Rock and Roll for Dummies

A recently exhumed handbook reveals the secrets to playing music and staying happy.

Wanna know how come no one paints his or her favorite band's name on the back of a denim jacket anymore? It's not because blue jean-jackets are out of style -- it's that rock bands are. No kidding. There ain't a group out there worth cracking out the acrylics for anymore, and even if some fool were to stick his neck out for his favorite band today in such a fashion, he'd be lucky if his heroes were still popular once the paint dried.

Record companies are no help -- they're always breaking up bands to promote the individual with star quality. There's a practical reason for that, too: If you've ever tried to photograph a band, you know that no two people in a group are ever happy with the way they look in any given photograph. Bad band names don't help the cause of group fandom, either. You might as well paint a permanent "Kick Me" sign if you're gonna give it up for Weezer.

Some may point to Creed's latest record entering the Billboard album chart at No. 1 as proof positive that rock groups are still as strong as ever. Granted, it's No. 1, but it's a quiet No. 1 compared to the inescapable chart-toppers of yesteryear. Seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band roll through town reminds you of how dedicated rock fans used to be, waiting all night at a record store to tear the shrink-wrap off of Tunnel of Love. Can you imagine Godsmack fans charging through plate-glass windows like they used to when Led Zeppelin tickets went on sale? And what foolhardy fan is gonna risk getting the brown stuffing kicked outta him for championing wimpazoids like matchbox 20?

Rock-and-roll primer: Are your parents open to some "heavier" talk?
Rock-and-roll primer: Are your parents open to some "heavier" talk?

Clearly, the number of piss-poor bands on top has a trickle-down effect on the local music scenes of Everytown, USA. Forming rock groups was once a time-honored tradition, but our nation's youth are bypassing them altogether and going straight to law school in an attempt to "follow the money." And local musicians, you, too, have lost the plot as to why you even play music. The traditional old reason (to meet girls) is dashed once you have a steady girlfriend/wife/boyfriend/husband entrenched to work the merch booth. And considering that every CD you've sold has been to one of your buddies, that world-domination scheme is starting to seem unlikely. At the start of every winter, plunging temperatures and audience apathy convince many bands that it's in their best interest to throw in the towel and stay home and watch the season premiere of Party of Five instead. I mean, who wants to load out equipment on a chilly November night?

Bah! You'd never hear Gary And saying that!

And just who is this sage Gary And, you ask? Any relation to Peter And (of Peter and Gordon fame)? Freddie And (the Dreamers)? Lothar And (the Hand People)? No -- a thousand times no. Before most of you lollygaggers were drawing baby breaths, Gary And wrote what could be the essential guide to musical success: Getting Together Your OWN Rock Group NOW!

A friend of mine found this book in a music store selling at a fraction of its original $1.95 cost. Sadly, he did not heed its righteous rhetoric when he formed a streamlined synth duo, an option the slim volume was too early to foresee. Judging by its mod illustrations and Gary's archetypal examples of happening musicians ("Paul McCartney" and "Joan Baez"), this rock-and-roll primer was stapled together and shipped out sometime between man's first walk on the moon and Tommy Roe's last Top 10 hit.

Yet much of what Gary And writes holds true for the befuddled budding musician of today.

But before we plumb its precious contents, the sticky question of "Who is Gary And?" returns to mind. Was he someone from "the Establishment" bent on infiltrating the "youth culture," or was he a well-meaning guy who just wanted to get young troubled teens off the street and hooked on heroin pronto, without all the runaround? That we may never know. But from what he's left us, there is one thing of which we can all be certain: Gary And was no rock star and never played one on TV. Quite possibly, And was just a man who walked and breathed among other mortal men, yet somehow found the secret to being a happy musician. Hint: It has nothing to do with marrying a supermodel or making sure there's a clause in your contract clearly stipulating the need for a rider full of M&Ms without the ampersands and fresh fruit hand-picked by virgins at every show.

Maybe Gary can help you attain your higher purpose in Chapter One, which is titled "WHY?"

"If you're like almost all kids today, you really dig contemporary music. Rock, Country Rock, Jug Band Music, etc. Some people also really love to sing. Nothing is more fun than to be at a party or a dance and know some of the people in the group that's playing. It makes you feel you belong.

Being able to do something with your friends, that is part of the now scene, and being paid for it isn't half bad either."

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