They could save rock and roll.
I went to see Natasha Leggero in the Kicker Comedy room. She asked how many women had seen a man masturbate in public. Half of them raised their hands.
I think there are more women than men at this festival. And if you’re a girl-watcher, your eyes will bug out. Some may have been naked at Woodstock, but now it’s an endless parade of cleavage and skin. Along with tattoos. When did face tattoos become a thing? If you’re not famous, how do you function?
Now the comedy lineup started with a woman from SNL, sorry, can’t remember her name, but she was pretty funny. Doing the man/woman thing. And I realized this was so different from being home, in front of the flat screen. That’s where all the action is, in your living room, your bedroom, on your handset, but once you encounter real life it’s somehow electric, different and exciting. But the guy who followed the SNL woman was terrible. Nothing worse than a third-rate comedian. And I was stunned that all three were not more political. Same as it ever was, with a bit of @MeToo thrown in, just a bit. That’s the jump between Chappelle and the rest. Unless you’re telling the truth, it’s hard to get my attention, isn’t that how Hannah Gadsby flew to the top in an instant?
Anyway, I didn’t know public masturbation was a thing. Natasha said women never do it, but then she started taking stories from audience members, giving testimony. Makes you wonder about the male population.
From there I scooted over to hear French Montana where I encountered very little on stage and a ton of flashing lights and video screens. I guess this is the new world, canned beats with a few vocalizations thrown on top, the people seemed to dig it. And the big track this week is “I Love It,” by Kanye & Lil Pump. Eventually, the beats get to you, but have you caught the lyrics?
“You’re such a fuckin’ ho, I love it (I love it)”
Now I’m not offended. I was the guy who had to get the dirty version of “Kick Out The Jams” with the f-word in the gatefold. But the MC5 had a political message. What is the message here, endless hedonism?
I’m not saying we all don’t enjoy a good lay. But for those around when music tested limits, spoke truth to power, it’s quite a change.
And after exiting the main stage I went to the Church of Rock & Roll.
It’s Jason’s thing. He’s been kicking the idea around for years. But he got Zappos to support him and tonight was the debut. To the degree I understand it, it’s half money-making and half giving back. The Church is gonna go on tour, not necessarily with Greta Van Fleet, and then raise money to build restaurants, but that all could change. Tonight…we were all fitted with vests from the Zappos-funded Music: Not Impossible. That’s right, vibrating vests and wrist and ankle vibrators so the deaf could “hear”/feel the music. Quite a sensation. And Jason gave an intro, and then Pastor Nadia told us she prayed at the altar of the Ramones, Iggy, and Bowie, and then Greta took the stage, in this tiny club filled with a hundred fifty people.
This is the third time I’ve seen them. They’ve become seasoned on the road, they’re comfortable in their own skin. And at first I thought it was the venue, then I felt they could play the big stage, but what got me most was this was the sound that addicted me and you all those years back when.
Yes, at times they’re ersatz Zeppelin. Unlike Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, they did not spend years doing session work. Yes, the lead singer echoes Plant. But the secret sauce is the guitarist, who’s got the chops on his SG, and the bassist who occasionally plays keyboards.
This is a band, as far away from French Montana as can be.
And they’re ever so young, I’m not sure all of them can legally drink. But they’re into it, you feel the passion.
Remember when moms and dads bought their kids guitars? That could happen again.
You see it seems like so much fun. There’s so much energy. Banging and playing. And this is the end. It’s not about lifestyle, it’s not about sponsorships, it’s about the sound, the songs, the onstage vibe. Remember when you went to the rock club and were enveloped by the sound? That’s what it was like. Life Is Beautiful may be called a rock festival, but that’s not what it is, we’ve gotten so far from the garden that the plants have wilted.
And I was not expecting to be wowed, I was not expecting to get it.
I felt the rush of adrenaline in the first two songs. And then I listened. The material was not A+, but they were performing it like it was. And then…
“Oh lady when you come on down
Won’t you come on down”
At this point I was sitting on a stool by the bar, assuaging the pain in my aching back. But I couldn’t sit still any longer. I started thrusting my arm into the air. Nobody else was, but I had to, it was involuntary.
And then I was standing, and moving closer to the stage, to the music.
“Oo mama what you gonna do
With all that lovin’ in your heart”
I’m banging my head like Beavis, or was it Butt-head. All the bad thoughts in my brain were squeezed out by the sound, all I could do was move to the music.
Rock is dead as a doornail. Because it’s played by guys too old, who know too much, who are too self-referential, who don’t understand that first and foremost it’s about songs, about hooks. And you don’t have to be the best player, but just good enough. And it doesn’t matter if you wrote the lyrics or not, you need a lead singer who can deliver.
What you’re trying to do is light the flame, every night on stage, have that firecracker explode, reach the audience one by one, who continue to come like lemmings.
I’m not sure all the old tools will work. The push, the massive exposure. Nobody can live up to that hype. But never underestimate the power of a riff like the one in “Safari Song.” With loud and quiet, dynamics that Zeppelin employed and punk eviscerated. With a banging drummer and a vocalist topping it off with melody. This is what the business was built on. And maybe it’s gone for good, but I’m betting it’s not. We’ve all got to blow off steam, we’ve all got energy. We want to embrace the swagger. Not that hip-hop cannot coexist. But for far too long they’ve been playing records in clubs, and although I do not think bands are coming back, tonight they did.
Same as it ever was.
And I’d tell you I’m grinning from ear to ear, but that’s not what it’s all about. Rather it’s a rekindling of what once, what I used to believe in and everyone seems to have forgotten. The power of a band. The power of giving it your all. The power of rock and roll to save your soul.