There is an important thing that kids today don't really know about. I don't really know about it either, even though I was kind of around for the tail end of it. It is a historical event I'm talking about, and it is commonly referred to as Mick Jagger.
Growing up, I mostly knew about Mick through Sam Shepard plays that made references to him, like "The Tooth of Crime" (in which a character is based on Keith Richards) and "Cowboy Mouth," a play that Sam wrote with Patti Smith, which evinces a nearly mythological reverence for early Jagger. I didn't realize until a recent viewing of the video "Cocksucker Blues" by photographer Robert Frank what a king hell phenomenon young Mick Jagger was. By the time I was alive enough to notice Mr. Jagger, he looked like a desiccated version of Don Knotts and his laughably antique rock tours were sponsored by Pepsi. "Tattoo You" had just come out. In my junior high, only the back parking lot loadies with the feathered hair and plastic combs in the back pockets of their bootleg cords cared about the Stones at all, and then even they mostly cared about the older albums. The loadies were baked all the time so nobody trusted their taste anyway; they also liked Ronnie James Dio and Styx and all of the other shit nobody listened to except other very, very stoned people. When "Tattoo You" came out, I was into Devo and had about 80 buttons up either side of my shirt. The Stones meant nothing because they were not New Wave.
This video made me realize that cock rock was once very alive and is now dead, and rock 'n' roll has really lost its supply of frightfully charismatic young front men. Bowie, Mick, Iggy, Lou Reed ... hell, even Steve Tyler, if you dare mention such fluff as the Aerosmith legacy in that dubious lineup -- they're all old, old, old, and it's a shame that most folks my age never had a chance to see those grand old gentlemen of rock when they were at their blow-dried, blow-snorted, blow-jobbed peak.
The late '60s/early '70s is one era that will never really be able to repeat itself. It was an ignorant, selfish, sexist, self-destructive time. You could never repeat any of the backstage action featured in "Cocksucker Blues" -- even the lowest slag-level of coke and cum-famished groupies have more self-respect than that now. It was an era with no boundaries whatsoever, and Mick navigated the ungainly sea of IV drug accidents and weepy orgies and omnipresent star-struck coke-gabbling morons better than any other lacquer-pants glam King of yore. It is amazing that Mick was ever Mick, looking at him now, and it is doubly amazing that he wasn't found dead years ago in a hotel room with needles in his feet and the remains of some horrible sex act stuck to his person.
It was crazy watching that video: Nobody (except Prince) could get away with that much genital focus these days. Let's say no white man could do it. The Red Hot Chili Peppers sort of did it, but it was more tongue-in-cheek, or rather, dick-in-sock. Ha ha, they were cutely saying about the male sex object phenomenon. There was nothing cute and reasonable about Mick at his gangly big-haired best, when he was wearing spangled body socks with extra codpiece sections for his legendary cod and long chiffon scarves and numerous cloth belts, with Lady Bianca pouting around the dressing room, smoking in Halston dresses. He was completely non-ironic; there was something very powerfully unconscious and self-contained about his outrageous sexual persona that made men and women of the '60s and '70s just die wanting to lick his velvet hems. He was, perhaps, the most sexually sought-after human on the planet at one point, a male Helen of Troy. The entire band was cadaverous from sweating off eight pounds a night and eating nothing but narcotics; they were blown into wraiths from all that attention, all that masturbation aimed at them, the whole writhing mass of hippy culture imploding into death and debasement right in their hotel rooms. The Stones were a massive gale force that blew sideways the clothes and cash of anyone who came near, and Mick was the dervish at the epicenter, and it is hard to tell if he meant it that way or not.
I was asking a DJ from this really cool independent radio station an important question I've always had, which is: "Why Lou Reed?" Or more precisely, why is Lou Reed considered to be among the major arcana of perennial rock icons? The only reason I ever paid any attention to Lou Reed at all was because men whom I respected loved him: Lester Bangs, for one, and some angry punk rock guys from Detroit I knew in the early '80s. Coming from a jazz upbringing, I always thought his music was retardedly simplistic, and when I was in college, around the time his hit "I Love You Suzanne" came out, he was wearing a motorcycle jacket on an American Express poster, which pretty much fossilized my opinion of him in the negative. "OK, I'll tell you why Lou Reed," said the big Swede, in between alternate sucks of Guinness and American Spirit.
"Imagine Mike D. of the Beastie Boys walking down the street. He's got beautiful new $300 sunglasses on. The exact right flat vintage Pumas. The big pants. He has beautiful vintage sound equipment he picked up in England. OK, so here comes Lou Reed down the street. He's wearing lizard-skin boots, tight, acid-washed black jeans, a leather jacket with elastic around the waist, a mullet hairstyle all short in the front and long in the back and carrying a brand new, state-of-the-art Japanese electric guitar. Now Mike D. might say, 'Hey, Lou, why are you so wack?' and Lou would be able so say, 'I don't need to do anything. I'm Lou Reed.' And it would be absolutely true."
I got what he was saying, but it still didn't explain anything I didn't already know. Lou, for some reason, has the Luminous Male Rock Charisma, which forgives everything. We don't have anybody like that around anymore. Since the big music corporations have decided who gets famous or not, there really haven't been a whole lot of fearless persona innovators.
My fianci and I were on a plane recently, and on the way to the restroom, I noticed that a short guy with an ugly hat covered with pheasant feathers was pestering the stewardesses. Then I became aware that the guy was pulling a trumpet out. Then I realized that the guy was Chuck Mangione, going through his entire Chuck Mangione repertoire right there on the plane next to the restroom. We guessed that he was trying to make time with one of the stewardesses. We were treated to a long version of his recognizable hit, then heard him segue into "Spain" and even lesser-known hits of quiet-storm listening such as "Land of Make Believe." Poor Chuck. I only knew those songs because my mother played the Fender Rhodes 88 in a bar band that played covers of that stuff in the '70s. I don't think anybody else knew anything but his top-40 hit. The stewardesses nodded and clapped politely. You'd never see Mick in the back of the plane, strutting out a little version of "Gimme Shelter" for some United Airlines bint. You might catch Lou doing "I Love You Suzanne," but hey, he's Lou Reed.
I was at a rock show the other day. A friend of ours has just been signed to a major label with his tight-black-shirt-and-hair-in-the-face alternative goth boy band, and their black limousine was waiting with sinister promise out in front of the East Village venue, and hottie girls with long blond hair and silver boots were waiting for our friend to get offstage so they could casually smother him with girlish attentions. The lead singer was kind of a cross between David Byrne and Perry Farrell with just a skosh of Iggy, all of the boys were exceptionally cute and the music was loud, but the night was distinctly tame.
It was funny how innocent it all was. One of the band boys got offstage and told me fearfully that he thought he might have smoked too much pot. People were barely drinking. Wow, I realized ... this is practically the '50s! Twentysomething people are worried about getting up in the morning.
They were all carefully monitoring their substance intake and responsibly choosing the right condoms.
There was a woman older than me in the club hanging out with her dad, whom you knew had been used to far more intense party scenes than this polite little evening of hard rock. Was Dad disappointed? Or was this new scene just pleasantly middle-aged enough for him to deal with, after the abject chaos of 1971?
I wonder if I'll ever see it in my lifetime -- a whole generation of naked people too high to say no to anything, with some legitimate Rock Lord at the center of it all, driving it all like a many-limbed Magic Bus. If I do, I'll probably disapprove.