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Wednesday, October 21,2009

TURN IT DOWN: A survey of Lansing's musical landscape

‘Rock music’ isn’t rock ’n’ roll

by Rich Tupica

I’m not sure of the difference between emo and screamo (one screams louder?). The many sub-genres of electronic and experimental music will always confuse me.


What I do know about is true rock ’n’ roll. It’s what I’ve loved since I bought my first Elvis Presley cassette tape when I was in first grade. Now, hundreds of LPs and 45s later, it’s the type of music I know best.


I’ve seen countless modern rock bands calling their music “rock ’n’ roll” when then they are just “rock music,” “hard rock,” or simply “pop music.” Radio bands like Hinder (you know, the “Lips of an Angel” dudes) and Nickelback are NOT in the same arena as Little Richard or The Stooges.


Rock ’n’ roll isn’t just one sound. It’s a hybrid of many influences, among them blues, doo-wop, soul, gospel and rockabilly. Whether it was Eddie Cochran singing "Summer Time Blues" in 1958 or Sam Cooke singing "Bring It On Home to Me" in 1961, both used the same elements and rhythms to make raw, brash American music.


That blueprint is also what encouraged The Beatles and Rolling Stones to pick up a guitar when they were still in grade school. If it isn’t in that class, it’s probably not rock ’n’ roll, no matter what the band’s MySpace page or bio says.


In a 1990 interview, the late Lux Interior of The Cramps (a highly influential punk/rockabilly band) acknowledged this common misinterpretation.


“‘Rock music’ is just music, ‘rock ’n’ roll’ is much bigger than that,” Interior explained. “The thing that made rock ’n’ roll great in the ‘50s is the same thing that makes it great today. It’s an urgency, it’s a danger, it’s a true kind of folk music based on the blues. It separates the squares from the cool people. Pop music doesn’t do that, it’s for everyone’s entertainment.”


Interior earned the right to lay down the law. He dedicated over half of his 62 years to playing punked-out, countrytinged rock ’n’ roll and getting wild on stages across the world. His untamed style paid homage to the ‘50s while still managing to be new and unique, a feat that’s hard to accomplish without sounding contrived. But he understood the guts of rock ’n’ roll, the trashy elements that set it apart from other genres.


“It should horrify adults and please teenagers,” Interior said. “What’s wrong with music today is that it’s music for adults. It’s respectable, it’s good and it’s art, it’s all kinds of things. That’s fine for music, but people don’t understand rock ’n’ roll. It’s a lifestyle, a fashion, a type of music, it’s a lot of things.”


While true rock ’n’ roll bands are not as common as they were 40 and 50 years ago, they still exist, even if you have to dig for them at your local vinyl shops. Bands like The Black Lips, King Khan & BBQ Show, Nobunny, Reigning Sound and The People’s Temple (a local band) are all good current bands who have managed to stay true to the roots of American music in a distinctive way.


Upcoming shows:


On Thursday Oct. 22, Mac’s Bar will be taken over by robots, literally. Captured! By Robots (San Francisco) features five robots and one human. If you haven’t seen this show, it’s one of the oddest one-man band arrangements ever. The music goes from punk to metal to unclassifiable craziness.


2700 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing. 9 p.m. 18 . $10. http://www.myspace. com/capturedbyrobots.


The following night, Friday, Oct. 23, The Hard Lessons (Detroit) will take the stage. This band has been steadily touring and making a name for itself across America and Europe. Led by the husband and wife duo of Augie and Korin Visocchi, The Hard Lessons can sound like a Detroit garage band one moment, then deliver a solid, poppy ballad the next. And they are known for a killer live show. Sharing the bill is the rock ’n’ roll oneman-band The Matt Kurz One. From ‘70s power-pop-inspired tunes to highenergy stompers, this guy simultaneously delivers vocals, guitar, drums and keyboard all by his lonesome (no machines). His motto, “Believe in rock ’n’ roll again,” is something I can identify with.


2700 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing. 9 p.m. 18 . $10. http://www.myspace. com/mattkurzone.

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