There was a time when rock stars were something very special. First of all, they weren't oversaturated, over explosed, and trivialized on that god awful cable music television 24-7. Nor did the rock star engage in endorsements from credit card companies, breweries, or the U.S.Army.
Rock stars weren't legends. Rock stars didn't shill products or lend their songs to commercials so that the advertisers could feign credibility. Rock 'n' roll music wasn't pasted onto film soundtracks without relevance, or transmutated to muzak. Rock stars didn't confess soap opera life stories to Oprah or Barbara Wawa. Rock stars wouldn't be caught dead with Tommy Hilfiger, or Versacci, who's pretty dead himself. From what I remember, rock stars didn't grow up with show business mothers who encouraged them to audition for sitcoms. 'Twas a time when rock stars' parents didn't haul a video camera to high school talent contests, then annoy us with footage years after their mediocre offspring poisened the well.
That's the real insult, if you ask me. Rock stars didn't get their first break on Nickelodeon. In days past, rock stars did not belong on Page 6, E!, Entertainment Tonight, The 6 O'clock News, the Today Show, or the National Enquirer. Rock stars didn't sing the national anthem at a football or baseball game, nor was rock music blasted continuoulsy over stadium p.a. systems.
Jocks and rock were polar opposites too. Rock against drugs? Rock the vote? As I recall, you couldn't go out to a local shopping mall and buy rock star clothing, you had to make it from scratch. Used to be that rock magazines were in the back of the newsstand next to the porno or the comics section, which, when you think about it, is exactly where they belong. There was a time when you couldn't hear portable rock music on the subway, gym, or your work station cubicle. There was no such thing as a 'rocumentary'. Rock stars didn't play golf tournaments, meet the president, or lend their talents to a political campaign. Rock stars did not make public service announcements. And rock albums did not have warning stickers on them. Yup, rock music was made by outsiders for outsiders.
So last night Ian Hunter rolled into town like an outlaw from outer space. Maybe he looks older, I couldn't tell under all that hair and the big brown wrap-around shades. Rock stars aren't supposed to be accessible. Was there anyone in the audience under 40? Barely. I could count the young chippy girlfriends on one hand. Receding hairlines, even thicker waistlines, old leather jackets, jewelry long long long out of fashion, that's what I saw. No yuppies. No freebies. No big shot VIP section. People who work for a living. Grownup misfits, if you will, with mortgages, bills, and other stuff worth forgetting about for a few hours. Oh wait, Lenny Kaye stepped on my foot on the staircase, but he's forgiven.
Did the gig start late? Of course, if you want to sit down and be on schedule, squeeze your lumpy ass into a hundred dollar seat at Lincoln Center. Was it occasionally campy? A bit self-indulgent? Yeah, that's the whole point, when the lights go off reality is suspended.Was the performance choreographed and executed with tactical military precision? Hell no, not at all. Guitar chords fell out, mics fed back every now and then, lyrics flubbed, lights flickered, beer spilled on the piano, one finger key board riffs, mistakes, an elbow across the 88s, a false start here and there, plenty of messed up endings, bass amp dropped out, everyone occasionally out of tune. Does this sound familar? It sure used to.
Who did what? For the record, Andy York-guitar, Jim Johnson-bass, Tommy Mandel-keys, Steve Holly-drums. It was too loud. Too long. My goodness, it had a human quailty to it. I felt like I was at a rock 'n' roll concert. There were the ballads (Boy, Michael Picasso, Now is the Time, Irene Wild, It Ain't Easy When You Fall, I Wish I Was Your Mother) the sing-alongs (Honaloochie Boogie, Saturday Gigs, Just Another Night, All The Young Dudes, Central Park West), the rockers (Roll Away the Stone, 23A Swan Hill, Bastard, All the Way from Memphis, Cleveland and Drew Carrey Rocks, the Moon Upstairs, Rock 'n' Roll Queen, You're Never Too Small to Hit the Big Time, the Golden Age of Rock 'n' Roll, Once Bitten),and some new tunes that gave folks a chance to chat, take a piss, and order another round.
Any drama? Well, when Ian sang a loving homage to the fallen "Spider with the platinum hair," many, including myself, screamed out the name Mick Ronson. Mick Ronson was to rock 'n' roll what Joe Dimaggio was to baseball. Class. Is there anyone that measures up to Ronno today in rock 'n' roll? Ha, don't make me laugh. Any kitsch moments? Yup, Ian's son Jason came onstage with a birthday cake which embarassed his old man. The rock star even had the moxie to refer to himself as an old dude. When was the last time you heard a star poke fun at their own faded glory?
Am I ranting like a middle aged old fart? No. Was the music better back then?. No not necessarily. Were the bands better back then? No, not necessarily. Yes the technology is better. Yes, you don't have to flip the record over, very convenient. Uh-huh, the web sites are very helpful. The chat rooms are fun. Ebay is fantastic. Bonus tracks are nice. But was rock 'n' roll better back then?. Oh yeah, no comparison. I was there. And so was Ian Hunter.