Each of us (except maybe Clay Aiken) at some point in our lives, comes across rock & roll. Of course, it's not always traditional rock & roll, maybe for you it was blues, punk, (or in Clay's case, Barry Manilow's "Copacabana"), but whatever it was, it was that first sweet moment of rebellion, when the music you're listening to makes all the sense in the world to you, but your parents and teachers listen to it with a look on their face not unlike they're listening to African throat warbling played both backwards and too loud. (Incidentally, if that's your type of music, I intend no offense)
Most people I've met recall the music their parents listened to, much like their first episode of food poisoning. For me, it was the aforementioned Mr. Manilow, Neil Diamond, pre-Peter Cetera Chicago, and Elvis, the fat, bad-karate and rhinestone cape version.
As a youngster, my only exposure to music that wasn't in my parent's LP collection was via Casey's Top 40 on the way to church on Sundays. (As an aside, this brief description of my cultural youth is beginning to shed some unintentional light on just why I'™m so darned weird -- but alas, I carry on, ever intrepid in the face of such embarrassment, for my faithful readers) But, as I was saying, although I enjoyed Casey's silky voiced romp through the pop charts of the late 80's, none of it seemed to stick; none of it inspired me.
In the days before the video iPod, and the internet in general (yes, kids, there was such a time), the only visual exposure you could get to your favorite musicians was via MTV (and for the truly intrepid, the edited versions on "Nick Rocks" can I get an "amen"?!) And if you, heaven forbid, wanted to view those video romps through your favorite tunes at a time other when they were broadcast, you had to stand at your VCR, at-the-ready, for your favorite video to be introduced by your resident veejay (where have you gone, Martha Quinn?), blank tape loaded, and simultaneously jam the play and record buttons on your betamax VCR. Then you had it: video gold.
It was the coincidence of these two youthful epiphanies (both woefully late compared to most of my peers) which first introduced me to Bret Michaels, C. C. Deville, Ricky Rockett, and the creepy guy on bass (didn't every 80's band have this guy?) -- or as you may know them, Poison. Now I realize the blasphemy to many of you that is calling what Poison does "rock & roll", and frankly, I don't care.
We all find rock in our own way, and hell, if "Oops, I did it Again" gets your blood up, and makes you feel indestructible then crank it up and rock it out! My first taste of musical rebellion? When I first heard (and saw) "Nothin' But a Good Time"; With all of its over-the-top androgeny (which didn't strike me as the slightest bit gay, at the time), the neon green microphone stand, the girls everywhere, the screaming electric guitar, just the ENERGY of it all!
The concept of the video was an 80's classic -- oft imitated, I think probably perfected by Twisted Sister -- where a teenager (portrayed buy guy in his mid-20's to solidify the inadequacy complexes which seemed as seminal to the male high school experience as acne and horrible part-time jobs) is in the midst of washing dishes in the back of a dingy restaurant, and is daydreaming ... wait for it ... of Poison, rocking out and having (as luck would have it) nothing but a good time. And when the daydream was all over (which conveniently coincided with the end of the song) he snaps back to reality, and in a brief moment of "was it real?" a few pieces of shiny confetti flutter to the ground around him.
That was exactly how I wanted to daydream -- it was loud, it was irresponsible, it was girls, it was fun, for fun's sake. There was no purpose, no meaning, no message. It was the essence of the youth I had always felt like I was missing out on with my perfect grades, perfect attendance, and well, less than perfectly short haircut. I watched that particular stretch of tape over and over again, in the privacy of my family's basement TV room, as loud as the de facto soundproofing would permit, until the video had degraded almost to Poltergeist-style static.
Not soon after, I discovered and rocked out to (in no particular order): Motley Crue, AC/DC, Slaughter, White Lion, Whitesnake, Aerosmith and many others. My parents hated all of it. My mother convinced herself that my musical tastes shifting from Huey Lewis to what she referred to as "acid rock" was the direct and proximate result of illicit drug use (despite my perpetually good grades and sky-high standardized test scores). But it wasn't chemically motivated, it was simply my very first taste of independence -- and while I, recently, could be found kicking through that particular genre via internet and satellite radio, and my own embarrassing collection of iPod playlists (entitled "80'™s Cheese Metal" and other such wonderfulness), I secretly questioned if I would ever again experience rock & roll like I did back then.
When I heard Poison was back on tour -- and I finally had the time and money to go, I bought tickets, and last Saturday, I saw them perform at the Gibson Amphitheater. Ratt was set to open for them -- which was incredibly exciting, because, if memory served, Ratt had both a lot of fun music and kick-ass album covers (which, in turn, meant kick-ass concert t-shirts) which mostly involved different incarnations of a big rat and some kind of electricity. I actually found my way to Hollywood earlier in the day, solely for the purpose of purchasing a Ratt t-shirt (and a Poison t-shirt for my date). During their set, I recognized a good number of the songs, which were fun and loud, but it felt mostly like a bunch of thirtysomethings standing around singing old rock songs with a REALLY good cover band. Don't get me wrong, it was great fun, and hearing "Round and Round" was a terribly guilty pleasure (especially when I knew all the words). But I didn't really reminisce. Not yet, at least.
When Poison came on stage, and played their first song ("Look What the Cat Dragged In"), it finally hit me. Eighteen years before, I had daydreamed about this band, about the awesomeness of their lifestyle, and the power of that electric guitar. Back then, they may have well as been on the moon, for as far away as the Sunset Strip was to this small town boy from Colorado. And yet, now, here I was, seeing them live, not fifty feet away from me, and a few scant miles from that same famous road. I let it wash over me, and the embarrassment that had been lingering just beneath the surface of my enjoyment of the concert thus far, very much disappeared. I sang along to every song. I surprisingly remembered the words, all of them, and even recalled the notes of the guitar solos -- which I must say, were worth the price of admission on their own. C. C. even played his rendition of Georgia on My Mind (kind of a Jimi Hendrix-style thing) which was almost a religious experience.
To say I reminisced would be a gross understatement. That depth of emotion, that visceral enjoyment of a thing, which had first inspired me to stand at the ready in front of that old Betamax machine, came flooding back with such intensity that I was very nearly brought to tears. Yeah, I know there's no crying in rock & roll. But more so than simply re-experiencing a long-lost feeling, I was feeling something I had only dreamed of feeling back then. I was living out a fantasy from two decades ago, which I realized, sadly, is SO much better than any of the fantasies I currently imagine.
Yes, Brett's a little overweight, ambiguous sexuality is no longer, in any way, ambiguous, and I still don't know who the hell the bass player is. But they, plainly, and simply, rocked exactly like I imagined they would, and in fairness, ever so much more. They played the old stuff, and the new stuff (from their fun latest album of covers), and some more old stuff. They weren't a desperate old band trying to recapture their youth -- they never really stopped, they're still just rockin' for rock's sake.
At the end, they finished with a song that once brought a nation of small-town teenagers, with their horrible jobs and big-city dreams, together with a blue collar salute which seemed as genuine, good and true now as it was back then:
I raise a toast to all of us,
Who are breakin' our backs every day.
If wantin' the good life is such a crime,
Lord, then put me away
And as should accompany every great thing that is ever said, it was followed by one truthfully bitchin' guitar solo.