Rock 'n' Roll for Dummies

Recently exhumed ancient handbook reveals the secrets to playing music and staying happy

Wanna know how come no one paints his or her favorite band's name on the back of a denim jacket anymore? It's not because blue jean jackets are out of style -- it's that rock bands are. No kidding, there ain't a group out there worth cracking out the acrylics for anymore, and even if some fool were to stick his neck out for his favorite band today in such a fashion, he'd be lucky if his heroes were still popular once the paint dried.

Record companies are no help -- they're always breaking up bands to promote the individual with star quality. There's a practical reason for that, too -- if you've ever tried to photograph a band, you quickly find out that no two people in a group are ever happy with the way they look in any given photograph. Bad band names don't help the cause of group fandom, either. You might as well paint a permanent "kick me" sign if you're gonna give it up for Weezer.

Some may point to Creed's latest record entering the Billboard album chart at No. 1 as proof positive that rock groups are still as strong as ever. Granted, it's No. 1, but it's a quiet No. 1 compared to the inescapable chart-toppers of yesteryear. Seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band roll through town reminds you of how dedicated rock fans used to be, waiting all night at a record store to tear the shrink wrap off Tunnel of Love. Can you imagine Godsmack fans charging through plate-glass windows like they used to when Led Zeppelin tickets went on sale? And what foolhardy fan is gonna risk getting the brown stuffing kicked outta him for championing wimpozoids like matchbox 20?

Rock 'n' roll primer: Are your parents open to some "heavier" talk?
Rock 'n' roll primer: Are your parents open to some "heavier" talk?

Clearly the number of piss-poor bands on top has a trickle-down effect on the local music scenes of Everytown, USA. Forming rock groups was once a time-honored tradition, but our nation's youth are bypassing them altogether and going straight to law school in an attempt to "follow the money." I once knew a pretentious English singer who espoused, with a completely straight face, that he was "using rock music as a springboard for an acting career." God knows what that Michael Des Barres wanna-be is doing now, but if he'd just cut to the chase earlier and went straight into acting, he could've been starring in Unsolved Mysteries reenactments right now!

Phoenix musicians, you too have lost the plot as to why you even play music. The traditional old reason (to meet girls) is dashed once you have a steady girlfriend or wife entrenched to work the merch booth. And considering that every CD you've sold has been to one of your buddies, that world domination scheme is starting to seem unlikely. At the start of every summer, the combination of a missing student population, soaring temperatures and audience apathy convince many bands that it's in their best interest to throw in the towel and watch the season finale of Party of Five. I mean, who wants to even load out equipment in the sweltering heat of August?

Bah! You'd never hear Gary And saying that!

And just who is this sage Gary And, you ask? Any relation to Peter And (of Peter and Gordon fame)? Freddie And (the Dreamers)? Lothar And (the Hand People)? No, a thousand times no. Before most of you lollygaggers were drawing baby breaths, Gary And wrote what could be the essential guide to musical success -- Getting Together Your OWN Rock Group NOW!

A friend of mine found this book in Milano Music store selling at a fraction of its original $1.95 cost. Sadly, he did not heed its righteous rhetoric when he formed a streamlined synth duo, an option this slim volume was too early to foresee. Judging by its mod illustrations, as well as And's archetypal examples of happening musicians ("Paul McCartney" and "Joan Baez"), this rock 'n' roll primer was stapled together and shipped out sometime between man's first walk on the moon and Tommy Roe's last Top 10 hit.

Yet much of what Gary And writes holds true for the befuddled budding musician of today.

But before we plumb its precious contents, the sticky question of "Who is Gary And?" returns to mind. Was he someone from "the Establishment" bent on infiltrating the "youth culture," or was he a well-meaning guy who just wanted to get young troubled teens off the street and hooked on heroin pronto without all the runaround? That, we may never know. But from what he's left us, one thing we all can be certain of -- Gary And was no rock star and never played one on TV. Quite possibly, And was just a man who walked and breathed among other mortal men, yet somehow found the secret to being a happy musician. Hint: It has nothing to do with marrying a supermodel or making sure there's a clause in your contract clearly stipulating the need for a rider full of M&M's without the ampersands and fresh fruit hand-picked by virgins at every show.

Maybe Gary can help you attain your higher purpose in Chapter One, titled "WHY?"

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