The line in the Bob Seger song “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” might as well be “rock and roll never forgives.” In rock, you cannot get old, fat, bald, or pregnant and still be considered vital.
As an art form, rock is straight-up unmerciful. It doesn’t eat its young, it indulges them, coddling the brood into their thirties and then giving them a one-way bus ticket to the nearest county fair, Vegas sideshow, or retro-fest of their choice. And if you were a flash in the pan who somehow made it big — say, A Flock of Seagulls, or Quiet Riot, who are playing this week in Concord — and you happen to develop a spare tire or chrome dome, fuggettaboutit. These people bear the brunt the worst.
Doesn’t this rock and roll ageism have a fascist ring to it? Why are we so hard on people who still want to perform after a certain age? As entertainment, rock and R&B are still relatively new art forms, each barely having passed the fifty-year-old mark. The assumption is that everyone in bands should be young, only because young people pioneered the movement. But it’s time to grow up. The same guy who wouldn’t be caught dead at a David Duke rally or wearing a “No Fat Chicks” T-shirt is the first one to make a girdle joke about Paul Stanley. If a “legendary” jazz guy hobbles or rolls onto the stage and sits in with a band, jazzphiles go apeshit. Jazz artists actually appreciate with age, rather than depreciating. No one ever said, “Jeesh … Coltrane’s getting a bit paunchy,” or “Whew! Buddy Rich could bang the bass drum with that prostate!”
Of course, if you define rock by its sexiness, then maybe the naysayers have a point. Is it more titillating to watch the young bucks in One Man Army up on stage than it would be to see the Clash these days? Yep.
Quiet Riot’s problem is that they were neither good-looking nor particularly talented, making their current comeback tour problematic. (Actually, though, for all you preservationists, singer Kevin Dubrow actually looks better now than he did then, sporting a large Louis XIVish wig in place of the Allen Ginsberg thang he had going on in the ’80s.) But still, Metal Health was the first heavy metal record (ahem) to reach number one on the Billboard charts, making Quiet Riot metal’s answer to Vanilla Ice — the first rap artist (ahem) to make it to number one. “Slick Black Cadillac,” “Cum on Feel the Noize,” and “Metal Health” were catchier than the clap. Never mind that they owed much of their success to two things: Slade and Randy Rhoads.
Rhoads, who died in an impromptu air show in 1982, is most famous for playing with Ozzy, landing the gig after Osbourne heard him merely warming up for the audition. How a guy who played in bands with dorkwad names like the Katzenjammer Kids and Mildred Pierce would go on to reinvent metal must be one of those rock ‘n’ roll Horatio Alger stories. It was Rhoads who put Quiet Riot on the map, forming the band in ’75 with Dubrow. He later quit and joined Ozzy, and after Blizzard of Ozz took off, Quiet Riot used his name recognition to get a record deal. That, combined with some well-chosen Slade covers and heavy rotation on MTV, made the band bigger than Jesus for about five minutes.
Like most overnight sensations, the music of Quiet Riot is now pretty much fodder for the dustbin. If you’re older, you can still convince people that you’re vital only if you’ve made records that somehow endure. You’ll still be admired — you just won’t get as much pussy. Take Neil Young. He’s older than Bob Hope, but he’s got cred because he’s an artiste. Artistes can get old. (But they better not get fat; that weakens their status quick. Case in point: Billy Joel, or even the godfather of LA punk, Merv Griffin.)
Alas, the remaining Rioters are not artistes, so chances are there will be people at their show who are just there to make fun of them instead of simply have fun. Ozzy Osbourne, however, with help from the Randy Rhoads legacy, continues to be one of the largest-grossing live acts every year. Is “Crazy Train” better than “Metal Health”? Nope. Sure, it’s a little deeper, but then again, “Got no brain/I’m insane/Teacher says that I’m one big pain” ain’t too far from “I’m going off the rails on a crazy train.” To quote Spinal Tap, “there’s a thin line between dumb and stupid,” and most performers skate it admirably. Artistes or hacks, one-hit wonders or rock ‘n’ roll hall of famers, anyone who used to rock out should still rock out (just maybe not with their cock out). See you at the show.
Quiet Riot plays Friday, March 15 at the Bourbon Street Bar and Grill in Concord: 925-676-7272.