Music News

Bar None

The garish rock 'n' roll bar, painted an eyesore "rock dude" purple, is fittingly situated in the company of half-empty strip malls, failing video-rental franchises and vacated car lots on a horrible, comfort-free city thoroughfare designed strictly for utilitarian purposes. It's the kind of street that had its fiscal heyday in the early '70s and has since played host to countless ungainly operations made obsolete by shopping malls, suburban sprawl and unsympathetic new-business laws common to a modern Western megapolis.

Inside the bar, one can't help but gawk at the myriad of crap which litters the walls and vestibule: poorly designed fliers advertising upcoming dismal rock shows; framed photographs featuring the owner in unflattering happy/surprise poses with various heavy-metal has-beens and never-weres; gold and platinum records which were not presented to the owner, but hang in his place anyway. A giant felt-markered polymerized wall calendar hangs near the rear exit of the place, complete with misspelled words and indecipherable names of local rock and speed-metal bands. On the opposite end of the smallish venue is a good-size stage inhabited with the ghosts of innumerable '80s hair bands--whose days are never to return, although the owner of this place would offer anyone a wishful wager to the contrary.

This is the same owner whose reputation as a thief has been mythologized across international datelines. There are people who want this man's head.

He treats his employees as if they're maggots, and some of them wind up believing that of themselves. His laborers are mired in self-esteem so low that they're able to absorb verbal abuse, personal belittling and threats in front of his loyal bar patronage. Abolition is lost on his Napoleonic mind, and their slavery comes cheap to him. When they do get paid, it will more than likely be shorted and will always be attached with pangs of guilt, as if the owner is doing them a favor.

He has live entertainment at his bar, and the inexperienced musician who clatters forth will assuredly get a thorough deflowering in the evil ways of greedy business. Usually, though, it's some grave combo creating an atmosphere of voluminous misery with dire dollops of din in front of family, friends and whoever else they could drag there to simulate a "draw." The accomplished musicians know the score and usually steer clear or come armed with lawyers, guns and money.

The owner moves through his bar with an air of self-righteousness, an unknowing send-up of self, stopping only to offer phony hugs and prissy kisses to those preferred customers who occasionally stop by: past-their-prime strippers, B-level heavy-metal celebrities of yore and other riffraff.

This is a place I have been going to for a long time, mainly for laughs. I've never seen a sober night here. Nobody comes here to remain sober; it ain't that kind of place.

But one night a few weeks back, I just couldn't hang with the Zeitgeist and neither could the singer of a surprisingly above-average rock band onstage. Apparently, the owner's blatant disregard and exploitation of humanity were enough for him as well.

"You're a fuckin' asshole, a thief and a rip-off," said the waifish singer to the owner from the stage. The singer had the power of a loud PA. The owner was milling around among the 25 or so people in the bar.

It took a minute for the owner to realize he was the target of vicious name-calling, and when the diatribe registered, the shocked owner moved toward the front of the stage and stood in front of the singer, mad as fuck. The band started another song. Mike stands tumbled over. The owner yelled something at the singer. Tension mounted. Then, without warning, the singer jumped at the owner as if going for his wig, as if 15 years of employees and bands getting ripped off were his propellant. He landed on top of the owner. They stumbled back and fell into some tables, sending people and drinks scattering. Bottles and glasses broke. The Wholike wallop of the band stopped. Beefcake security moved in. The singer didn't have a chance against the doorman's seeming history of Marines, rapes, muscles and perverse white-trash joy in beating on the helpless. The doorman had an ungodly minimum-wage loyalty to the owner. He should have been a cop. He had the singer in an anything-but-legal choke hold and was landing punches to his ribs as he dragged him out through the main entrance where he tossed the singer into the cold night. Bravo!

It was nice to see a rock 'n' roll moment for a change. And with that, I went back to the bar and ordered another beer.

Richie Sambora
Undiscovered Soul
(Mercury Records)

With Undiscovered Soul, Mister Locklear tackles the patented Bruce/Mellencamp blue-collar, pro-American shtick and amazingly takes the genre to an even lower ebb than the aforementioned. Below the reaches of parody, even.

If ya can picture that.
If not, try this from "Harlem Rain" and set it to an acoustic dross, the kind popularized in the power-ballad '80s, when Mr. Locklear was a Jon Bon Jovi assistant: "The old man down on the corner/Is drowning in his pain/I can see the sorrow in his eyes/His tears, they leave a stain/The streets have left him broken/He's in the final phase/It's been a long hard road/From his glory days."

Did ya ever wonder how a white rock-star millionaire would know a goddamned thing about Harlem? That assumption is an exploitative, condescending and racist device common to Anglo rock stars who prefer their ivory-towered position in the back seat of a limo when slumming. Oooh, tough ride, Mr. Locklear.

"Hard Times Come Easy" keeps the Jovi milieu of bourgeois mannerisms afloat, only here Mr. Locklear chirps out his grade-school philosophical takes whilst hilariously taking a stab at cred by aping, of all people, Van Morrison: "The realization keeps sinking in/The way you make it is learn to take it on the chin." Even my grandmother could recognize the corn in that couplet. More problematic is the flag-waving, loss-of-innocence epic "Made in America" in which a stolen Mick Ronson riff does little to uphold the tired rock-song formula of an acoustic-heavy verse followed by a minor-chord bridge which gives way to the Big Stupid Rockist Chorus that uses "America" as refrain. Worse, the last verse contains a shameless Lennon reference!

And you don't even wanna hear about the song "Fall From Graceland."

Lee Rocker
No Cats
(Upright Records)

Reductive nostalgia, kids, as if anyone really cares about the bass player from Stray Cats when everybody knows that it was Brian Setzer with all the melody, charisma and voice. Stray Cats was Brian's persona, and this goes lengths to strengthen that certainty. The idea that the Stray Cat gravy train is chugging right along is criminal indeed. Who cares? I mean ya don't see the bass player from Spandau Ballet or Big Country or Psychedelic Furs making solo recordings in 1998, and even if ya did, it's doubtful that it would be this giant a mockery of his original intent.

With this being self-produced, and with Lee as the bassist, it's no surprise the bass is mixed so loud that guitar harmonics are hallucinations. The songs are so minus feel that it's an ugly betrayal of all things Bob Wills or Hank Williams, the things to which Sir Rocker takes off his hat. Frog rectums come to mind, friends. Even Blondie's "One Way or Another" doesn't escape the doses of antiseptic juice Rocker doles out at will.

Plus, frighteningly, Rocker looks like Herman Munster these days, which he isn't afraid to flaunt, as demonstrated by the cover photo. And ya don't need to be a noir nut to spot the fishiness a mile off as the album--in its infinite failure at authenticity--contains not one, but two songs with the dreaded rootsy word "Memphis" in them. Go figure.

Contact Bill Blake at his online address: [email protected]

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Bill Blake