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them snookered youngsters
can rock age gracefully?
by joe procopio (@jproco)

Last Saturday night, in a moment of what can only be called discount enlightenment, I happened to watch the DVD version of The Runaways and then turn the DVD player off just in time to see a rerun of Ashton Kutcher introducing Them Crooked Vultures on SNL.

Who promptly rocked all you kids off of their lawn.

For the record, The Runaways was awful, save for a scarily spot-on performance by Kristen Stewart. But beyond that it just piled one rock cliche on top of another overdramatized moment from Cherie Currie's bio (which I haven't read, but I mean, if I were writing my rock book, I'd scribble in exactly the same self-congratulatory highs and barely disguised sympathy-wringing-as-cautionary-tale lows).

Also for the record -- for me, the whole of TCV is exactly equal to the sum of its parts. I couldn't care less about John Paul Jones' past, present, or future, I find more than half of what Josh Homme does brilliant, and I could watch Dave Grohl beat on an overturned industrial bucket in the subway for hours.

The enlightenment came as an epiphany after watching Hollywood's highly stylized account of the first extremely teenage all-girl rock band highlighted against three comparatively old farts (average age: 48). Both of whom were making nearly impossible-to-fill requests of their audience; to ignore the circumstances of their creation and just pay attention to the music.

The management and machine behind the Runaways was the exploitation engine that fueled their Lolita-in-leather image (allegedly) while the girls focused on really playing (I went with italics for that because I'm trying to highlight the importance of the words, not suggest they're phony). Them Crooked Vultures want you to ignore that they're the guys from Foo Fighters, Queens, and Zep up there, and just listen.

If you look at these two events in a little detail, you can trace a timeline from the creation to the current state of the post-punk era of rock. Sure, rock was rebellious in the 1960s and early 1970s, and I don't doubt it's not too long before my daughters look back on the Sex Pistols the way I look back on the Monkees.

One of the lines spouted by Kim Fowley in The Runaways goes something like, "This isn't women's lib, it's blah blah blah exploitative, mustache twirl, provocative mention of private parts with accompanying discomforting gesture."

Or something like that.

But there's a sliver of truth there that The Runaways got exactly right. When the Runaways formed, it wasn't a girl-power thing, it was a middle-finger thing. And if post-punk was, for the rock stars, the freedom to sleep with this girl or snort these drugs or wear that corset, for the rest of us, it was about wizzing on the headliner's guitar. Metal, goth, grunge, and so on, all of these genres share the latter in common, not the former.

The breaking down of the barriers in rock, one of which the Runaways played a major role in, are important. Good looking young white males aren't the only spokespeople for angst. The post-punk era proved that you don't have to be a dude (Runaways), you don't have to be sexy (U2), you don't have to be pretty (Red Hot Chili Peppers), you don't have to be white (Living Colour), we can be angry (Nirvana), we can be nerds (Radiohead), we can be smart (Queens). And these are just random examples.

So if that image is shattered that many ways, it stands to reason that rock can live on with being owned by the Jonas Brothers until the next younger, better looking Jonas Brothers comes along.

Them Crooked Vultures is a nice representation of three older gentlemen finding a successful niche without relying on their back catalog, teaming up with other nostalgia acts for a state fair reunion tour, or partnering with a hip-hop act to stay relevant. Sure, TCV is Foo/Queens/Zep, but it's new music under a new brand trying hard not to put those references out front.

Like, if it was the three of them with Robert Plant singing, then they might as well be Aerosmith. Or Asia.

It's a theory that post-punk rock can grow up, and it would be proven by a brand-new rock powerhouse coming out of nowhere with members that defy that record-machine-producing stereotype in as many ways as possible. Whether that's the Runaways rev 2011 or a band of ugly white dudes with an average age above 35 who haven't been in other, more famouser bands.

So if you fit that bill and you're out there, keep at it.

Because this would show that yeah, we had our Madonnas and Bon Jovis and Bushes, but maybe, just maybe, rock is eternal.


Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.

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