Bad To The Bone – George Thorogood Defends The Individual, Brandishing A Blues Axe Of Deathly Blunt Construction And Crude Reliability (Like A Soviet Tank)

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He moves like a heavily medicated Mick Jagger with a bad back and arthritis from the waist down….so basically…. Yeah. George Thorogood is rock’s blues bastard child. I wasn’t expecting much at the beginning of the event but at one point it occurred to me: this was good and, what’s more, Thorogood is really playing the blues. Don’t get me wrong, he’s the whitest bluesman second to David Wilcox and he hits every cliché left of the key – but there is an authenticity to it I had not anticipated.

George Thorogood is a ham, no doubt about it. He poses for greater applause than his guitar second gets, doubtlessly more technically talented than the eponymous front man. He struts, he shakes (as much as his hips allow, he humps), he does a shot to our honour, he whips away two pairs of sunglasses in order to play serious guitar now. After the show he comes out to take a bow to the climax of the national anthem. But this, after all, is show business and as the bandleader of The Destroyers he has certain expectations to live up to.

I don’t know how much trouble George is up to nowadays but the attitude of the blues is all there on stage. If he can’t do it in real life he wishes he could and the stage give him to the power to be that man, even if only in stage context. He means it and if it is an alter-ego or shadow of his past, it is another side of a split psyche. A George Thorogood And The Destroyers show is more than a couple cheap compositions lit up in fog before a motley beer soaked congregation. I see the ethos of a subculture. He may be old-guard but age and expectations are themes of which he is self-aware in his stage show.

In gist: By golly tonight it’s good to be alive / I am what I am and I’m having a good time! He’s old, he can hardly move but so far as sticking to his guns is concerned, I give him all credit due. He’s paid them on the road for years, never having a thoroughly successful recording career, minus a couple admitted hits. Thorogood himself admits they were proud to fly wild and dangerously under the radar until the nineties.

The guitar playing is crude; he plays with pure muscle. Lacking variety and invention, things get primal. I think the only idea of dynamic control George has thorough command of is palm muting to play quieter and hitting harder to, well, sound harder! He never thought of his volume knob. If George Thorogood intends his guitar to seem louder, it is. If he wants to break it down low, he stops playing. If you want more from him, he give you more by playing the same licks – but by playing more of them, more out of them. Not playing harder lines but hitting the lines harder.

For those of us of the video game generation, he’s discovered all the cheapest juggling combos, crafting rhythmic katas he can play over and over the entire song, so long as he feels like it, synchronized perfectly. Stress and release slopped over the edge of the bar line, ad infinitum, in a froth of distortion, volume, octaves, and open strings. His technique is a cultivation of sonic attitude: could play all his licks with the middle-finger.

That is the essence of his inconceivable authenticity. He doesn’t even have to be good to be good. He just means it as he says it, politically correct or not. And that goes for musical terms as well as social. The blues form is his forum to lecture to a riot in his image (You should have seen the power-mullet and mustached goatee middle-ager who chatted me up at the urinal). The lesson is: Fuck your rules and your values and your girlfriends. Here is a community, perhaps transient and minimally committed to the mores, but nonetheless, “I promise I’m going to do everything in my power to get arrested tonight!” sounds like a trustworthy battle-cry for the disenfranchised believers within those walls – for a least the moment being. Like I said, he could very well say that and then go right to sleep in his trailer after the show. I’d wager that on-stage, though, he intends to do just that tonight, for old times’ sake, for rock and roll, for the honour of every black beat bluesman of the South – at least until the show’s endorphin rush wears down like the cartilage in his pelvic joints. Or maybe I’ll picture that he’s in jail right now. After a repeat performance of his Magnum Opus, One Bourbon, One Scotch, And One Beer, and a mad turnpike split for freedom and chicks, driving over too many lines to be ignored.

The bristling of counterculture’s disembodied ethos through a body of pure muscle. I am not speaking of any subculture in specific, nor am I too picky about the schemata governing Destroyer blues. Fuck it [polite sociability] because it deserves to be fucked and we deserve to get a little action! What I glimpsed in the wail and pulse was more than the sum of its parts, which was itself nothing spectacular. I smelt the familiar charred smell peculiar to the gestalt of dissidence – perhaps waning, perhaps waiting – even if carefully masked behind an un-serious bit of routine. And that is always worth seeing.

A public service announcement from the Destroyers: “Don’t drink and drive….whatever you do, man, don’t drink and drive….Get your buddy to drive you home….get your buddy’s girlfriend to drive you home….But whatever you do, don’t drink and drive….man….I’m so full of shit, sometimes I don’t even believe it!”

The Portrait Of A Neo Bohemian

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She’s wearing a combat jacket and cuts her own hair, currently tied up behind a bandanna – you swear you had napkins of the same material once. Thin: she exists between strung-out, exhausted, and stoned; from time to time sparking evanescent flares of excitement. Strapped for cash, she casually peruses her options dumpster diving with less hesitation than you peruse the day-olds shelf. Yet she’s bought a three-dollar vegan chocolate-chip cookie to go with her artisanal coffee in a downtown café. During some of the unwieldy silences which smother our conversation I wonder whether it is because she is too dumb or I am too cynical (though my cynicism is only a most extreme form of optimism). But in times of uncertainty, prudence dictates that one give the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. She’s an art-student like the kind you see shivering outside of the academy pinching a cigarette. It’s almost a required class. She’s bussed across the country to climb a mountain and live on an island. She goes to rallies and is into street art and righteous vandalism. Currently, a scheme is underway which will reap the clandestine money some loop-hole in the bureaucracy has accidentally entitled native born citizens: Freemen on the Land she says. Her explanation derails after colliding with the definition. Her boyfriend is the mastermind; you can’t just google this shit. People disappear. Proof, prudence, law, uncertainty: laws uncertain of certain laws on lawful certainty prudentially prove proof of law to be less than certain in no uncertain terms here. So I am meant to understand – I am not sure that I do.

            She actually did it. She is one of the neo-bohemians. Coming from a well off home and a comfy petite-bourgeois life, she has opted for no more than a transient stability of residence and scowls at the offense of society. After a crash and burn year of life on her own, hers consists of maintaining school this time ‘round, an aloof though outwardly dedicated social circle, the drug culture, social and civic demonstrations, and the constant puzzlement of being. I list that fact last as though it provides impetus for all the preceding elements. It is the item with the least time and energy allotted. In fact, its solving is perhaps the most consciously averted of all goals. Any attempts are generally the consequence of depression, failure, or drugs and typically result in compounding phases of de facto nihilism.

            Why? I thought this was the artistic dream in its purest form. The neo-bohemian is not happier than their brothers and sisters entrenched in the officially un-natural, corrupt, and unsustainable system. There is no Romanticism in her malcontent – perhaps the truly tragic element is this. Her self-fulfillment is fleeting at the best of times. Accomplishment only pays against the mortgage and causes a flinch-like reaction to party hard or get hard stoned ‘till you’re gone all soft. After a weekend of partying comes the yearning to complete neglected assignments and feel like she’s doing something with herself and becoming something. Once more, she sizes up the debt and hauls ass to the wrong class with a hangover and week-long comedown spilled all over her work and dribbling down her chin. Certainly though, with all due credit, she’s come a long way.

            But wait…. These are the same pains as the hipsters, squares, elite and outcasts; all but the most prodigious and even then, their godly ranks are not immune. The same or perhaps an inverse system of gluttony and austerity: I eat rich animal flesh; the neo-bohemian scrounges wilting vegetables. You moderate most of your alcohol to wine with dinner and three beers at the pub while you talk about a good band you heard (unless it’s a special occasion to get stupid and the only drugs you take or “mistake” come from a little bottle from the pharmacy); the neo-bohemian camps out upstairs on a boycott of St. Patrick’s day (patron saint of love) with an indiscriminate forty until she’s forgotten the quaint enchantment that is human speech and the other higher brain functions and spends Sunday night ramped up on speed, recounting reality-rending old ladies at acid fueled protests. What I didn’t write earlier is just how scarily absent she was. So it seems we are endlessly fragmented, stretched impossibly thin, or our bones and our insides are broken up into pieces and our skins pulled taught across the scatter, hearts still puffing, barely visible: little rattling drums marching to an absurd eye-less discord. It’s soberingly cold outside the café tonight and it seems we are all waiting for summer.

That’s about it, really: We are all waiting for summer. I like that. It is simple, it’s sweet, and we are all waiting for summer. The structure of life is unchanged; the neo-bohemian only observes it from a converging perspective. Relief becomes raised, illuminated becomes obscured, and vice versa but the shape remains the same. We mount ostensibly opposed yet completely and integrally concomitant steps. Not necessarily climb or descent, but all us living mount or perch on it somewhere. The best part is that this structure exists in a gravitational mirror; the pull of gravity draws always from the center of its mass and towards the extremities. Envisage a globe steepled with pyramids outward from the infinity of possible angles across its spherical surface area. At its center is the cavity of all creation: the womb: Birth. It does not exert gravitational pull of its own equal to the surrounding outer space but does impede outward movement with a weight which pulls more than merely at the limbs, an ambivalent psychological commitment. In any given direction then, the Person moves, climbing and eventually sliding up or down and out along the ledged, creviced and plateaued walls of each geometric course of life. Bearing the course or swerving to another wall, even leaping from structure to structure – but always moving from inside-outwards at a variable but inexorable pace. It is impossible to know which way is proverbial “up” or tell it from likewise colloquial “down.” All that is certain is that the farther we move towards the extreme limits of the life structure, the stronger the pull of gravity, the gravity of death. It is a necessary force to complete the propulsive magnetism of life; it is the one sure thing that pushes most of us out of bed in the mornings: we live, we die. However, we still don’t know if after our struggle we’ll climb to such a point as to find a plateau or the zenith and slip in apotheosis into the sky, becoming stars; or if we’ll slide down into ruin, rubble, and the fossils of misery. The neo-bohemian doesn’t care to know, holding out. If it’s true, four months from now her being in will become her enlightenment – because we are all waiting for summer.

February 13