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Lessons Learned from George Thorogood

Some people look to holy texts for guidance on how to live their lives. Me, I look to George Thorogood. See, George is from Wilmington, Delaware, and I grew up in nearby suburban Philadelphia. Around those parts, Thorogood was, and is, a god. When I was a little kid in the late '70s and early '80s, George was all over rock radio. They played his songs hourly. His grizzled, no-nonsense, bar-band blues-rock was inescapable. But nobody wanted to escape it. Everyone loved George — heshers, classic-rock junkies, New Wave dorks, punks, old ladies, infants in strollers, ghosts of dead people . . . they all dug at least one Thorogood song (typically, "Bad to the Bone"). And George was a total badass. You didn't want to cross him. Should you happen to run into him after a show or in the street or at a bar or at a motorcycle shop or at a Phillies game (he was once a touted minor-league player, ya know), you didn't wanna look at him wrong — you'd risk losing a limb, or worse. In those days, before the bogeyman went to sleep each night, he didn't check under his bed for Chuck Norris — he checked for George Thorogood.

Sure, George is a little older now (closing in on 60, actually), but aside from a few wrinkles, gray hairs, and a slightly saggier jawline, he looks exactly the same, and he still kicks monstrous ass. And his impact on humanity simply can't be underestimated. Here are just a few of the things I learned in my formative years from George Thorogood:

The correct order in which to consume one's alcohol. Before I'd ever heard the phrase "beer before liquor, never sicker. Liquor before beer, never fear," or knew who the hell John Lee Hooker was and that he originally wrote the damn song, there was Thorogood's 1977 hit (and live staple) "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer." The first party I went to where I was able to indulge in a massive spread of booze before me, George's words danced in the back of my skull as I made wise choices. Granted, I soon puked my intestines up, but only because I drank too much, not because I drank in the wrong order. Can't blame George for that one.

You can smoke at a gas station. I never even thought to question the commonly held belief — and all the posted warnings — that you should never, ever smoke while filling up your car with gasoline. It meant instant death. But there was George, pulling up to the pumps, pulling out a cigar, and lighting up in the "I Drink Alone" video. He didn't know at that point that it was an abandoned service station/drinking establishment (and it wasn't, really — that one chick showed up at the end); he just lit up, damn the consequences or the law. Why deny himself the pleasure of smoking wherever and whenever he wanted? And, really, what are the chances that you're going to detonate the whole joint with your cigar/cigarette? Maybe if you dangle it right next to the tank, you're asking for trouble, but George wouldn't be that stupid. It's a calculated risk, much like not wearing a helmet while riding your motorcycle (which George is also wont to do). Besides, in the minuscule chance you actually do blow up, is there a quicker, cooler, more memorable way to die? I don't think so. I don't smoke, but if I did, you can damn well bet I would light up at BP.

Guitar cases aren't merely for guitars. Any wiener can carry an electric guitar around in a guitar case, but that's only practical when you're going to play a show. What good is it when you don't have your Marshall stack around? You're better off carrying some shot glasses in it (as George did in the "I Drink Alone" video) or a pool cue in case you suddenly need to shark Bo Diddley in a game of 8-ball (as in the "Bad to the Bone" clip). And if you're trying to impress the ladies? Women like mystery and surprise — if you open your case and there's just a guitar in there, that's boring. If you open it up and whip out some flowers . . . or a couple of candlesticks, a tablecloth, and Ritz crackers and Cheez-Whiz (or even a Rampant Rabbit or something), you're in. Not that George would ever need to do anything like that to impress the ladies — his only worry is having enough hours in the day to get with all the women that want him — but the rest of us might need a little help, and it's a good lesson learned.

How to style one's hair. In the Carter and Reagan eras, there was really only one socially acceptable haircut: Parted in or very near the middle and feathered on the sides. Everyone knows the girls' version was called the "Farrah 'do"; the guys' version, at least in the Delaware Valley, was the "Thorogood." I'm sure Erik Estrada or Scott Baio would like to take credit for the cut, but it was George who truly made it popular (and he still has the same hairstyle to this day). If you wanted to be cool, you copied George's 'do. Period. I know I did. In fact, I still do.

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Michael Alan Goldberg