HERE LIES HARD ROCK AND WHY NOT?

Giordano Simoncini

from NERO n.07 december/january 2006

1

It was the Sex Pistols who said that Punk had no future. But this thing here, that you create something and then immediately declare its end, can’t be done for logical reasons. To want to be a thing, and then its death, violates the so-called First Principle since one admits that being is contradictory. But being is and cannot not be. This concept was better expressed by two circles of neo-Parmenidean thinkers corresponding to the names of Exploited and Total Chaos. The first said that punk’s not dead, the second that punk will not die (the consonance between the conclusions is evident). But they were right: you plainly see how Green Day, who pass for punk, are still around today. And at least it’s clear that if you call any thing Punk, some thing of the whole can always die, but not everything – because there’s always something left, to play, as a residual living thing. Which means that, by now, you consider Punk eternal and the discussion is closed. Like it or not, but that’s the way it is.
But if I may say so, what’s really bad off is Hard Rock. You’ll immediately back up this sentence that I wrote if you look around with me and try hard to add things up: Ozzy Osbourne on MTV, playing the idiot; Dee Snider who, after having bred a couple of debauched sons, dedicates body and soul to gardening; Tommy Lee with hepatitis C that, OK, is hardcore, but you’re a little sorry just the same; Steven Tyler, overshadowed by the ego of his daughter, a bimbo without much sense – he’s left only with soundtracks with which to occupy himself, the squalor; John Sebastian Bach, who dumped all his companions and now collaborates with… Hatebreed!

Axl Rose? Unavailable.
In fact, if you see him, tell him that they’re looking for him.

And careful, it’s not just about a deficit of charismatic leadership. One needs to look at what the whole contemporary Supply Side has to offer in order to understand better, departing from, e.g., The Darkness. They’re really ridiculous. The Velvet Revolver, you say? Come on, let’s not kid around. Of what’s good there remains roughly: Motörhead (but Lemmy, unfortunately, isn’t immortal), some circus freak (American) and Scandinavia. But hey, it’s not as if Scandinavia can always do everything by itself.

2

There’s only one way to defuse, or to remove, pessimism and irritation from the sad state of things: to try to negate the birth of Hard Rock. From the moment that, to nothing not born it’s given to die, the only thing to say is that Hard Rock was a) born dead and/or b) born false.
Looking closely, the idea that it was born dead works because it drives the musical critique, providing it with new elucidatory categories. To say that Hard Rock was born dead means to deliver its hermeneutic key into the hands of those who created it: Alice Cooper and Black Sabbath, they were the party of the living dead, or, well, just the dead. If it’s true that they invented the genre, one presumes that they know something about it; if they know about death, so Hard Rock was born dead. But let’s say it better and add something else so as not to run the risk of sententiousness as an end in itself. It immediately strikes you how, being neither subversive nor nihilistic, Hard Rock doesn’t take sides with the living. Therefore, it suffocates on its own vomit and doesn’t care much about getting by. But Punk, yes, it definitely does, from the moment that, from pars destruens, it fixes another positive that remains still, to give meaning to nihilism. In this dialectic is as much the change that Punk was, as the words with which John Lydon used to criticise Sid Vicious. Sid Vicious was still, or, rather, already was Hard Rock. But John Lydon no, he was Punk, he wanted to go on, to wave his arms about, to provoke and continue to do something. Sure enough, PIL was also punk. But what to say about Hard Rock as a party of the dead? That it was a party nonetheless, a celebration (therefore it’s rock), but not in the least vitalist. On the contrary, destructive, exterminating. But not politically, since practical annihilation always presupposes a Marxist (but also “Punk”, so desiring) “…day will come”.

Right. These ideas, illustrated very rapidly, could have been formalised with equal rigour as much by Theodor W. Adorno as by Glenn Danzig. So let’s take Danzig, when he was in the Misfits. The band was Punk but the frontman was Hard Rock; he took all the aesthetic content of the musical phenomenon and managed it with make-up, poses, with style in its original meaning. Danzig was the real dead man in a band of dead who played at being such. It was therefore inevitable that he would end up doing those awful albums on his own, all alone.

Danzig was Hard Rock!, not the Pope, as Celentano says.
And Celentano can piss off as well.

3

However, we established that one could also say that Hard Rock was born false. It all adds up from the moment in which if a thing is born false, it’s false that it was born as it appears to be, and in falsity, it continues to spawn its vicissitudes. In system with death, there’s not much difference then. If we say that Hard Rock was born false – and let’s pay attention that this idea of falsity, necessarily loose at the edges in order to support the present explanatory needs, has other real phenomenological sides in a lot things that are really Hard Rock, including e.g. the masks, costumes, legends, the stage designs of the Big Shows, and the fans above all – if we say that it was born false, then we can’t but individuate its birth in the precise moment of the release of This is Spinal Tap, justifiably the most famous mockumentary in film history, re-released a few months ago in double DVD, with an hour and a half of fantastic extra footage.
Spinal Tap, and not Kiss, are the first roots of false Hard Rock. Of course, Kiss didn’t really exist: the masks and characters (both eternal) were suspended in non-identification limbo, in such a way that if their fans had ever intended to understand them, their only possibility was to dive headfirst into their world, organised according to peculiar, artificial but fascinating rules. For this reason also, the saga of Kiss was among the most fascinating in the history of rock. Spinal Tap, on the other hand, came into the world already beyond Kiss: it’s not a real band of eternal characters that “don’t exist”, but rather a fictitious band of musicians that live and die even if not being able to exist.
Spinal Tap’s story begins in Great Britain, originating from the desire of two friends David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel (the actors Michael McKean and Christopher Guest) to start a band. The first attempts have ridiculous names, The Originals, The New Originals, The Thamesmen. When the two succeed in enlisting bass player Derek Smalls (actor Harry Shearer), they decide to change the moniker to Spinal Tap. Their first full-length album, Listen to the Flower People, sends them into the charts and then on tour. Unfortunately, however, the drummer John Pepys dies after a bizarre gardening accident. From that moment on, the band is unable to stabilise its formation: the new drummer Stumpy Joe suffocates on someone else’s vomit; his successor, Peter “James” Bond, dies by spontaneous combustion “in a great burst of green flames”; Mike Shrimpton, the third arrival, is also destined to return to his creator after an explosion on stage. On film, the succession is narrated in a dramatic and exhilarating way. Obviously, it’s a ferocious satire about that other way of being (or being thought of) of Hard Rock as dead or born dead, as we were saying before, the “philosophy” of 90% of the hard rock bands established in the ’70s and exploding in the ’80s. The bands of skulls, drugs or Satan, depending. A “philosophy” that stung when spit with a lot of verve back in the faces of those who profess it for real. In this sense, a popular declaration by Brad Whitford in an English magazine remains on record: “The first time Steven (Tyler) saw This is Spinal Tap, he didn’t find it at all amusing! This gages how much the film actually hit the mark. He was really pissed off! He said: hey, it’s not funny!” But yes, it was funny, and it still is today. It was thought up ad hoc to make fun of rock made up of fallen, “wasted”, living or already dead stars, and you can bet your life that it succeeds. Filmed skilfully, structured to perfection, it remains an absolute film, a classic that is, however, also a true story. Because, of course, a story can have fictitious presuppositions while still remaining history: it’s enough that these suppositions produce real consequences. If the stage fiction of the mockumentary continues to be ridiculous at every umpteenth screening – stopping in time the lives of three ugly moustached mugs, three losers, who created a trend, who obliterated drummers in the most implausible ways (Joe “Mama” Besser, the fifth drummer of the band, unaccountably and very simply disappeared and is therefore presumed dead), and what’s more, they also thought of the epitaphs, but in an idiotic way like “here I lie and why not?” – in reality, with the passing of historic time of this world, Spinal Tap’s albums were listened to, but no! consumed, by herds of sincere spirited heavy-metal fans, until the apotheosis in 1992.
An apotheosis that was, in a certain sense, a sort of breaking down of the screen, a transition from that imaginary truth to concrete worldliness – a TV passage similar to those of the Chinaman horrors that are now fashionable. Spinal Tap reunite and organise a real concert/event (well, “real”, it was a Music Awards) outside of This is Spinal Tap, which was then followed by a new album Break Like the Wind, which, moreover, I’m listening to right now, for the umpteenth time and with unwavering enthusiasm.
Slash, Satriani and Cher all appear on some of the tracks of this album! And this was already an event, History.

4

As everyone knows, Spinal Tap disappeared again after the flash in the early ’90s. It seems that the drummer who recorded Break Like the Wind, Ric Shrimpton, is also dead: he resold his dialysis machine to buy drugs and nobody has heard from him since. The great wave of false Hard Rock, however, never stopped. It didn’t stop for the band that, from the shady entity that it became, nevertheless went on to effect incursions into reality, recording a track for an ad in 1995 and publishing an official website in 1996. And it didn’t stop for all those who were inspired by Spinal Tap. We were talking earlier about The Darkness, who are ridiculous, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that, without Spinal Tap, they would never have had a sound and style to spend. But if one talks about the great false school, what do you do? You don’t also include the last Turbonegro in the definition? And one should continue with a roll-call that goes on for years, but here’s neither the time nor place.
So to conclude, Hard Rock is either false or dead. But nobody likes death these days, because we live on Techne and publicity: for the first, death is the enemy, for the second it’s taboo. The fear that something dies, the fear that something which likes to die dies or, better yet, is already dead (it’s worth saying old school Hard Rock) is as insipid as it is inscribed in the spirit of our times. Therefore, the fear is more or less justifiable. However, I say: if we’ve already arrived at the point of having to justify ourselves, let’s go that extra centimetre towards the abyss to also arrive at consoling ourselves. In rock, we can do this by turning the gaze once again, or holding it if it’s there already, to false Hard Rock, which amuses us and makes us feel better.
This is Spinal Tap lasts eighty minutes but, in this sense, it’s been going on for 21 years.

(01/2)