• The Spleefman, found alive and well in L.A.
Back in college, I met a lot of great, smart, interesting people, one of whom was Erik Eff, nicknamed The Spleefman because, well, let's just say reggae music sounded darn good to him on most days. In spite of his habits, though, the man was an insanely clear thinker and probably the best writer in the school, professors included. In fact, I remember one paper Erik turned in that was graded as follows: "A. God."
Yeah, he kicked ass with the English language.
After college, Erik eventually found himself in LA where he was determined to make it in the movies and set his sights on getting into the USC Film School. He made it, but not before spending a few months living with me and my housemate, Mike Northcutt, in Hollywood, then on the beach, Morrison-style (Erik loved The Lizard King). During his time with Mike and me, he helped pen a few tunes, one of which was called Turkey Franks (I'll post it someday), plus numerous others, including White Punks Dance Too Fast (yes, I'll post it too in time). After Erik completed film school, he cruised up to SF, where I was living and proceeded to film some footage for an experimental movie he was working on. The footage starred my friend ww, and if I remember correctly, one night of filming ended with Toby's brother being tossed in the slammer. Good times.
Anyway, as happens all too often in this world with too many people, Erik and I drifted apart, he pursuing film in LA, me going for the music, then to Europe, then into the ad world. But, in this Web 2.0-enabled world of ours, I recently, on a complete whim, entered Erik's name into Facebook and presto, there he was, looking much the same. I fired off a message, we re-connected and he recently commented on my blog. And, as with everything The Spleefman writes, his comment is a killer comet of clarity. Even better, it ends with a compelling question, which I am already putting my mind to. Here, for your reading enjoyment, is what he wrote:
Hey, sorry I'm coming so late to this blog discussion, but I only just discovered it and I was intrigued by the challenge. The lists above are all really good attempts to state the impossible. Six doesn't really allow for enough categories to do justice to the many permutations of rock music. But so be it.
I guess I'd break it down pretty much the same way Jeff did although with less emphasis on the decade and more emphasis on the genre which each decade typifies. I'd have 50s-Early Rock, 60s-Psychedelic, 70s-Punk & Arena, 80s-Synth/New Wave, 90s-Grunge. . . and we have to leave it there at grunge, because what has happened in rock since then (in the macro view) has been so influenced by hip hop that it really has become a whole new beast altogether; or, it has ignored the hip hop influence and remained retro to one of the prior genres.
Having picked the genres, I would then choose songs which are most representative of each one (not necessarily the songs I like best.)
1. 50s: Chuck Berry and Little Richard are both really good suggestions for this category. I guess I have to give the nod to Elvis though and go with "All Shook Up" as a song which really captures the sound, the innocence and the innuendo of that era.
2. 60s: Can't really talk 60s without talking psychedelia. And you can't really talk psychedelia without talking Hendrix. "All Along The Watchtower" is a tempting choice because you get the double whammy of Jimi covering Dylan. But as far as psychedelia goes, Jimi has much stronger offerings. I'd have to go with "Purple Haze" because it epitomizes the sound of other-worldliness so well, and pays homage thematically to LSD which was, after all, the wellspring of the psychedelic movement in the first place.
3 & 4. 70s: This decade brought us two distinct genres--punk and arena rock. These two separate styles really mark a primal divergence in rock which manifested itself in the independent/main stream split which is with us to this day. Punk rock was the progenitor of the anti-establishment, anger-ridden, noise fest; and arena rock, for its part, heralded the promise of rock super-stardom, corporate sponsorship and pop culture domination.
So having said all that, who best exemplifies punk? Hmmm. The Clash are an excellent choice and "London Calling" would probably be the best song from them (or maybe "Death and Glory".) Still, I think, pound for pound, The Sex Pistols win the anger contest, and anger is what punk is all about. Mr. Levitin suggested "Anarchy in the UK" but I'm going with "God Save The Queen" for it's slightly higher nihilist quotient.
As far as arena rock is concerned: It needs to be big and it needs to be anthemic. A lot of bands would qualify, obviously, but I'm going with Queen's "We Will Rock You." It doesn't get any more emblematic than that. Does it?
5. 80s: I can't believe I only have two left. My heart tells me to pick either REM or U2 to define this decade, but in an effort to stick to the assignment and try to cover the breadth of Rock, I will pick something that is synth-driven and somewhat New Wave as well. Jeff and Mr. Levitin are both barking up the right tree with Prince. I think the problem with Prince is he's a little too enigmatic to be clearly representative of a specific category. That's a back-handed compliment because it means he is too original to be cliche. But the Eurythmics are not. And I'm going to let them stand in for the entire synth world with their big, chart-loving hit "Sweet Dreams." Now I know I'm going to elicit criticism for this choice because it really does cross the line in to Pop-- but so do the two Prince offerings. I think it's ok in this assignment to cross that line once because so much of what passes for rock lies in that direction.
6. 90s: Ah, grunge. I was so happy when grunge happened--if for no other reason than it meant that bands like the Eurythmics got less airplay, and bands like Pearl Jam were in top rotation. For a brief moment the paradigm was inverted and the underground became the main stream. And then Kurt blew his head off with a shotgun and Pearl Jam picked a losing battle with Ticketmaster, and that was the end of that. Up until now, I have admired Jeff's suggestions and then tossed them aside--but not this time. This time I am backing his pick all the way: You say "grunge," I say, "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
And that's it. That's where it ends--17 years ago. I guess I'll leave it there with a new challenge: If you had to pick one song since Nevermind came out, that really represents what rock has done since then, what would it be?
I'm gonna think about it.
Damn, good stuff, and what a question. What is the quintessential rock song since Grunge?