I experienced an instinctive and extremely uncomfortable genetic cringe when Pat Boone put Fats Domino, Little Richard, and LaVern Baker through his blender to produce something that reminded me even then of my mother's ham sandwich if someone had removed the ham and painstakingly scraped away the mustard, leaving two nice slices of white bread held together with mayo. But I also had the taste to sigh with relief when I first heard Jerry Lee Lewis, a pillar of holy fire high atop Mount Whitey.
So, we could do it, even if less dependably. But then other forms of music converged into rock--country, blues, doo-wop, Mexican, even jitterbug--and rock by white artists became a little less imitative of black music. But by then I'd stopped caring, because rock changed my world.
It was as though rock was a whole new room in my house--whatever house I was in--a room my parents couldn't enter, and which had none of their blue upholstered furniture, gilt mirrors, and grandfather clocks in it. In fact, whatever furniture it did have in it, rearranged itself every night because the moment we fell asleep it started dancing. Every morning I opened the door to new damage, new recklessness, new chaos. It was everything a kid could want.
Those whom rock threatened (and they were many) said it would lead the young people of America off a cliff. They were right, about me, at least. I happily followed it off every cliff in sight. I stopped taking school seriously because of rock and roll. I left the suburban womb of the San Fernando Valley to live with various remarkable women in smaller and smaller places in then-dicey areas like Echo Park and Silverlake because of rock and roll. For a couple of years I never went to bed before ten AM and never got up before three in the afternoon. I inhabited a parallel Los Angeles where the lights were always on and amphetamines and marijuana were the intoxicants of choice, and I chose them every chance I got.
Rock and roll led me astray.
And I had a great time. The drugs got a bit more varied and Byzantine until I tardily quit them. I wound up writing songs, I wound up (after a long and somewhat sober hiatus as a businessperson) writing books. There, I've said it. If it weren't for rock and roll I would never have written a book. I'd be a retired English professor living someplace where my feet stayed warm all winter.
As of right now, rock and roll is the most enduring popular music trend of all time. Big bands, jazz, standard pop--they all flared up, flickered, and faded within a decade or two. Rock has been on top for more than sixty years.
And I still live it, I still listen for hours each day, I still write to it. Steve Jobs designed the iPod specifically for me, and mine now contains almost 8,000 songs, 80 gigabytes of music, divided pretty much exclusively into two categories: classical and rock. (About 80% rock.) My writing playlists sample almost every one of the rock decades, although I'm not really crazy about the 80s, and every year or so I just reverse-alphabetize the whole thing and listen to the cuts as they come. (That's a great way to program writing music because I never have any idea what's coming next.)
So, old fart that I am, I still rock. It still keeps me going. I still pick over new music almost daily and love about as much of it as I ever did, which is to say about fifteen percent of it. My novels take shape to it, my memories are tied to it, my internal movies use it as a sound track. If I were Catholic, I would petition the Church to make Little Richard my patron saint.
A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-lop-bam-boom, indeed. It's been 57 years since that call to bliss first shredded crappy car speakers all over America, and it's still a direct short cut to Dionysus. Hail, hail, rock and roll.