strausbaugh's preface to the paperback editionOn a certain Tuesday morning in September 2001 I woke up in a state of some trepidation. Rock 'Til you Drop had been out for a couple of months and that evening at Manhattan's New School I was to defend it in a public panel discussion. Three of the four panelists appeared in the book and I knew that each had some problem with it. There was rock journalist and historian Jim Miller, whose Flowers in the Dustbin I slag in Chapter 1; rock journalist and promoter Danny Fields, who'd been associated with the MC5, Iggy Pop and the Ramones; and Mike Doughty, founder of the 90s band Soul Coughing. I'd also gotten young journalist Tanya Richardson on the panel because I wanted one person on stage who'd agree with me sometimes. Otherwise, I figured I was in for a fight.
Not that I wasn't used to defending the book in public by then. Rock 'Til You Drop is an extended rant by a guy who, like the rest of my so-called baby boomer generation, grew up listening to, loving and playing an awful lot of rock in the 60s and 70s, and felt the need to bitch about some bad things my generation and our heroes had done to the art form in the decades since. In chapter 1, which was drawing the most attention, I argue that rock is youth music, and that dinosaur rockers have reduced this once-vital youth-culture communication medium to a nostalgic trinket for a self-absorbed middle-aged audience. I contend that rock is a music of youthful energy, aggression and rebellion, which 55-year-old men in bad wighats cannot credibly reproduce. I then go on to say very nasty things about some aging rockers with, I soon found out, very large fan bases.
I wrote Rock 'Til you Drop with the intention of starting arguments and provoking thought, and on that level at least it was working. People seemed either to love it or to hate it. One newspaper would later say it was “among the most fervently discussed rock music books of recent vintage.” Cool. It was getting reviewed in newspapers and magazines all over the English-speaking world. Reviewers either praised it as a righteous jeremiad or dismissed it as self-righteous cant. Some reviewers managed to express both views simultaneously. In London, the Sunday Observer splashed a big excerpt across two pages, with a banner at the top of the front page. That week, the Observer printed a letter from no less a dinosaur rock personage than Pete Townshend:
The excerpt from John Strausbaugh's Rock 'Til you Drop will restrain no one of my age in my business. It's all been said before. However, I did take offense at the legend ‘Colostomy Rock.’ In 1988 my father, a musician who still played professionally at 68, developed trouble ‘down there. ’ he was wary of doctors, and unwilling to let anyone grope around his bottom. The cancer in his colon spread to his bowel. He had a colostomy. Usually these save the lives of patients and allow them to live to a grand age, but my father left it too late and later that year died in terrible indignity. Strausbaugh lazily uses ‘colostomy’ to signify self-inflicted, undignified, ugly aging, rather than an illness that could affect any one of us.
In a longer and more vitriolic version he posted on his now sadly discontinued website, Townshend vowed that if he ever met me he'd pour the contents of a colostomy bag over my “miserable head.&lrquo; God, I was so proud! Hate mail from Pete Townshend!
The ABC evening news ran a segment produced by a middle-aged woman clearly hostile to my thesis, that portrayed me as a solitary crank unaccountably carping about the cute and cuddly antics of 60-something rockers Ringo Starr and Ian (“All the Young Dudes”) Hunter, who accused me on-air of “ageism, which is like racism.” Speaking to a predictably p.c. audience in a San Francisco bookstore, I was accused of ageism, racism, and fatism. It got the point to where if I didn't provoke at least one audience member to storm out of the hall, I felt like I hadn't done my job.
So on that morning in September 2001 I woke up prepared for a fight. What happened next (you've already guessed this) was a total shock. Standing in my 24th St apartment in Manhattan, I glanced at the muted TV and saw the World Trade Center towers on fire...Suddenly, arguing about rock ‘n’ roll seemed a most trivial pursuit...
On October 20, the nation watched the televised coverage of the Paul McCartney-organized “Concert for New York,” which raised $12 million in WTC relief funds and was attended by many New York City firemen, rescue workers and families of the victims. A number of the older rock and pop stars I rant about in these pages appeared at McCartney's behest—Jagger, Bowie, The Who, Elton John, Billy Joel, Melissa Etheridge and John Mellencamp. Whatever one thought of the quality of their performances, you'd have to be even a bigger skeptic than I am not to concede that these geezers were doing an honorable public service by participating. Given the audience and the setting, a night of “classic rock” nostalgia was entirely appropriate, maybe even therapeutic. Somewhere in these pages I cite Joe Strummer to the effect that context is everything in rock. Watching the concert, I decided that if forced to, I'd much rather see these dinosaurs donating their diminishing talents to charity than charging delusional fans $200 a seat and pretend to put on a real “rock concert.” (Not every one would agree with me here, either. A reviewer in the Columbus Dispatch wrote, “Reading [Rock 'Til You Drop] changed the way I watched that concert in New York, making it impossible to avoid cringing when a 57-year-old Roger Daltrey croaked out the once-climactic scream in The Who's ‘Won't Get Fooled Again,’ or when a 58-year-old Mick Jagger tried to dance suggestively.”)
Ironically, Mick Jagger himself gave Rock 'Til You Drop a post-WTC boost that November when he released his third solo album, Goddess in the Doorway. The album was accompanied by the usual full-bore publicity campaign, which included a very strange at-home-with-Jagger TV special and a live tour with a pickup band of musicians young enough to be the Stones' grandchildren. The TV show's low ratings and the album's terrible early sales—only 954 copies were sold on the day of release and only about 2000 by the end of that first week—provided much mirth in the UK press, where papers, a few of which only weeks before had written unfavorable reviews of my book, were now freely appropriating the term “colostomy rock” and citing me as the go-to-guy on Jagger's failure. The Liverpool Daily Post observed that the TV special caused “a collective national wince. Colostomy rock is simply not chic...It's just not seemly for a man of pensionable age to be playing rock music.” It rated his solo album as “dismal,” an adjective used in many other reviews. The Sunday Times of London remarked on the “nightmarish, surreal quality” of the special, then quoted Rock 'Til You Drop and sighed, “Alas, Strausbaugh's book went to print before the release of the album, Goddess in the Doorway, Jagger's third dismal stab at solo success.” Perhaps the funniest, if most wicked response to Goddess's poor performance had nothing to do with me: The London tabloid The Sun offered to send any reader who bought a copy of the album a button proclaiming “Mick Aid: I did my bit for the old git.” By way of “trying to save a prehistoric animal from dying out.”
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