A Colloquy With A Disputatious Reader In Re: The Dark Ages of 1970s Rock

A reader writes:

JB – loved the RIP to Alex, it brought back memories of the Tav Falco shows and the Eighties. I remember being decidedly underwhelmed by the great man’s performance at the time, but glad I saw him.  But the second bit about the dark ages between the sack of Rome and the Sistine Chapel?  A brotherly rebuttal is in order.

First off, those thousand years weren’t as bad as advertised by the Enlightenment Lobby (cf. Augustine, Aquinas, Chaucer, Rabelais, Beowulf, the Kievan Chronicles, Magna Carta, 1066 and all that, the Moorish renaissance in Andalusia, Cordoba, etc. etc.)  But heaven forfend, nothing decent in ’74, ‘75’, ’76?  That’s not what we were thinking at the time, mon frère, as we ducked in and out of the Connecticut river valley’s woods and dales and smoking lounges.  So stipulated on your point re the Stones decline (although I also remember you being pretty pumped when we saw them at MSG in June ’75), and I know you mentioned Bowie, Roxy Music, Quadrophenia, and Led Zep favorably, all true.  And then there was Big Star. And then there was (just off the top of me ‘ead, and you can doubtless come up with many more):

Lou Reed (Sally Can’t Dance, Coney Island Baby, Rock n Roll Heart, Metal Machine Music!)

T-Rex (Zinc Alloy)

NY Dolls (Too Much Too Soon)

Television (Little Johnny Jewel)

The Kinks (Preservation, Act II at least)

The Who (don’t tell me you didn’t like Who By Numbers. “Squeeze Box” sounds like Chilton, fer crissakes)

John Entwistle’s Ox (Mad Dog)

John Lennon (Rock ‘n Roll)

Badfinger (Badfinger)

Bob Dylan (a few bagatelles like Blood on the Tracks and the Basement Tapes)

The Ramones (The Ramones)

Patti Smith (Hey Joe/Piss Factory, Horses)

Bob Marley (Natty Dread, Live)

Toots and the Maytals (Reggae Got Soul)

Kevin Ayers (Lady June, Dr. Dream, Sweet Deceiver)

Little Feat (I know, Feats Don’t Fail me know was not Dixie Chicken, but still)

Robert Palmer (Sneakin Sally Through the Alley)

Neil Young (On the Beach, Tonight’s the Night, Zuma)

Van Morrison (Too Late to Stop Now)

Clapton (461 Ocean Blvd)

Fela and Africa ‘70

And then there was the immortal Golden Earring (Radar Love, the future of rock n’ roll, I think you said at the time)

So, it may not have been 77-80, and I know you discovered Big Star for me and everyone else in our high school, but it wasn’t all Yes, ELP, ELO, Springsteen, Pretty Love Songs and Deep Purple back then, either. J  And don’t forget Taxi Driver, Godfather II, Chinatown, Rancho Deluxe, Bound for Glory, Nashville, Missouri Breaks, The Passenger, Humboldt’s Gift, Autumn of the Patriarch, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Zaire, Tania and Cujo, Jerry Brown beating Jimmy Carter in 5 straight primaries, and Joe Namath’s last year with the Jets. Etc. etc. But those are another chapter in the history of the Dark Ages, aka, my misspent youth.


To which the reply: I plead nolo contendere on any reference whatsoever to Golden Earring (though am certain I never spoke in such terms…) Yes, loved the Kinks, T. Rex, the Dolls, went through a reggae phase, etc.  Even went through a phase of playing Miles Davis loud (still do.) And if friend B had wanted to, he could have rubbed in the fact that I actually really liked Ron Wood’s solo albums — all the more puzzling that I would hate what he did to the Stones.  And let’s not even discuss Peter Frampton.

But having caucused with the whole gang at Tulip Frenzy: yes, as much as we were able to find nuggets of good music during Rock’s Dark Ages, we stand by our statement.  The period between 1974 and 1977 was a dull patch, an embarrassing patch.  Bad haircuts, bad music.  There were glimmers of hope, particularly with what was going on in Lower Manhattan as Patti Smith, the Ramones, and Television emerged circa ’76.  (We didn’t fully “get” the Ramones with that first album in ’76… and it really took until Rocket To Russia for the Ramones to get placed in our Pantheon.)  But yeah… it was a dull patch… as bad as that stretch in the ’80s until the Pixies emerged.

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