BY JEFF LEVEN
As I sat up late at night, staring out of my Hastings window, I sucked hard on the winnowing dregs of my last Camel. As my own personal MP3 megamix of Ryan Adams, the Strokes, Jack Johnson, Ryan Adams and an old Neu! seven-inch hummed discordantly in the background, I tried to put beer pong and cheap lighters out of my mind long enough to fix on what was really important to me. I’ve traveled many lonely, dusty roads with this thing called rock and roll — this beast, this head-wagging, mind-boggling demon that splinters your emotions like a sultry, lingerie-laced vixen whose name you only dare dream — and frankly, I feel like it’s time I did something for it for a change.
You see, rock and roll is in trouble. The Britneys and the Backstreets have taken over pop culture, Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park have all but swallowed real guitar rock with their beer-gut-busting noise, and everything else …. Hell, I’m a rock critic. I don’t have to know about any other kind of music anyway.
Being a rock critic is an existential struggle with your own humanity. The longer you involve yourself in it, invoke its axiomatic tomes like Cristgau and Rolling Stone and SPIN and Goldmine Magazine, the more you feel trapped, imprisoned in a cage that is your own pretense. Your experience ceases to be an internally realized epiphany. Instead, you find yourself a drooling automaton, hunkered slavishly over a dirty, ash-covered keyboard until 3 a.m. with Roget’s, trying to figure out another way to describe three-chord rock without any notable progressions from a 4/4 to a 6/2 time signature as “boring.”
You end up sitting there, alone in your little room in Hastings, sucking on a greasy bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon, listening to Queensryche, dreaming of click tracks and synthesizers and wishing that punk rock died when Black Flag broke up.
You start to lose your soul. You start to feel like Freddie Mercury, high on life as you hit rock bottom, or Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics, cutting yourself till you bleed rock’s ethanol-pure catharsis.
Being a rock critic is hitting a wall. In the end, you’ve got nowhere to go. Nobody to trust. You can’t just copy what everyone else is doing, but branch out and be wrong — you wouldn’t dare.
All you can do is listen to the music, quote as many random lines as you can, and try to stay true to yourself. All you can do is realize that this multilithic, soul-baring, barking-dog drag-out-crazy-blathering-beast is worth your effort, worth your time. You can’t write your heart out about the White Stripes and not be at least be conscious of Shakira shaking her ass in the cultural ether, but you can do your best to stuff your cynicism back in your pants, get a new pack of cigarettes, and free your mind.
As the early-’90s hit machine Cracker once said:
“Being with you girlIs like being low.Hey, hey, hey like being stoned.”