Sunday, June 14, 2009

Flag Day Rocks, from Loverboy to Foreigner


There are narrow regional sounds and we should treasure them, sure, fine. But there’s something inspiring about stuff that simply sounds “American” and unlike the Old World — and I’m as alienated by the subset of paleo-leaning conservatives who claim (usually unconvincingly) to feel far more deeply “Iowan” or whatever than American as I am by socialists, really. I mean, what damn country did these people grow up in, you know what I mean?

Surely, to the wider world (let us reflect on this fine Flag Day), there is little mistaking an American, except in so far as the spread of freedom and capitalism has made the whole planet a bit more like us (and good for the planet, I say — any right-paleos or left-anti-globalists who feel otherwise are in some important sense traitors). Perhaps the simplest visceral expression of contemporary Americanism is a long-haired rock fan hitting the highway, and the 80s were full of appropriate musical accompaniment — not all of it, strictly speaking, from the U.S., and I don’t see that as a problem with the theory.

Take Canada’s Loverboy, responsible for a song Helen admits is a major guilty pleasure (since she usually hews to stuff with more convincing “roots,” greater age, or at least compensatory cleverness): “Working for the Weekend.” As a man who only recently rediscovered the joy of listening to Billy Squier, I’m certainly not going to criticize.


Furthermore, I think it’s fair to call “Jukebox Hero” in some sense the ultimate American “rock” song (see Appendix: “Juke Box Hero” Lyrics, below). I don’t care that the band’s partly British. I don’t even care if Lou Gramm has said somewhere that the song was inspired by a town in Scotland or something. You know damn well that on a metaphorical level, that “town without a name” is somewhere on the prairie in the U.S. It is not near Swythington-on-Ongar. And the boy with “stars in his eyes” is not a friend of the Duchess.

I put “rock” in quotes in that paragraph to distinguish it from actual “rock n’ roll,” using an intuitively-appealing dichotomy devised by Dave Whitney. The band Yes, for example, is “rock.” Rockabilly, by contrast, is “rock n’ roll.” Bill Haley, “rock n’ roll.” Asia, “rock.” You get the idea, I expect. (Dave has also forbidden his sons to buy Guitar Hero, on the grounds that they could be learning to play actual guitars instead. And he definitely wouldn’t be interested in buying Sousaphone Hero, even on Flag Day.)

Lest I seem implicitly hostile to Europe in all this, rest assured that one of the most beautiful moments of affirmation in my life may have been hearing the Fixx song “Wish” on the radio in a hotel in Germany as a teenager, feeling as if I’d confirmed my aesthetic impression that the Fixx was sophisticated stuff meant to be heard in a glamorous foreign metropolis at night (or possibly while cruising over a futuristic cityscape in a hovercraft). Europe has its role — and with them wisely leaning right in recent elections and us spiraling down into debt and socialism, we may need them very badly soon. At least we still have rock to trade with them.

APPENDIX: “Juke Box Hero” Lyrics

This is not just a rock song — this is perhaps the quintessential argument for rock, turned into a song (try speaking it aloud and not believing it). Is it any wonder that the Mooninites once managed to battle Aqua Teen Hunger Force (and turn Carl “cold as ice”) simply by wielding a belt with “the power of Foreigner”? Of course not.

Standing in the rain
With his head hung low

Couldn’t get a ticket
It was a sold out show
Heard the roar of the crowd
He could picture the scene
Put his ear to the wall
Then like a distant scream
He heard one guitar
Just blew him away

Saw stars in his eyes
And the very next day
Bought a beat up six string
In a secondhand store

Didn’t know how to play it
But he knew for sure
That one guitar
Felt good in his hands
Didn’t take long
To understand
Just one guitar
Slung way down low

Was a one-way ticket
Only one way to go
So he started rockin’ ain’t never gonna stop

Gotta keep on rockin’
Someday he’s gonna make it to the top

And be a Juke Box Hero (got stars in his eyes)
He’s a Juke Box Hero
He took one guitar (stars in his eyes)
Juke Box Hero he’ll come alive tonight

In a town without a name
In a heavy downpour

Thought he passed his own shadow
By the backstage door
Like a trip through the past
To that day in the rain

And that one guitar made his whole life change
Now he needs to keep rockin’, he just can’t stop –
Gotta keep on rockin’, that boy has got to stay on top

And be a Juke Box Hero (got stars in his eyes)

He’s a Juke Box Hero (got stars in his eyes)
Juke Box Hero got stars in his eyes
With that one guitar he’ll come alive
Come alive tonight

So he started rockin’
Ain’t never gonna stop

Gotta keep on rockin’ –
Someday he’s gonna make it to the top

And be a Juke Box Hero (got stars in his eyes)
He’s a Juke Box Hero
Juke Box Hero

Juke Box Hero (got stars in his eyes)
Stars in his eyes


J.R. Taylor said...

Back in their pre-fame club days of the ’80s, I saw Soul Asylum do a great cover version of “Juke Box Hero.” I thought it was really admirable that the band could do such an uncool song out of honest affection for how much fun it must be to play live. After the song was over, though, Dave Pirner intoned into the mic, “Okay, this next song is actually a good one…” He then did a perfectly fine version of “This Guy’s In Love With You,” which is a good song, but I’m not sure why he felt compelled to suggest that anyone who had just enjoyed “Juke Box Hero” was mistaken. Well, I guess he didn’t want to seem uncool. That didn’t keep the band from including a cover of “Juke Box Hero” on a later career compilation. By then, I guess things were safely post-punk (and post-grunge) enough that it seemed kind of sorta cool.

Todd Seavey said...

On a similar note, I was pleasantly surprised once to hear a bar band in Manhattan do an unironic (and un-apologized-for) cover of “I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight” by Cutting Crew.