Somewhere in Des Moines, Mike Butterworth is going in circles on wobbly roller skates.
My friends The Nadas celebrate the release of their fifth studio album, “Listen Through The Static,” today. They’re celebrating with a roller skating listening party at in West Des Moines. I told them I’d love nothing more than to be there, but with my recent travels to Nashville, Louisville, Nantucket, Miami, Des Moines, Omaha, and Kansas City, well, I gotta’ stay put a minute. I don’t have enough miles, vacation, or Xanax. Still, I promised I’d pour one out and crank the CD. I’m doing so now.
There’s a great article on uber-producer Rock Rubin in the recent issue of Rolling Stone. In case you don’t know, he formed Def Jam Records with Russell Simmons, launched the careers of LL Cool J, The Beastie Boys, and Run DMC, resuscitated the careers of Johnny Cash and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and is poised to do so again with Neil Diamond.
“I was friends with The Beastie Boys,” he says. “They grew up in Manhattan, and their tastes were much more sensitive to what was cool, and they tended not to like anything mainstream or popular. I had a very mainstream diet.”
My first record was The Beach Boys “Surfin’ Safari.” The first concert I saw was John Denver. The first single I bought with my own money was Hall & Oats “Kiss On Your List.” The first song I performed in public was “Theme From The Greatest American Hero.” I used to rock out to Styx “Paradise Theater” and Neil Diamond’s “the Jazz Singer” on my parent’s Magnavox stereo cabinet. Cool? What the heck is that?
It wasn’t ’til I moved to Vallery Forge, Pennsylvania, that I began to gather just how uncool I was. The other kids were listening to their elder sibling’s copies of The Who’s “Tommy” while I was listening to Kim Wilde’s “Kids In America” and Matthew Wilder’s “Break My Stride.” And it only got worse in college.
It took me a long time — until now, really — to be ok with uncool. Heck, just today a colleague mocked my affection for “Elizabethtown.”
“Yunno, Ben,” he said, “I wasn’t the only one to dislike it. What do you think of that?”
“I think you’re all heartless, soulless, cynical New Yorkers,” I said.
A bit harsh, maybe (sorry, Ryan). Or maybe not.
In Cameron Crowe’s fictional memoire, “Untitled” (aka “Almost Famous”), rock critic Lester Bangs tells young William Miller, “We’re uncool. And while women will always be a problem for us, most of the great art in the world is about that very same problem. Good-looking people don’t have any spine. Their art never lasts. They get the girls, but we’re smarter.”
“The only true currency in this bankrupt world,” he says, “is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.”
If that’s true, then I’m a wealthy, wealthy man. And I’m sharing The Nadas with you. Listen through the static. Sing along. Relish the mainstream. What the heck.