10 Things I Miss Most In Rock & Roll
By Ralph Greco, Jr.
There’s a ton of stuff a crusty and jaded ole coot like me complains about. But when it comes to the ‘way-music-used-to-be’ comparisons with the ‘way-music-is-now’ I bore friends and family to tears (even if they feel the same way). Still, there are some things I miss more then most, therefore this list of 10 Things I Miss Most In Rock & Roll.
1) Ripped ticket stub. Given what we use for flights and concerts these days, all the ticket taker ever does now when you enter a venue is scan your ‘E-ticket’ (which really is just a piece of paper) bar code with their Tricorder-like device and you’re in the building faster than…well, faster than you used to get into the building.. I miss those days when you’d hope for a good tear so you could proudly display your ‘pertramp’ or ‘ghat’ ticket stub in the wooden frame of that garish 5"x7" Eagles mirror you won down the shore.
2) Lighters at concerts. Sure the I-Phone has that neat app where you can make it display a lighter on its nifty modern LCD screen, but really lifting phones and PDAs up at a show to prompt an encore or illuminate a band playing a stirring ballad…come on bro?! Remember those days of holding your Bic over your head, trying to keep it aloft in your shaking fingers with a G. Gordon Liddy-like display of heroics, hoping the band would return for an encore before the disposable flame-maker grew too hot to hold.
3) The Midnight Special and Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. Late night TV meets rock and roll. Sometimes, the first time we ever saw one of our adored rock Gods was from promo clips or live performances of them on one (or both) of these two shows. I recall waiting up 'til near 2:00 in the morning because Greg Lake’s clip of “Father Xmas” was promised. The first time I saw Black Oak Arkansas’s crazy strutting was on a Midnight Special broadcast. Leaves MTV in the dust.
4) LPs. Not that I need to get into the superior sound quality of vinyl over CD. If you can’t hear it, then you either didn’t grow up listening to records or your ears are too dried out by now to notice what you’re missing. But it was more than just the open sound and hisses and pops, artwork and inside goodies like the Mylar tube in Rick Wakeman’s No Earthly Connection album or the postcards in Wish You Were Here. It was more than the fact that you could roll a perfect you-know-what on a gatefold sleeve. It was the simple fact that you held a piece of art in your hand.
5) Prices. I know inflation is a normal economic condition in a Capitalist society, but man, things have got out of hand. With venue union fees, tour insurance and artist’s indulgences, really the price for a ticket these days comes close to a kid’s first year in college. And let’s not forget the fees the venue and TicketNation puts on your ticket, for no reason at all. It's what my buddy Bob calls an ‘unconvenient fee’ even when we’re printing our own E-ticket! Who wouldn't yearn for the days of the $7.50 ticket?
6) Spandex. OK, so it is still around and there are simply those band members who should never wear it. Still, Spandex looked amazing on the right rock chick (sorry, my heteroness is showing). This leads into…
7) Stage wear. What grunge did to music, beyond maybe infusing the hair-band music biz with some grittiness, was introduce a look, an anti-stage presence that I feel has taken a lot of the show out of ‘the show’. Used to be you went to a live show to see what the band was wearing as much as for what they were playing. Feline rock Gods (even the females) in their finest frocks flittering across a fantabulously festooned stage was what it was all about back in the day. What kid of my generation didn’t go home thinking about where to get boots like Bowie ore or that cool armadillo jacket Keith Emerson sported? This leads into…
8) Stage craft. Because of MTV (yeah I blame mostly everything on MTV, even if it’s not so much a music channel anymore, the damage it did is enormous) performers today (with the exception of maybe Justin Timberlake) forego stage craft for mugging to the video cameras. Sure, technology has allowed us to get up close and personal with these video screens, making it so much easier for audience members a football field away to see the action. But when you are on stage thinking that your smallest move will be seen anyway, why bother to make it big. Why work the crowd at all?
9) Concept albums. Yeah, you can sit there and try to convince me that American Idiot is a concept album and I know Radiohead has had their day, but unless you have a half ant-eater/half tank cartoon on your album cover or there were two albums worth of material about a lamb lying down on Broadway, I’m not with ya. Even when those great bands of yesteryear weren’t releasing a concept album, they did have coherence to their releases, an album mentality if you will, so lacking today with the advent of I-Tunes 99 cent downloads. The days of the long play full ‘vibe’ of an album, even say a fully realized side black/or side white from Queen II or the recycled side of Recycled is lost.
10) Big keyboard rigs. When Keith Emerson wanted to prod a certain sound out of his synth he had to move the patch chords himself, while on stage playing the keyboard he was stabbing. If Rick Wakeman wanted a piano, Mellotron and Moog all in the same song you bet your twirling cape he had to twirl his round the three-sided cage that was his keyboard set-up. Along came Midi, then software, now all any good keyboardist needs is one keyboard and he or she can produce any sound they like. I miss those days of the daring men and women of flying fingers having to twist, rattle and turn, sometimes even jump to reach a note on a particular analog instrument that they never truly knew would respond. With great theatricality and virtuosity came some heavy calisthenics.