So I was reading the latest copy of Rolling Stone magazine, and in typical Jann Wenner = asswipe fashion, one of their buried deep-within-the-issue interviews was infinitely more informative and entertaining than their cover story (this month, it’s Madonna. Yep, that piece was just about as insightful and awe-inspiring as her last baby-grab trip to Africa). It was an interview with Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead (of all people) that had me riveted.
Yeah, I’m just as surprised as you are.
Anyway, while I can’t stand speed metal, I appreciated Mark Binelli’s article and it got me thinking: who are the real badasses of rock-n-roll these days? Are there any left, or have they simply dissolved into a puddle of watered-down Woodstockesian* folklore? Take a look at the following rock subgenres and you tell me if you think the following candidates are Badass or Asswipe:
Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead and Ozzy Osbourne
The amazing thing about these two (who are good friends for real) is not just what they contributed to heavy metal, but the fact that they’re even still alive. Although admittedly on different sides of the spectrum. Lemmy has been living long and hard, still drinking a bottle of Jack a day, smoking a couple of packs a day, and living in a run-down flat in Hollywood – picked for its close proximity to his favorite bar. He still tours a good chunk of every year and dresses in the same black uniform he’s been wearing since the Seventies.
Ozzy Osbourne still tours, albeit not very often, and is a walking billboard for the “Just Say No to Drugs” campaign. If you’ve ever seen his family reality show, you know Ozzy is a shell of his former badass self as a result of drugs and alcohol. It certainly ain’t pretty. But I’ll tell ya this: while Ozzy is no longer a badass in the classic rock n roll sense, I admire his marriage to manager Sharon, and his devotion to his family. Lemmy’s never been married and has a couple of kids he didn’t bother to raise – claiming human relationships are just too much work. True, but Jesus Christ Almighty, that still sucks balls for your kids.
Since both exhibit deep-seeded Badass and Asswipe qualities, I’m declaring this one:
Badass or Asswipe? = Tie
They’re Both Badass for completely different reasons (although I think Lemmy’s an Asswipe for not even trying to raise his boys)
Gregg Allmann of The Allmann Brothers vs. John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival.
When the music press called Gregg Allmann’s brand of music Southern rock, he said that was a redundant term, like calling music “Rock rock.” He has a point, but there’s no denying that the rock and roll thrown into this category has a certain sound which just makes it Badass Southern rock. It’s like pornography – you may not be able to define what makes it, but damn it, you know it when you see it.
Gregg Allman was one of the original Badasses, period – making great music and living on the edge between rock god and parody for many years. We can even forgive his brief marriage (which – dear God! – actually resulted in a record) to Cher. I personally blame all trangressions with Cher on the Seventies because no one can think clearly with that much drugs around. Anyway, he eventually kicked the Cher and heroin habits respectively, and still tours most of the year.
John Fogerty’s another story altogether. After his work with Creedence Clearwater Revival, his next major hit was Centerfield, a chart-topping success in 1985. On tour in 1986, however, Fogerty suffered complaints over his steadfast refusal to play Creedence songs live and “suffered” with recurring vocal problems which he blamed on having to testify in court. Yeah, that was the problem, Asswipe. Fogerty’s explanation for not playing CCR songs was that he would have had to pay performance royalties to copyright holder Saul Zaentz—and that it was “too painful” to revisit the music of his past.
On February 19, 1987, at the Palomino Club in Los Angeles, Fogerty broke his self-imposed 1972 ban on performing his CCR hits, on an admonition from Asswipe Interventionists, Bob Dylan and George Harrison that “if you don’t, the whole world’s gonna think ‘Proud Mary’ is Tina Turner’s song.” At a Fourth of July benefit for Vietnam veterans, Fogerty finally ran through the list of Creedence hits—beginning with “Born on the Bayou” and ending with “Proud Mary”—to an ecstatic audience. He retreated from music again in the late 1980s but returned in 1997 with the Grammy-winning, Blue Moon Swamp. John Fogerty still tours frequently and plays CCR tunes alongside material from his newer albums.
That said, he basically denied his audience much of the music they loved him for, and while there’s no denying he got screwed with the whole royalties/copyright deal, that’s no reason to be an asswipe to the fans who got you there.
Badass or Asswipe? Allmann = Badass Fogerty = Asswipe.
Steve Perry of Journey vs. Dennis DeYoung of Styx
Personally, I think they may as well label this subgenre Classic 80s Rock, because most of the bands always cited in this category had their heyday during that time. And you can’t have power-belting, special effects driven, middle of the road songwriting, Arena/80s rock without citing Steve Perry from Journey. There’s no other voice like his in the genre, and while that substitute Fillipino guy comes awfully close, it’s just not the same. And too bad for the other guys in Journey that he’s irreplaceable because Steve Perry is a major pain in the ass.
Starting off as a progressive rock group in San Francisco, Journey didn’t really go anywhere musically until they recruited Perry and while the founding members of the band were certainly grateful for the play, Perry always claims in interviews that they always resented him for the direction he took the band, especially with power ballad hits like “Open Arms,” “Faithfully,” and “Send Her My Love.” Who knows, right? Anyway, it got so bad that Perry and his girlfriend used to ride a separate tour bus, supposedly for privacy, but the band felt he was further distancing himself – and when Perry’s solo album became a chart-topper, the divide was too great, and they all took a break from one another.
Until about a decade or so later, when 80s rock was making a huge comeback in the summer tour circuits – and the band members wanted to jump on that money train while the tickets were selling. Perry made a record with the band and agreed to go on tour after he had hip surgery. Well, he kept blowing off his surgical date, putting off the others’ plans – to the point when the remaining members fired him and went on tour with their first Perry replacement (can’t recall his name) and now with Arnel Pineda (that’s the You Tube-discovered, Filipino dude). Who knows why Perry kept them waiting, but suffice it to say in subsequent interviews, he viewed the firing as the ultimate betrayal. Yeah, yeah, wa-wa…
Dennis DeYoung’s another piece of work. Starting off as a rock band with a heavier edge, DeYoung took the band in a more theatrical direction in the early 80s with their concept album, Paradise Theater. It was a huge, multi-platimun hit and the band followed DeYoung’s lead with their next project, Kilroy was Here (1983), another, more fully-realized concept album, embracing what other music critics would call a rock opera format, but one I just label “DeYoung’s getting freaky on us.”
Set in a future where performing and playing recorded rock music has been outlawed due to the efforts of a charismatic evangelist, the record featured Dennis DeYoung in the part of Kilroy, an unjustly imprisoned rock star. Tommy Shaw played the part of Jonathan Chance, a younger rocker who fights for Kilroy’s freedom and the lifting of the ban on rock music. This future society is served by robots. Called Robotos, these automatons perform many jobs, not the least of which are as Kilroy’s prison guards.
Part of the impetus for the Kilroy story was the band’s reaction to accusations of including backwards satanic messages embedded in their prior releases. Its introduction intentionally included a backward message, the Latin phrases, “annuit coeptis” and “novus ordo seclorum,” from the reverse side of the US Seal. Referring to the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776, these are translated, “Annuit cœptis – He (God) favors our undertakings, and Novus ordo seclorum – A new order of the ages.”
In 1983, the band mounted an ambitious stage show in support of Kilroy featuring theatrical presentations of several songs. The elaborate show was expensive to produce and was not as profitable as previous tours – and while I get where the story comes from and admire DeYoung pushing back on the Christian Right, the whole thing just got stupid. Plus, there was, as I call it, the Spinal Tap factor…where sets meant to impress end up looking completely ridiculous. The other founding members and Tommy Shaw wanted to return to rock music and thought DeYoung was better off on Broadway with Liza than on tour with Styx. Hence, another rock and roll creative marriage bites the dust. Oh and by and by, DeYoung did end up doing a bunch of New York theater shows (as creative director) and some in Vegas too.
So, who’s the Badass and who’s the Asswipe? = Tie
They’re Both Asswipes.
* yes, I made that up. Wikipedia that motherfuckers.