Each week, Lizzy Goodman guides you through the dirty streets of rock and roll.
The minute the lights and the cable news flickered on Monday then went out for good, I went through a range of emotions from panic to resignation to shock. Only it wasn’t the shock of living in the most bustling, ceaseless city in the universe turned suddenly dark and timid: it was the shock of just how good “Is She Really Going Out With Him,” by Joe Jackson sounded on my local terrestrial radio oldies station while being played through a transistor radio with a speaker the size of a ginger snap. Then “Into the Groove” by Madonna. Better than I can ever remember hearing it. Next, “Can’t Buy Me Love,” by the Beatles. And then Ammi Stewart’s disco version of the old Eddie Floyd hit “Knock On Wood.” Yes, old-school radio has its wack factor: there are ads for car dealers and luxury recliners and quit smoking miracle drugs announced every twenty minutes. Yes, every disc jockey uses that smarmy game show-plastic alpha male phrasing like Howard Stern never happened, but that night, alone in the dark, once the news channel became repetitive and hopeless, I changed over to music and was blown away by what I heard. This is how the Gods of Rock, your Beatles and Stones and Zeppelins and Ramones listened to music: In the dark, in their bedrooms, in the ’50s and ’60s, under the covers with a transistor radio. The Ramones even wrote a song about it (“Do You Remember Rock N’ Roll Radio”). Maybe that’s why they knew what they were doing once they grew up and formed quartets and quintets and that changed the world, then got old and rich and less good and moved to LA, those who didn’t stay young forever (and dead). I sometimes forget, in the world of Spotify and Sirius and iTunes that regular, free radio even exists. That there are “air waves” and there are people who play music on them FOR you, and that somehow, these people with the horrible voices and bad jokes know that you need to hear the bass line to that great, 1979 Joe Jackson hit at that very moment. Or their program director does. Or God does. Are you there God? It’s me — CBS — FM.
I didn’t go to any rock shows this week because rock shows need power. They need lights and security and a bar staff and audiences and live musicians and people in too tight leather jackets and bangs to be transported to and from them. They need so much, actually. Rock shows are really needy. But all I needed was a 9-volt battery and some real peace and quiet (sound of lamp posts being uprooted notwithstanding) to understand rock and roll’s past and power more than any night out could have possibly demonstrated. That said, can I please have my internet back and hot water and an open local bar back now? I liked getting a glimpse of the 1950s, but the 1850s, not so much. Next week, hopefully, the Tri-state area will have recovered and this column will give you the transmission from the streets again but in the mean time, I’m going to light another candle, close my eyes and pray for some E.L.O. Or Hall and Oates.