I. So, What Is Rock And Roll?

Historically speaking, Rock and Roll is the bastard musical child of the interracial coupling of lower class people in the southern United States of America soon after World War II. Blacks and whites came together on the borderline of country and western music and rhythm and blues and gospel music, and sired an offspring stronger and more beautiful than its parents. Like in genetics, the mix of disparate traits created a new kind of being. In this mixture is the first great truth of Rock and Roll: Community and the smashing of boundaries and divisions through rhythm and energy. It doesn't matter if you're black or white, red or yellow, whatever. Are you moved by the beat? By the singing voice? Do you like to dance? To kiss, feel young and romantic? Are you alive? Then you know what Rock and Roll is.

Created out of the worst period in all of human history, where all hell seemed to break loose for decades, Rock and Roll was music born of both technology and heart. Primarily based on electricity, the literal fuel of Rock and Roll is its figurative core. Rock and Roll is all about electricity, like life. Hitler bombs England and kills millions in Germany, Poland and the rest of Europe, and John Lennon is born under his attack to grow up and discover an American truck driver named Elvis Presley, who wears his unadulterated sexuality shamelessly for the world to see. And a whole new world is created. Rock and Roll is the antithesis of Hitler, Joseph Stalin or anyone else who wants to take over the world or commit mass genocide. (Our American forefathers, notwithstanding. They didn't want to take over the world.) Rock and Roll wants to take over the world, but isn't out to kill you. It wants to make your heart race, your palms sweat, your ass move and your feet tap. It wants you to feel your life.

It is the deep human answer to the atrocities of the first half of the twentieth century.

At it's beginning, Rock and Roll was the creation of Chuck Berry and Little Richard, two performers of such electricity and charisma, most people were shocked and frightened by their appearance. It is then built upon by the other great pioneers of the form: Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Gene Vincent…This list goes on and on. Whether they were black or white, they were all tapping into the same primal current. No boundaries. Just rhythm and a voice. Musically, it was based on three chords and a major scale with the third and seventh notes lowered a half step. This is an oversimplification, but accurate. Most early rock and roll followed this design and is powerful for such a simple form. There was usually an electric guitar and pounding, tribal drums. There was always a human voice expressing a moment…Sexuality, mostly. But also expressed was the desire for acceptance and the craving for community. Elvis Presley craved it and found it through Rock and Roll. So did Bruce Springsteen. Everybody in Rock and Roll seems to be standing on the outside, wanting you to come to their party and listen to what they have to say. It's a good party. You should go.

I don't know much about the first decade of Rock and Roll or the music made during this time other than the songs that have now become classics and the great artists I have mentioned. Their work and impact affects me more in the way they influenced the next great generation of Rock and Rollers. It's like a river, flowing down through years and the heaviest stuff is carried through into the work of the ones that do it the deepest.

Now before I dive in, it must also be noted that Rock and Roll splintered down the riverway and became many different things to many different people. It's nothing like it was in 1954 or 1959 or 1964 or 1969 or 1975 or 1982 or 1987 or 1992 or any other year in which it has existed. But the thing about it that remains consistent is that it is a meaningful expression of humanity. Of love and sex, pain and anguish, emotional truth. Bruce Springsteen said that it's "dancing on your problems." So all the artists and music I want to talk about are not all the same or from the same style, approach or train of thought. But they are all part of the huge mosaic that is Rock and Roll. They all dance on their problems. They all sing the truth. They all mean it. They're all passionate. They're all alive in their moment. They are all beautifully human.

Rock and Roll has a lot more chords now and has even become somewhat literary. If you're a poet, you can do well with Rock and Roll music. It's a vehicle for the poetic mind. Just ask Pete Townshend, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Stipe, Roger Waters, Joni Mitchell, Morrissey, Bono, Kurt Cobain or Eddie Vedder… And all these people owe a debt to the initial revolution of Bob Dylan and John Lennon. So there's more involved now than just three chords and "Be-Bop-A-Lu-Lu, she’s my baby…" although that has been recognized as the truest poetry that ever came out of the form. Maybe. Maybe not. Rock and Roll can mean nothing and everything, like life. It is the finest, fastest, sleekest machine yet invented for true human expression because it is made by commonfolk for commonfolk. It's everyday people talking about everyday subjects. Its motor runs on truth and passion. Its alternator juggles conflict and release. It surges with youth, yearning and the necessity of experience. Get down in it. Get up with it. Get around. Get along. Get alive. I want to be alive. I want the rush of it. I want the feeling I get when I hear John Lennon and Paul McCartney sing together. Or the visceral power of Led Zeppelin's massive rhythm section coupled with the erotic overload of its singer and guitarist trading phrases and riffing like they're in love. They were in love, you know. That's the whole thing. You can feel it when you listen to their records.

Oh yes, records! How I love them. I have known the excitement of buying a record, taking it home, pulling off the wrapper and entering the mind of the artist. It is an experience that has yet to fade in potency some twenty-five years on. I've always loved the feel and smell of records. Even CDs, although smaller and less powerful in appearance than their previous vinyl counterparts, smell, feel and look right. It's a magical In Square Circle, like Stevie Wonder called it. The lyric booklet, a bounty of thought, a vessel of expression. The artist talking to me. I am part of something great, something bigger than me, something that took effort and presence of mind and spirit to create. And yet, it is also casual and loose in nature. It's no big deal, it's only Rock and Roll. It is modest and pure but it’s complex and confident. It’s outside and inside, alone and together, passionate and calm, melodic, harmonic and rhythmic, intellectual and primal, caring and carefree, heavy and weightless, overwhelming and emotional, and mostly fun. The Rock and Roll record is a whole world unto itself that you can inhabit whenever you want and every time you visit, it's any number of places to be. Oh yeah, I love it.

So much talent and vision in the world, so many souls trying to communicate with other souls, searching for community. Or freedom. Or liberation. Or transcendence. Or love. Or money, even. Yeah, they want that, too. And you know what? I'm happy to give it. Rock and Roll even pays well. If you've got something to share, you might even make some money doing it. And why not? I think Paul McCartney deserves every cent he's got. He’s made millions of people very, very happy without hurting or manipulating them. Pete Townshend should only live and be well and do it as comfortably as humanly possible! He has illuminated my life with his art, his vision and his striving for something more, something better. His work makes me feel alive. Live and be well (and rich) Pete. And thank you more than you could ever know.

Getting back on the train, let me get to my records! Yes. My records. Packed inside them pure humanity in all its color and glory. Long live Rock. I need it every night. Turn it up. Open your shirt. Dig if you will the picture.