc.)
Make no mistake, though, up until 1976 I was a Mainstream Rocker West Side Boy: my heroes were Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Blue Oyster Cult, Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, etc. But right about the time that Styx, Journey, Foreigner, Foghat, Boston, Peter Frampton (whom I had earlier loved when he was in Humble Pie with Steve Marriott), Rush, et al were making it impossible to live and love rock & roll I fell under the thunder of The Dictators, The Ramones, The Clash, The Pop!, Earthquake, The Jam, Elvis Costello and – maybe most of all – Nick Lowe.
I fully admit it, when I fell for punk-rock in 1976 and ’77, I fell hard. Looking back, I think that was The Great Divide of The Rock & Roll: as a music fan you had the choice of making the leap to punk-rock and continuing to explore new music or you settled into a noxious haze of Allman Brothers, Pink Floyd and The Grateful Dead and now subsist on generous helpings of Q-FM 96. (God help us.)
I think my first encounter with the Year Zero aspect of punk – that starting then, rock & roll was going to start ALL OVER NEW AGAIN, A WHOLE NEW BALL GAME – was a Joe Strummer interview in The New Musical Express, a great English rock weekly I would get approximately six weeks after the cover date at Little Professor Bookstore at the Lane Avenue shopping center. The NME – along with Back Door Man fanzine, New York Rocker and the above-mentioned Bomp! Magazine – replaced Creem as my Holy Grail Journals of the Rock & Roll. Indie labels Stiff Records and Beserkley Records became my new Capitol and Columbia.
Accordingly, I started my own xeroxed fanzine – Teenage Rampage (read all about it over on Growing Old With Rock & Roll) – and, this is really important to the story, gave all of my acoustic-based records away. All the Neil Young, all the Townes Van Zandt, all the Judee Sill, all the Joni Mitchell, all the Ian Matthews, all gone, given away to folkie friends of my first wife Pat. I had always maintained a certain schizoid relationship with acoustic music: in the 60’s I simultaneously worshipped The Who and the folk-rock of The Beau Brummels and The Lovin’ Spoonful; later The MC5 and The Stooges peacefully coexisted with Crosby, Stills & Nash, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell; still later The New York Dolls and Mott The Hoople shared shelf space in my record collection with Van Morrison and Fairport Convention. But at that point in 1976 I felt so strongly that punk was The Way Forward then & forever, all my Flying Burritto Brothers, Poco and Jesse Winchester records went bye-bye.
By 1982, of course, after punk ground into hardcore and devolved into synth-pop and New Wave, I wound up scouring the used record stores on campus to buy all those records back. I never made the mistake of turning my back on an entire form of music again.
The 1980’s were, of course, The Wasteland, definitely the worst decade of rock & roll I have lived through. Starting off with disco, moving through synth-pop and the continued dominance of radio-controlled corporate-rock, ending up at the end of the decade with hair metal, it just was not a good ten years. (Synth-pop became so rampant that even Roy Bittan of the mighty E Street band had to deploy a Roland on his piano. That wasn’t pretty.) Plus MTV came along and started demystifying The Secret That Was Rock & Roll by blasting it into every genteel living room and wood-paneled basement that could afford basic cable. Rock & roll was never intended to be just another segment of show business, it was supposed to be a Holy Rite of rebels, outcasts and losers. The “culture” of People Magazine and rock & roll just do not mix. MTV took away a central premise of the rock & roll Art Form – the listener being able to make up his own vision for a song – and replaced it with scantily-clad models & fire. It somehow managed to take rock & roll BELOW The Lowest Common Denominator, something my third-grade math class taught me was impossible, but here we were.
Putting aside woeful ephemera like A Flock Of Seagulls, A-Ha and The Human League and long-serving dreck-meisters such as Duran Duran and Depeche Mode, I know there were 80’s bands I should have liked – U2 or The Smiths, for example – but they were just so smug, so self-important, so English, just so fucking EARNEST, ya know? Where was the fun factor? Where was the simple joy? Where were the groupies & blow?
In 1984 David Minehan of The Neighborhoods – easily my favorite Boston band, then and now – wrote, “Today’s bands are like a school of fish / When I see a star I’ll make my wish.” I may have been The Perfect Age For Rock & Roll, but I found myself starting to long for 1966, when there were certainly less artists and fewer records in the bins, but the quality was SO MUCH HIGHER. By 1984 the music business was firmly committed to the principle, “Let’s throw it all at the wall and see what sticks.” (Or was it Styx?) (“Mr. Roboto,” indeed.) Quantity definitely did not equal quality.
I made do with New York City’s Del-Lords and Boston’s Del Fuegos, got briefly excited by REM and The Replacements, but had to constantly ask myself as I watched an out-of-control Bob Stinson lurch across the Stache’s stage drunk on his ass, clad only in a diaper, “Where is the next Rolling Stones?” “Where is the next Bob Dylan?” “For that matter, Where is the next Bruce Springsteen?” I would have to say that Prince was the only mainstream million-selling rock act I had any love for in the entire decade of the 80’s. Michael Jackson? Please.
By 1992, when Sinead O’Connor and Nirvana – two of the biggest acts in rock – seemed to do nothing but complain and bellyache (quite literally in Curt Kobain’s case) about their rock & roll star status, I knew it was all over.
I hunkered down with my Lloyd Cole, Richard Thompson, Dave Alvin, Steve Earle and Alejandro Escovedo records and dedicated myself to a genre I dubbed “Adult Rock & Roll,” while watching out of the corner of my eye as the likes of Limp Bizkit, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice In Chains and others of their ilk became the mainstream of rock.
I’ve often said in recent years that I got fully involved in the rock & roll business just in time to watch it all fall apart. In 1998 – 30 years after I sang in my first rock & roll band and 25 years after I started working in warehouses – I was able, courtesy of a small inheritance when my mom died, to take a job at Camelot Music. I got that job at a record store just in time to watch – and be complicit in – The Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync, Eminem and Britney Spears sell millions of records.
At the dawn of a new century, year 2000, I became road manager of a solo rock act out of New York called Hamell On Trial, who I believed to my soul was going to be the next Clash. I crisscrossed the United States with Hamell over the next few years, fulfilling a life-long dream to travel America with a rock & roll band.
By time I turned 50 in 2002 I believed that The Strokes, The White Stripes and The Hives were going to usher in A Whole New Era Of The Rock & Roll, and further believed I was The Perfect Age for that rock & roll resurgence. I was wrong.
Today as I type this it’s 2014 and looking back I feel like I might have outlived rock & roll, that I might have witnessed its beginning, middle and end.
At 61 years old I still play solo acoustic gigs, I still climb into a van with Watershed – whose road crew I joined in 2005 after watching them grow up literally before my eyes from 1990 on – I still wrangle guitars for Colin Gawel and occasionally roadie for Erica Blinn, whose FATHER, Jerry Blinn, I competed with for gigs in the 1970’s when he was in a band called Black Leather Touch and I was in The Twilight Kids.
I’m on my SECOND GENERATION of rockers. I’m the Perfect Age For Rock & Roll. - Ricki C.