Mom's Rock 'n' Roll "Warning Book" Backfired
My mom warned me about rock 'n' roll. She said it was a bad influence and a crazy lifestyle. Overflowing with sex, drugs, partying, and lots of other things God didn't dig. She said stay away at all costs.
So I made a career out of it.
No, really. Not only did I not heed my caring mother's warning, I embraced rock 'n' roll with a passion and went directly down the road that she told me to avoid. I'm still on it.
I was reminded about this decision a couple of years ago thanks to the help of my friend Buddha at Changing Hands Bookstore (our neighbor at Hoodlums). She unknowingly brought over the book that my mom had once attempted to use as a "warning manual" about rock 'n' roll:
Rock: Practical Help for Those Who Listen to the Words and Don't Like What They Hear by Bob Larson.
What a title, huh? You can see why Buddha thought my fellow hoodlums and I would like it.
If you are in the music business, or the book business, that title might as well be This Book Is Going to be Fucking Funny (that's right, I said "fucking funny," because just "funny" wouldn't be enough).
She was right. We did like it. But little did she know how far down memory lane she'd be taking me.
Bible Not Working? Try This, Ya Little Hoodlum.
I recognized it right away. Mom had given it to me when I was a teenager.
As middle school drew to an end, I started to be a little more smart-ass with my coaches and teachers. I had made some new friends. Dressed a little different. Got in a some trouble. I was becoming a hoodlum.
So I think she was trying to make sure I was a good boy. You know, like from the '50s.
And just as in the '50s, she felt that good old rock 'n' roll was helping churn out bad boys, not good boys.
Mom's heart was in the right place. Her intentions were good. I knew that then and I know it now. (For the record, she wasn't all psycho and crazy like the Bible-thumping mom in Detroit Rock City. She was always friendly to my rowdy buddies, some of whom were like the kids in the movie.)
She was just a conservative, small-town girl who loved Jesus and did everything she could to be a good citizen. Like something from a Mellencamp song (or maybe a propaganda film). She wanted her son to follow in her footsteps, just as she had done with her parent's footsteps.
So she gave it her best shot. With Bob's little book.
The idea was to turn me away joining the ranks of the bad boys by appealing to my sense of morality (which she had done a fine job of installing in me).
What's that saying about "best laid plans"?
Maybe Mom Is On to Something Here
I remember thinking, "This is bullshit," before I even picked up the book.
Lord knows (pun intended) that I didn't want to read it. I was keen to my mom's intentions and manipulative ways. But I had told her I'd read it -- and in spite of my hoodlum tendencies, I was (an still am) a pretty good kid -- so I started to thumb through it.
I could tell right away that Mom's strategy had been even more flawed than I had originally thought.
The problem was that my mother had no clue about a majority of the subject matter with which Bob was dealing. Rock 'n' roll ain't no place for a good Christian girl, so how would she? She wasn't aware of the slang and lingo of the culture or the depths of debauchery championed by these fine young hippies. Most of all, she had no idea how much fun this sort of immorality could be.
By contrast, I figured I knew quite a bit at that point.
I was a freshman and, like I said, I'd begun to dabble in the ways of a hoodlum, including moving from pop to rock music, taking up partying, and chasing girls. I picked up stuff quick, and I had a whole band of young ruffians to teach me, so I thought I figured my slang, street smarts, and rock 'n' roll knowledge were pretty advanced.
Until I started reading this book.
Turns out there was all kinds of cool shit that Bob knew that I didn't know.
He didn't think it was cool, but that didn't matter to me. That only made it cooler.
Maybe I really will read this book, Mom.
Trust Me Son, Bob Used to Be Cool
To the best of my recollection, Bob's story was that he used to party, or he hung with some hippies, or played music or something. He was somehow on the scene.
Then I guess the music scene scared him, so he got "saved" and hit the church circuit, regaling good little Christian kids like me with stories from the dark side of youthful partying and talking about his book, which took rock 'n' roll to task for its sinful nature.
I remember thinking the backstory sounded fishy. I was still learning how to party properly myself, but even before I opened the book, I suspected Bob was a poseur. A lightweight on the outskirts at best. That guy you suspected might be a narc.
So how could this poseur's book be so interesting to a burgeoning young rocker?
Because, boy, could Bob research naughty behavior.
If you wrote some bad lyrics or had a bad album cover -- hell, even if you're song title wasn't kosher -- you probably made Bob's book. If you played it too loud, did any drug on earth, or even had the audacity to consider a religion other than Bob's, you made the book.
It was beautiful. Like a who's who of rock 'n' roll.
The Glorious "Glossary of Rock Groups"
If you were really bad, at least in Bob's righteous opinion, you made the glossary. My favorite part of the book. Truth be told, I'm not sure I even actually read the preachy book itself. I started reading the Glossary of Rock Groups and that was all I needed.
It was the very first place I looked when Buddha brought it in.
The glossary was an alphabetized list of bands and artists, and it included a synopsis of each band's sins. A veritable cornucopia of musical evil.
And it turns out that almost everybody in rock was evil.
Bob pontificated about groups I was familiar with like Boston (pot, loud shows), Aerosmith (androgynous lead singer, profane lyrics), and The Beatles (altering the morals of the Western World, literally).
He also warned of groups that I thought of as puppy stuff, like the Beach Boys (LSD, transcendental meditation), Abba (no, really, they were "living together in open fornication"), and the Bee Gees (songs of evil spirits, pornographic drawings)
Who knew Pat Benatar (a "90-pound sex kitten" who sings "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" with "sadomasochistic sauciness") and Journey (their fans come to concerts with a "pill and a joint") were so bad? Who knew Steven Tyler was saying "kitty in the middle" (let alone what it meant)?
Who knew that:
"The Christian teenager who nostalgically bounces to 'Surfin U.S.A.' should remember that the fame of the Beach Boys was a launching pad for the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's introduction of TM and occultic mysticism into the mainstream of America"?
Now I did too. Awesome.
Thanks for Turning Me On, Bobby
Most important, Bob wrote of artists with whom I had yet to become more than vaguely familiar. Like Hendrix. Led Zep. Black Sabbath. The Grateful Dead. Judas Priest.
What can I tell you? I lived in North Dakota and it was 1980. I was learning as fast as I could listen. Until just a few years earlier, we had the option of two TV channels (no ABC, really). No Internet. One pop radio station. I didn't have a big brother or sister to turn me onto stuff, so I was on my own.
I might have known a song or two -- if they had one that hit the Top 40 -- but that was it. I didn't know anything about the bands.
Until Bob showed me the light.
That's right, until I got my hands on Mom's wonderful little warning, I had no idea that there were all these totally immoral bastards out there catching a buzz, getting laid, and making great music.
Holy coolness, Batman. Looks like I've found me some new idols. And perhaps something to study for the rest of my life. Hail, hail, rock 'n' roll.
One Man's Immorality Is Another Man's Fun
Mom tried. It didn't matter. All the book did was make me curious about the forbidden . . . and help lead me down the path to my destiny (which, as it turns out, still includes a whole shitload of good morals) and an unbelievable amount of fun.
The moral of this story is careful what you warn your children about, my fellow parents..
Bbecause as Bruce Springsteen (added to Bob's list in the second edition) put it in Blinded By the Light:
"Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun / Whoa, but Mama, that's where the fun is"
Get the Music Newsletter