Local Wire

Rock 'n' Roll Awakening

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As to his songwriting: In general, and with only a few exceptions, the bulk of Ashbrook's catalogue is brimming with very enjoyable mid-tempo/middle-of-the-road pop-rock. Among his songs, there are a dozen very catchy numbers, four of five truly inspired tunes, and one -- bringing us all the way back to my tearful parking-lot breakdown -- bona fide classic.

The first time I heard Satellite play "That's Rock 'n' Roll" years ago, it didn't leave much of an impression. Frankly, it was an easy thing to dismiss. Without really paying attention to the lyrics, one could be forgiven for assuming it to be just another string of clichés, a tired retread of the hardships of the rock lifestyle -- kind of like a Valley version of "Running on Empty" or "Turn the Page." Watching Satellite's crowds punch their fists through the air during the "I don't need to be discovered, man/'Cause I was never lost" chorus further predisposed me to ignoring the song completely.

Cut to February 2001, when I had what alcoholics refer to as a "moment of clarity." My awakening came, not surprisingly, during a period of deep personal need. (Without getting into cloying intimate details, let's just say my problems were the result of several harrowing experiences relating to near death, heartbreak and general strain from having to listen to records by bands with names like Saliva and the Smut Peddlers.)

Pulling into Nita's Hideaway that night, the stereo was churning out a copy of Leah's Local Zone: Take One, an acoustic compilation of local bands. Among the tracks, and the one cueing up that very moment, was Satellite's "That's Rock 'n' Roll."

Maybe it was the alignment of the planets, the work of divine intervention or some sort of undiagnosed chemical imbalance, but whatever the cause, I heard Stephen Ashbrook with new ears that night. Listening to lines like "Forgive me if I'm tired/It's been rock 'n' roll at any cost," I began to draw parallels to my own life. It felt as if Ashbrook had somehow tapped into my very soul.

Overcome with emotion, the waterworks began. Tears streaming, I found myself in the midst of a catharsis, an awakening and a denouement all at once. "How could I have been blind to such genius for so long?" I wondered aloud. "How could I not have seen the glory before my very eyes?"

By the end of the song, I was pumping my fists into the air, shouting, "THAT'S ROCK 'N' ROLL!!!"

I had been touched by Ashbrook: The Phenomenon.

The next few days were spent becoming more and more obsessed with the song, wanting to find its inspiration, understand its genesis, decode some hidden meaning in an effort to understand why it had touched me so dramatically. The deeper I delved the more I became convinced the song was, as I told a musician acquaintance of mine, "a meisterwork of absolute unparalleled genius. It's like a miniature rock operetta about the Arizona musical experience. Peppered with cryptic references and symbolism, it's Tommy, Quadrophenia, Sgt. Pepper and Footloose all rolled into one brilliant, ephemeral burst of three-minute euphoria!"

"Are you out of your fucking mind, bro?" asked my friend incredulously, who, judging by the look on his face, was convinced I had plummeted into some horrifying netherworld of musical taste.

The naysayers be damned, I thought. Nothing could dissuade me.

Things began to escalate. I actually went out and bought some Satellite records. I began asking my co-workers to address me as "The Little Navigator." The next thing I knew, I was quoting Ashbrook lines in conversation. If some band called the office to complain about a bad review, my response was a terse "Hey, man, that's rock 'n' roll." I even found myself hitting on women with Ashbrookian come-ons like, "Hey, would you like to ride in the fastest car in town?" (this pattern of behavior wasn't especially alarming as it has afflicted me since childhood; I spent the entire winter of 1985 speaking in platitudes gleaned from El DeBarge songs).

Gradually, though, my mania cooled and eventually subsided. I returned -- much to the relief of family and friends -- to my normal self. Yet, that song and Ashbrook's voice lingered, always playing in the recesses of my mind.

Now comes the harrowing admission.

About a month ago I found myself at Long Wong's on a Thursday evening listening to Stephen Ashbrook. There was no need to hide behind journalistic pretenses, no "I'm only here 'cause I'm writing a story" excuses. I was there of my own free will. I wanted to be there, wanted to listen, to be swept away, perhaps to enjoy a caack-taail with the man himself. Then it hit me: I had become one of them.

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Bob Mehr
Contact: Bob Mehr