My sixth grade yearbook is a stack of mimeographed sheets stapled between two pieces of colored construction paper. My entry for the front cover illustration — a row of inelegantly rendered arcade cabinets with “GAME OVER” scrawled above them — didn’t get the top prize but did make it onto the final page.
The document resurfaced while I was clearing out my grandmother’s house. I assumed it had been lost to history (and probably would’ve been happier if it had) but there it was in a pile of old report cards and other personal effects, stained and dogeared and chock-full of mnemonic landmines.
With a fair bit of trepidation, I flipped the yellowed pages to the one which contained the profile of one “Andy Weiss,” rendered as a list of favorites.
Favorite book? “New Mutants Graphic Novel.”
Favorite TV show? “WKRP.”
Favorite song? “Photograph by Def Leppard.”
A couple of months forward or backward, and that honor would’ve gone to either “Modern Love” or “Mr. Roboto.” It certainly would’ve been less embarrassing, though neither would’ve reflected the utter primacy of “RAWK” in the cultural landscape of my early adolescence.
In the scene’s primordial days, “rock” was the jump blues equivalent of “whoopie” on the Newlywed Game — a euphemism for sex which didn’t fool anybody. While the raunchy overtones lingered into rock music’s second and third decades, the meaning of “rock” shifted into the realm of abstraction. “Rocking” was less about knocking boots than some general notion of liberation, the type one would experience by practicing air guitar instead of doing algebra homework or blasting a Boston song on one’s car radio after a shift at the widget factory.
Nobody pondered the specifics. That would defeat the entire point of rocking out. Irony and any introspection beyond the sentimental level were right out, which is why rock-as-we-knew-it no longer exists.
In the North Woburn neighborhood where I grew up, rock was a borderline religion among the kids whose highest goals were scoring a sweet muscle car, custom van conversion, or supply of domestic beer. Adolescent gods lurked on the street-corner near the leadburning shops or convenience store parking lot, acne-anointed idols sporting denim jackets, feathered hair, patchy ‘staches, and the residual odor of dank weed.
They didn’t have much time for us younger kids, which made the few occasions when they did acknowledge us much more epic. Mostly we raided the curbside piles they left behind after they’d graduated (or enlisted) and shed their old issues of Creem, Zep-branded coke mirrors, and beat-to-shit Sabbath LPs.
By the time may pals and I had begun to age into the roles the “teenagers” had grown out of, “RAWK” had become dominated by a newer crop of acts. The bands sported a hard rock sound which managed to straddle the borders of both pop and metal. Videogenic yet not as photogenic as the glam metal which soon supplanted them, they served up unironic anthems about “rock” as specifics-free challenge to adult authority and clean living.
I didn’t own any recordings of the stuff. There was no need, due to their ubiquity on radio or as part of some acquaintance’s music collection. By the time I started buying music in earnest, I’d moved on — both figuratively and literally. In the autumn of 1984 my family relocated to the other side of my grandparents’ duplex in the center, which removed me from the daily (and increasingly dumb) antics of my childhood pals. This was further reinforced by the rigid academic hierarchy of junior high, which segregated the “smart kids” from the “burnout set” outside of lunch periods and phys ed classes.
I drifted into Sixties rock and soul, they drifted into the Crue and antics with increasingly serious consequences. The old anthems became a punchline to self-deprecating anecdotes about my wayward youth before punk-alt-cynicism purged such frivolities from my system. Or so I wanted others to believe.
“QUIET RIOT?” I’d utter too loudly as “Metal Health” showed up on a VH-1 Eighties retrospective. “Soooo cheesy! Can’t believe I was into these guys as a kid,” as I checked to make sure no one could see the goosepimples rising on my arms.
One benefit of hitting middle age is no longer having to give a shit about being cool. If “Turn Up The Radio” comes on satellite radio while I’m driving, that shit is getting cranked to the max. If I’m scanning some Discogs seller for cheap soul 45′s and I see a cheap copy of “Photograph,” I’m going to throw it into the order.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve acquired a number of these ol’ fist-pumping favorites on vinyl, with the (mostly observed) understanding that they are not to be spun while Maura is in ear shot. Accepting my white trash background is one thing, accepting its musical manifestations is another.