I Stroke, Therefore I Am

Billy Squier gets philosophical and Trashman gets sick

Wind-blown wisps of lightly graying hair swirl around the singer's temples and brow as he mewls the lyrics to his early '80s mouth-breather hit "Everybody Wants You." The song's stretched words flutter in the air, leaving many of the 6,000-plus in attendance to muster a faint gasp of recognition. Scant man-dog yelps and "woo-hoos" are heard but do little to recall the desert kegger parties of long ago, where FM heroes like Nugent and Nazareth became an eternal soundtrack to the lives of a good many assembled here. Despite the fact that it's a hot and gooey August night in Phoenix -- the kind of muggy midsummer evening where the musk of other people's sweat is inescapable -- Billy Squier is wearing leather trousers. "Ev-rybody wunts youuuu/Ev-rybody wunts youuuu/Ev-rybody wunts youuuu."

In a kind of unintentional testament to MTV's Unplugged and how that show doused bad rock with heaping doses of self-seriousness (see: Queensrÿche, Tesla, Damn Yankees, Bryan Adams, etc.), Bad Company opener Squier performs in the dreaded sit-down mode. He carries no band, no Marshall stacks, no worthy-sounding guitars and no shortage of theories regarding life, love and the universe.

In his between-song banter, Squier comes across like a poodle-haired Prozac disaster who fashions himself an amateur philosopher after a recent introduction to, say, Plato. (A scenario that sounds vaguely similar to label pig/Limp Bizkit croaker Fred Durst, who -- after directing crap videos for his own jizz-tosses -- now often refers to himself as a "film director.")

Segueing into a new, decidedly power-ballady ditty ("Pursuit of Happiness"), Squier sermonizes with this eye-popping revelation: "If you're looking for truth, don't tell lies." Later he orates gravely on inner conflicts and how "we all have life's struggles" before handling a "blues version" of his master wank "The Stroke." Struggles indeed: Could this ex-metal popinjay be so self-assured as to suggest, in front of a giant throng, that for him, getting wood for a jerk session is no laughing matter? Wow, what an evolved man!

After all, it was one choreographed dance sequence in the 1984 video for the single "Rock Me Tonight" that unwittingly murdered Squier's metal-poppin', multiplatinum career. That fatal vid featured him prancing around his bedroom, dancing with himself and frolicking suggestively atop his bed with a light-in-the-loafers persona. It was not a poise that sat well for a man of Squier's grace -- a man in possession of a distressing Steven Seagal-like build -- much less rawk's hetero rock-dude stance of the early '80s.

More tunes of high disregard ("Learn How to Give," "Happy Blues") pass with surprising fanfare, and before long, Squier is gone like he came. Forgotten. And still the crowd roars.

During intermission, a peppy security guard with a catcher's-mitt-shaped head takes to busting a man seated just behind me who is smoking a cigarette. Security regards the smoker with the same bent the law shows toward any purported bad guy on Cops.

"Cigarette goes out or you do," he snaps to the innocent inhaler. "Yeah, yeah, no problem," the gray-haired man replies sheepishly. "I don't want no problems."

No smoking at an outdoor rock venue. Fear struck in the hearts of the sinless, those who partake in the very legal and leisurely activity of smoking. I ask Security why the no-smoking rule?

"Because, dude, not everybody likes cigarette smoke. And pretty soon nobody will be able to smoke in public in Arizona. That is a good thing, dude."

"Well," I say, "then let's ban cars, boats, forest fires, marshmallow roasts, planes, perfume, people who fart too much, cow shit, outdoor barbecues, meat and somebody else's conversation. And just think, without all that dirty stuff in the air, we may have an even healthier rock 'n' roll atmo, dude."

For a long moment, Security stares at me. He already looks like a cop. Strong jaw. Tight skin. Big ears. But his nose is crammed with ungodly blackheads. No girls for Security. "Because you smoke doesn't mean those around you should," he finally says.

"I don't smoke." And it is true, I don't. Smoking is the one vice that didn't grab me by the throat. I just think drinking, smoking, drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll (good or bad) are all batch mates. Call me doomed. "Sure," he says nodding. "I really believe that horseshit." He trots off to bust other smokers. I turn to get drinks.

I order a cup of beer and a double shot of Jack, pay, and head back to my seat. Moments later, in a burst of white light, Bad Company emerges, the original lineup together after an 18-year absence. The combo slams into the cocked-up "Can't Get Enough of Your Love."

Harley logos, halter-top knots and fast-food-fed frames rise from the seats in front of me. Myriad middle-aged fists ram the humid night. Bad Company is here and rockin', dude. When this crowd roars, I feel like a fly speck at a convention for distressed parents of Kid Rock fans. A gathering in which Paul Rodgers is its evangelical bell cow.

Bad Company's big intro is but an aural and visual smoke-and-mirrors display. The arena rock lighting is huge. The volume is huge. The crowd is huge. Yet, by the second song, the band, aside from singer Paul Rodgers, is as staid as a nurse-assisted grandpa content with a simple routine. A move from their personal spots on stage would seem unfeasible without the benefit of a roadie. During "Ready for Love" (only the third song of the set), bassist Boz Burrell -- wearing a knee-length, tie-dye tunic and tinted, close-cropped locks -- appears ready for his medication, and a nap.

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