If you're looking for a blog with meaningful content on the important issues of the day, you've come to the wrong place. This is the shallows, my friend. Nothing but shallowness as far as the eye can see. Let someone else make sense of things. I like it here.
IN A WORLD FILLED WITH COMPLEX POLITICAL ISSUES, SOCIAL INEQUALITY, AND FINANCIAL UNCERTAINTY, I CONSIDER IT MY GIFT TO YOU, MY READER, TO OFFER THIS SHALLOW LITTLE HAVEN, WHERE NOTHING IS TOO SHALLOW, TOO INSIGNIFICANT, OR TOO RIDICULOUS TO JUSTIFY OUR ATTENTION. IN OTHER WORDS, IF IT'S NOT IMPORTANT....SO WHAT? NEITHER WAS MARILYN MONROE'S BRA SIZE. AND THAT STILL SELLS MAGAZINES, DOESN'T IT?
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
ARE YOU A ROCKER OR A MOD?
I have a friend, Tasha, who grew up on military bases scattered across a number of different countries. Her mother was a Belgian national who met her father, an Irish-American GI from Boston, near the end of World War II whilst walking down a street in Brussels with a sack of turnips she had just bought with her ration card. The Brussels beauty and the google-eyed GI fell in love almost at first sight and married within weeks, just like a couple in a 1940s romance movie. Fast forward to 1953, the year that Tasha was born, on a military base in Japan. That's where she spent the first ten years of her life, the youngest of four children, content and secure and blissfully indifferent to the encroaching social and cultural storm clouds that were wafting steadily toward the other side of the world. Then, when she was around 12, the family relocated to England, where her parents enrolled her in an all-girls boarding school.
"I wasn't scared at all," Tasha once told me. "I looked at it as an adventure."
Even so, it was the first time she had been on her own, and, more important, the first time she had spent any substantial amount of time outside of Japan. But for a young girl who grew up a block away from a Buddhist temple and watching episodes of Flipper dubbed in Japanese (Dear God, the show was bad enough in English), it must have been quite the culture shock nonetheless. Especially the day on which she made a visit to the W.C. and was confronted by a couple of older girls who looked her up and down, and then demanded an answer to one of the more pressing questions of the time. "Are you a rocker or a mod?" they wanted to know. Ignorant of the implications behind the question, Tasha chose her response based on nothing more than a slight preference for the sound of the latter word. "A mod, I guess," she replied. It turned out to be the wrong answer, and she received a solid thrashing for the mistake. 300 kilometers away, in London, the Beatles had no idea that a 12-year-old girl had just had her nose bloodied, albeit unknowingly, on their behalf.
It was one of the great cultural questions of the time. At least in Great Britain, where people could actually lose their lives based on their preference for a "mod" band like The Beatles or The Who over "rockers" like Eddie Cochran or The Rolling Stones. Rockers thought that mods were effeminate snobs on scooters while mods considered rockers to be little more than latter day Neanderthals in leather jackets and biker boots. The clash of sensibilities reached a fever pitch in 1964 when large numbers from both sides descended on Brighton Beach for Whitsun Weekend, precipitating a two-day brawl during which deck chairs were smashed, beer bottles were broken, and numerous arrests were made. The media labeled the extended melee "the second Battle of Hastings", one editorial even going so far as to warn readers that the conflict between rockers and mods would "bring about disintegration of a nation's character." It's interesting to note (at least I think it is) that the weekend's most violent confrontation took place when a small group of rockers who had become isolated on Brighton Beach were nearly decimated by a larger group of "effeminate" mods, despite the fact that the police were present and did their best to protect the quaking rockers from the tie-wearing mods.
The whole thing is chronicled pretty well in the 1979 film, Quadrophenia, an adaptation of The Who's 1973 rock opera of the same name. (Another interesting aside: John Lydon, aka "Johnny Rotten" of The Sex Pistols, auditioned for the role of the film's doomed hero, Jimmy, but was rejected for insurance reasons, the role eventually going to Phil Daniels.) By the late 60s, the rockers versus mods brouhaha was over, buried in a crush of psychedelic paraphernalia, peace symbols and flowers as artists like Jimi Hendrix, who were unaffiliated with either side, appeared on the scene. Even The Who, the patron saints of the mods, had moved on and considered the idea of mods versus rockers to be hopelessly passe.
And yet a residual form of the controversy remains. I encountered that sticky residue for the first time whilst riding with my bandmates on a revamped school bus en route to a gig in Calais, Maine back in the early 80s. It was winter, the roads were bad, and I was worried that we were going to die because our driver, who was also our soundman and sole roadie, insisted on drinking a bottle of MD 20/20 as he drove to keep from falling asleep. (Yes, I know it doesn't make sense, but that's not the point.) To distract me from my fears, our drummer, Pete (who was as sweet a guy as there ever was, not to mention a damn good musician) launched into an impromptu, sort of stream-of-consciousness game, insisting that he could analyze my psychological make-up based on my answers to a string of seemingly random questions. "Okay," I told him. "Go ahead."
First question was "Which do you like better, Cheeze-Its or Cheese Nips?" I went with Cheeze-Its. Second question was "Which would you rather have for your last meal? A cheeseburger, lobster, or spaghetti and meatballs?" I opted for the cheeseburger, unless it was made with American cheese, in which case, I'd rather have the spaghetti and meatballs. Third and last question was "Who do you like better? The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?" My response, without hesitation, was The Beatles. Pete was silent for a moment. I waited. The bus swerved to the right. I shouted, "Slow down!" Pete reached over and grabbed my hand.
"You're a hopeless romantic," he said.
I stared at him. "What?"
"From the way you answered the questions, I'd have to say that you're a hopeless romantic," he repeated.
"Because I'd rather die with a cheeseburger in my stomach than spaghetti sauce on my chin?"
"No...because The Beatles wanted to hold your hand and The Rolling Stones wanted satisfaction. Get it?"
I sort of did. More so now. Since then, I've encountered the same Beatles versus The Rolling Stones question in other situations, and knowing the philosophy behind it, have tempered my answer to reflect a more complex attitude regarding the idea. Ask me now which band I prefer, the Beatles or the Stones, and I'd have to say, "Well, it depends. Musically, I feel more aligned with the sensibilities of the Beatles, but, physically, well...let's just put it this way. I would have been more than happy to let any one of the four Beatles hold my hand. But when it comes to satisfaction, out of both bands, I can only think of one man fit for the job."
Gimme shelter, late 1960s Keith Richards...and thank you.