Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Father of Us All

Rock and roll traffics in idealized archetypal characters: the rebel, the cowboy, the poet, the shaman. But the essential rock and roll personality has got to be the caveman. All raw urge, unchecked id, complete lack of personal hygiene, life-preserving violence, stinky animal pelts, bones for weapons and drumsticks, coercive sexual habits, fire and smoke, crude paintings. Basically a Ted Nugent video. He’s the old-world cousin of the Druid, one step away from the monolith, the crop circle, Stonehenge and bog people, which funnels you nicely into horned helmets, meed, Viking burials, hammer of the gods, etc. Also the forefather of the punk, with his severely limited ability with tools and technology and a general knit-brow frustration with complexity. Three chords. Grunt. But the caveman is also the proto outsider artist. Noble savage, untutored genius. You can see the through-line all the way: the Nuge, Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin, Spinal Tap, the Sex Pistols, Daniel Johnston. But the MC5 captures all the cro-mag’s far-flung spectral offshoots like no other. Motor City revolutionaries, tapping into the angst of the machine age. High concept rock-and-rollers aiming to subvert the whole American Ruse with loud guitars, brute force and a tip of the hat to Little Richard and Black Power. How can anyone ever think to disrespect Detroit?

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