Both Rock AND Roll is Required

By Don Hall

I pass someone on the street. We know each other. She waves. I flash the Signs of the Horn (otherwise known as the Rock and Roll Hand).

"Rock and Roll!"

"Morning Don. How you doing this morning?"

Hand symbol. "Rockin' and Rollin'!"

I end many emails (including business correspondence) with a singular "Rock." or "Rock on!"

At some point, it seems that it is just a placeholder phrase that is substitute for actual conversation, sort of like asking someone how they are but not waiting for an answer. But, at least for me, my bizarrely repetitive, sometimes annoying catchphrase is a lot more than that.

Tightly defined, Rock and Roll is a specific genre of popular music that came directly out of the Rhythm and Blues wave of black artists in America around the late 1940s and early 1950s. The birthplace of the sound was Chess Records, a recording studio on South Michigan Avenue in Chicago. (Go watch Cadillac Records then head over to the South Loop and talk to Kevin—he'll give you a tour and you can hang out in the building that started it all.) The standard sound was a result of the simple guitar/bass/drums set up—add a harmonica, another guitar, some keys—stick to a relatively simple chord structure and rage on. Rock. And roll. The music was about sex, heartache and more sex. It was fast. Unrelenting. Danceable.

Culturally, the term is more broadly associated with the lifestyle of artists who made a living traveling around, doing live shows, cutting albums—yes, albums, young ones—and approaching life with a no-holds-barred, scrappy, flashy abandon. Sex, drugs and Rock and Roll. Suck the marrow out of the bones of the world. Live as carnally as your body can take, flaunt your disdain for authority and the ideas of conventionality, like a rolling stone and gather no moss. Eat it all, drink it all, fuck as much as you can, because the end of the road comes to us all—might as well seize that day while you have the sand to get up in the morning and grasp the tail.

For me, it is a mantra. A blessing. A reminder. A moment to moment affirmation of never forgetting to live my life in contrast with conformity as much as I can manage; embrace the myriad opportunities to create, laugh and dance as often as I can manage. Not so much a case of arrested development but a refusal to accept that with age comes a dull and slowing march. Not getting along merely to go along. It's about continually finding humor in the most awkward situations and a realization that as dramatic as our daily existences seem to be, there is a bigger picture to embrace.

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It is my armor. Against the ravages of time and heartache and failure and despair. Attitudinal armor. Protection from self-pity and feeling small in a world of wars for oil, politicians spouting horseshit non-stop and the constant drumbeat of the the Big Countdown Clock. A layer of badassness that fights back the feeling that as I get older, I'm simply going to lose everything I ever held dear and everyone I ever loved because that's just the way it is. My Captain America shield. My Bat Cape. My resolve to never allow the World to beat me.

And, given that the musical term has expanded, so has the mantra.

Some days, "Rock and Roll" means I'm living a Sex Pistols day—throwing caution to the wind, screaming against the hypocrisy of authority, thrashing around and threatening the destruction of the things in my path. Other days, I'm rocking a Steely Dan sort of day. Or a highly melodramatic Journey day. If I'm feeling sort of cerebral but synthy, "Rock and Roll!" means I'm feeling all Pink Floyd or Yes. A day filled with a sort of ridiculously operatic and overblown hubris is a Styx day. And the Beatles can be any day at all depending on the album (it's one reason why the Beatles will outlast your indie pop shit every day of the week—they're the Big Box of Crayolas with every color you can name).

In the age of the iPhone, these distinctions make things fun. I can wake up, drink my coffee and decide upon the soundtrack of my day based on the mood I'm in. Or the mood I want to be in. And if I'm feeling sorry for myself in the morning, I can decide that I can attack the day by cranking up some Rage Against the Machine or Rollins or mellow into it with some Boston or get introspective with some Tom Waits. If I wanna dance and celebrate the glories of breathing in and out, I can program up a playlist that includes Sly and The Family Stone, Alabama, and Bachman-Turner Overdrive and sidestep my way down the street feeling like a million bucks.

How am I this morning?

Rockin' fuckin' Roll.