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Textbook for the School of Rock-Chapter I January 30, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in history, Japan, Music, Other, Rock.

Part A
Isn’t it a Shame?

During the Scientific Revolution, so-called “Natural Philosophers” often collected anomolies to help them understand the truth.  What could a two-headed sheep tell them about the natural world?*  It could tell them more, they figured, than looking at a thousand “normal” sheep, because it explored the limits of “sheepness.”  Figuring out why nature has gone awry helped them to figure out how it goes right.  We study the abnormal to examine the boundaries of normalcy.  For these reasons, this chapter examines Cheap Trick.

In the late 1970s Cheap Trick rocketed to stardom on the success of a live album that also predicted their downfall.  That album, Cheap Trick: Live at Budokan, was recorded in Tokyo, Japan, and kept the band on rock radio through the mid-1980s.  A string of hits including “I Want You to Want Me,” “Surrender,” and others should have tipped the band off to the secret of their success. 

What did the album’s success say about the band?  It said this: These guys know how to get an audience of Japanese schoolgirls cheering at a frequency about six octaves above middle “C.”  These guys know how to rock. 

How does one rock?

Well, there are lots of ways.  One is by working hard at being the best/loudest/fastest/strongest band you can be–being extreme.  Tom Petersson, the band’s bassist, had a twelve-string bass, the world’s first, specially constructed at around this time.  The company initially made him a ten-string bass because they didn’t think that the instrument’s neck would stand up to the strain of twelve bass strings.  Travelling to my cousin’s house one Thanksgiving I found that he had gotten a bass guitar, an Ibanez, and I spent much of the day sequestered in his room, trying to play the bass part to “Gonna Raise Hell,” by Cheap Trick.  But I eventually had to stop, because I didn’t want to get blood on his new guitar.  Bass strings are like round files, people.  You must have a grip of steel and a quarter-inch of callous to survive playing one for the length of a concert.  Flea, the bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers often had to superglue parts of his thumb together to finish a set.  Yet here was Petersson, demanding three times the number of cheese-grating, garroting wires with which to flay his left hand.  And that was pretty much all he played, eight and twelve-string basses.  And the bassists who followed him in the band after he left, Pete Comita, Jon Brandt, and others, played these things, too.  That’s rock, friends, pain in the service of power and a unique sound.  Pushing your own limits, and upping the ante, too, forcing others to put up or shut up.

Additionally, in order to rock, you have to be real.**  You cannot depend upon re-recording take after take in a studio, only releasing the dolbyized, computer-smoothed, noise-reduced, effects-laden pap that the producer decides is best.  To rock you have to be able to play it live, and not with keyboardists and extra vocalists hidden behind the curtains to help you out.  This band rocked so hard in concert that they could turn an old Pat Boone song (“Ain’t That a Shame,” written by Fats Domino, but recorded by Boone, who wanted to change its title to “Isn’t that a Shame”) into a hit in 1978.  Pat freakin’ Boone. 

Unfortunately, the band missed an important warning signal from the success of Budokan:  “Surrender” had already been released on a previous album, In Color and Black and White.  But radio stations never played that version.  Why?  Because the overproduced tune had no freakin’ teeth, no edge.  The band later blamed the dullness of that album on their producer, saying that it sounded like it was recorded in a cardboard box.

People, rock fans, want to believe that the people they see are actually producing the music they hear on the radio.  With Budokan there was no doubt.  This band made noise, interacted with the audience.  The audience loved them, worshipped them.  You could hear that.  Three of their crucial studio albums, In Color and Black and White, Heaven Tonight, and Dream Police, though sweet, carefully written, masterfully played, with brilliant harmony, could have been played by paid studio musicians. 

Hundreds of rock bands in the 1970s and 1980s would use technological fixes and careful editing to make themselves sound like they could really rock, only to disappoint any relatively sober rock fans that happened to show up for their live performances.  MTV amplified this problem ten-fold by adding visual elements to the fakery, which culminated, eventually, in a backlash known as “Grunge.”  But Cheap Trick was that most tragic of anomolies–a true rock band that sounded fake on many of their albums.

To be continued . . .

*Textbook for the School of Rock originated in conversations with my son on the morning school commute.  Thus, it seems to be unfolding in a Socratic presentation style. 

**Not real, in the sense of being essential, of course, but real in the sense of performing your own music, or adding a whole new dimension to somebody else’s.  In the sense of doing your own stunts, not taking orders from The Man.


1. davidbdale - January 30, 2007

I don’t care what
The Man may say
It doesn’t mean a thing
If it hasn’t that swing!

2. strugglingwriter - January 30, 2007

“People, rock fans, want to believe that the people they see are actually producing the music they hear on the radio”

Maybe this is why I hate most of today’s “rock”. There is no “edge”

3. silverneurotic - January 30, 2007

Hm, I have to read up on Flea’s style…I’m fairly well read in the area of the Peppers…and I could have sworn that it was their old guitarist (the one that OD’d) that did the superglue thing…but thinking now, your probably right…Flea tears up his bass, he’s a maniac.

4. caveblogem - January 31, 2007


Flea adopted the funk style of slamming the strings with his right thumb, a very distinctive sound, sometimes a little messy . . .

5. caveblogem - January 31, 2007


I wish I could recommend some groups for you to listen to, groups that kept that “edge.” I’m not a good one to ask, though. I find myself retreating into the 1990s, lately–Rage Against the Machine, anything Grunge, Live, Sleater Kinney, and Seven Mary Three.

6. Cyndi - January 31, 2007

Ah, rock music. You have found my soul… but I am very much about the lyrics. Mostly, the recent stuff I listen to is termed “Christian” but is lyrically more of a spiritualist searching. I also want rock that is complex musically, tapping back to it’s roots a little. I’m semi-aware of the roots as my dad is a music freak and my husband was a goth rocker when I met him, but I find that I need more education.

For some edge, try going with stuff that isn’t mainstream alternative rock. My faves are currently Red, Skillet, Day of Fire, Thousand Foot Krutch, and most emphatically, Falling Up who just released a techno remix of their songs that is so totally amazing. I also love Linkin Park’s and AFI’s sound, but dislike the lyrics.

7. Cyndi - January 31, 2007

Crap! I forgot to mention Anberlin! Don’t forget them – they are the most lyrically amazing band I have ever listened to. Lucerin Blue also rocks, but they were never big and have since broken up. You still may be able to find some of their music though – the album Tales from the Knife is one of my constant faves.

8. caveblogem - January 31, 2007


Your liminal sentiments can be interpreted as either a longing for the sweet sounds of the 1940s (and thus a repudiation of rock) or as ironic affirmation of the chapter. Good job, but I’m afraid I cannot allow you to skip ahead to the chapter on Nirvana at this point. Be patient, please; wait for the rest of the class to catch up.

9. davidbdale - January 31, 2007

We Salute You!

10. silverneurotic - January 31, 2007

Strugglingwriters…there’s an article from salon.com that courtney love (hole singer) that’s been floating around the blog world tonight…it’s a good read and pretty much sums up your sentiments.

I rarely listen to the radio anymore. At least american radio. I can’t remember the last time I heard a song on American radio from the last few years that drove me to go buy it…wioth the exception of Gnarls Barkley, though for the record, at the time I was listening almost exclusively to an online Australian radio station that played most of the album, not just the one single that was being played over here.

I’ve always been a music junkie, but nowadays I find myself listening to my older cd’s…the ones I started getting into when I was in high school…or new cd’s by old bands.

11. strugglingwriter - February 1, 2007

silverneurotic – I will have to check out that article on salon.com, I read stuff there a lot (usually War Room). I did like that song from Gnarls Barkley. My solution to the radio thing has been XM radio, much more variety and quality. I was sick one one corporation owning all the stations in my area and playing the same crap. I actually go into convulsions when I hear “music” such as “The Pussycat Dolls”.

12. caveblogem - February 1, 2007


Thanks for all of the suggestions. There are some artists out there who are able to put an edge into their studio recordings. I think that Elvis Costello has done so, with very few exceptions (All this Useless Beauty, and the album he did with Anna Sofia Von Otter) has done this over his entire career. And if you are looking for spellbinding lyrics, of course, Mr. Costello is the King.

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