David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

Dancing with the… Krokus?

I watched the premiere of Dancing with the Stars on the DVR the other night. Yes, I know, by admitting this I’ve just edged one step closer to eternal hellfire, but my wife was watching and I wanted to see how John Ratzenberger did.

What song did the producers choose to open the show with? None other than “Ballroom Blitz.”

The heavy metal band KrokusNow, Wikipedia might insist that the song was first released by glam rockers Sweet in 1973, but God Himself on his Golden Throne has decreed that the definitive version of “Ballroom Blitz” was recorded by heavy metal giants Krokus in 1984. He will brook no argument on this. It’s not a particularly good song (in any incarnation), but back in the early ’80s it had a certain drive, power, and yes, even a little bit of anarchic menace to it.

The Dancing with the Stars band absolutely butchered “Ballroom Blitz,” like they butcher just about every piece of music that’s put in front of them. It’s actually fairly interesting to watch C-list stars try to tackle ballroom dancing, but listening to Dorky McWhiteington and His White Band massacre song after song is excruciating. (Especially given that Dorky McW is black.) Turning “The Power of Love” and “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” into schmaltzy, bar mitzvah band pop that’s even too bland for Grandma is no difficult feat, but leeching every last bit of soul out of “Chain of Fools” takes real talent. Somewhere in Guantanamo Bay, I’m convinced, there are CIA interrogators watching Dancing with the Stars and taking notes.

I find this all extremely ironic. Twenty-three years ago, when I started growing long hair and hanging out with the heavy metal kids (we were called “baggers” back then, Lord knows why), this music was scary. Judas Priest, AC/DC, Krokus, Iron Maiden, Ratt, Ozzy Osbourne, Mötley Crüe, W.A.S.P. — there was a time when parents were so worried about the influence of these bands on their children that Tipper Gore managed to make a big stink of it on Capitol Hill and cause the record industry to self-apply warning label stickers to their albums.

I’m sure that in the middle of some drunken high school or junior high school evening, my friends and I must have blasted our heavy metal music at full volume and laughed ourselves sick at the specific idea of prime time cheeseballs opening a schmaltzy variety show with a Krokus song.

Which leads me to the question: Is it possible to sustain “coolness” indefinitely? Should we even try? Or should we just accept the fact that the edgy, alternative hip-hop/electronica/garage band mashup you’re digging today will eventually be schmaltzified by Dorky McWhiteington and His White Band on Dancing with the Stars?

As I grow older, I’m watching rock stars who were once the epitome of cool for me either fade into the woodwork (The Kinks, Pearl Jam), sell out to the point of absurdity (The Rolling Stones, Metallica), or get a new lease on their careers through camp and/or self-parody (Ozzy Osbourne).

Jim Morrison: This dork was cool once.What performers from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s have managed to maintain their coolness? I suppose there’s Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, and Janis Joplin — who died young enough to not have to worry about selling out. (Although this whiff of martyrdom that seems to surround the three of them is more than a little nauseating. Two of them OD’d, and one died for refusing to get his cancerous toe amputated. Not exactly glamorous, or undeserved, deaths.) But even early death is no proof against loss of coolness. Witness Jim Morrison, whose star diminishes further with each passing day. Does anyone really think his music is going to outlast the Boomer generation? (Okay, Mike W., you obviously think so.)

More often, you see coolness sustained because it was never really discovered in the first place. Witness the otherworldly talent of Nick Drake, a folk singer-songwriter who never sold more than a few thousand copies of any of his three albums during his lifetime, but who has become a major figure in retrospect some thirty years after his OD at 26. Witness the Velvet Underground, of whom it’s been said that they only had 200 fans while they were together, but every one of those fans went on to start an influential band.

You see more and more musicians and pop stars who have turned that observation on its head. They seem to run obsessively from coolness specifically as a way of maintaining coolness. The Beatles were perhaps the first modern rock band to turn away from the guaranteed millions that A Hard Day’s Night II, III, and IV would have brought them and gravitate instead towards avant garde compositions like “Revolution #9” and “A Day in the Life.” Prince expressly forbid his record company from doing anything to promote Around the World in a Day, his follow-up to the über-smash Purple Rain. Beck tries to distance himself from his last album almost as soon as it hits the airwaves, and sometimes it seems like Jack White is working hard to not be so famous anymore.

So whatever happened to “rock ‘n roll will never die”? Whatever happened to the attitude that rock music was going to save the world?

Nobody thinks that anymore, except perhaps Bono. Pete Townshend and Mick Jagger are just cashing checks, Springsteen has quieted down, and Dylan never really gave a fuck what you thought of his music in the first place.

Pop culture dies, and it’s a depressing spectacle to watch for those who stick around to see it. I just hope I live long enough to see Eminem peeled and filleted by Dorky McWhiteington and His White Band on Dancing with the Stars. Or even better, he’ll actually be dancing on the show hoping for a comeback. That might be fun to watch.

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  1. J Alan Erwine on March 27, 2007 at 10:09 pm  Chain link

    This takes me back…I can still remember Dee Snider walking into a Congressional hearing, hair hanging down to his butt and looking pissed. I think some of those suits were actually scared of the guy. Now most of those bands are a joke like you said…although I still think WASP could scare some people…

  2. Peter on March 27, 2007 at 10:15 pm  Chain link

    It’s funny because Around The world In A Day is the only Prince album I really like…

  3. Alis Rasmussen on March 28, 2007 at 3:26 am  Chain link

    Miles Davis?

    A couple of years ago my spouse was in South Korea, and he and his team were staying at the same hotel as Twisted Sister, who are still marketable in South Korea evidently.

  4. David Louis Edelman on March 28, 2007 at 6:55 am  Chain link

    Ah, Twisted Sister… how could I have forgotten them…

    Yes, Alis, I suppose Miles Davis would be one of the rare exceptions. Although I’m not sure he was ever really a pop icon, was he?

    David Bowie might qualify as someone who’s retained his cool too.

  5. cephyn on March 28, 2007 at 10:59 am  Chain link

    “Is it possible to sustain “coolness” indefinitely? Should we even try?”

    Yes. It’s just incredibly hard in the music business, since it has become MTVified and caters to short attention spans. The only way to do it is to reinvent yourself somehow, to either become cool in a new way, or apply your style to the new cool. Green Day did this, with 2 hugely successful albums a decade apart. We shall see if they can do it again. More often though we see pop-culture relevance spanning decades in other media than music. Look at William Shatner. He was cool in Twilight Zone and Star Trek. Then he was cool in TJ Hooker. The he was cool in Star Trek again. Then he was cool for Priceline. Then he was cool in Boston Legal. If you think hard enough, you can find people that are cool over time. It’s rare though, and really, that’s OK. It should be.

    “Witness Jim Morrison, whose star diminishes further with each passing day. Does anyone really think his music is going to outlast the Boomer generation?”

    I don’t get this. I’m 27 and The Doors are quite popular with my generation. In college you could hear them being played anywhere in the dorms at any given time. I personally love the Doors. I don’t think Morrison is going anywhere.

  6. David Louis Edelman on March 28, 2007 at 12:37 pm  Chain link

    More often though we see pop-culture relevance spanning decades in other media than music. Look at William Shatner.

    That’s what I get for posting this on a blog mostly catering to SF people. Of all the actors you could have chosen, William Shatner is the example you give of long-lasting coolness? 😉

    Glad to hear that Jim Morrison’s still kickin’. When I was in college, about ten years before you, people gave me strange looks when I played The Doors. The Oliver Stone movie tanked, if I remember correctly, and I haven’t seen a lot of references to Morrison in the pop culture over the past decade or so. Maybe his reputation has more legs than I thought.

  7. Jetse on March 30, 2007 at 1:30 pm  Chain link

    Great post: I laughed my arse off.

    By-the-by one: if I had known you were an 80s metal fan, we could have had a great talk at LACon IV. Next time.

    As to ‘eternal’ coolness: it’s a bit like the way other things are considered ‘attractive’ by the general populace across the ages. Compare today’s superslim catwalk supermodels with the 17th Century Rubenesque voluptousness, not to mention all the myriad ways the fashion of the day changes, coming back to previous sensibilities several times.

    So indeed: one should not try.

    As an example of long-lasting coolness you mention Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley and Jim Morrison. Well, they at least died in relative wealth. Compare two of my compatriots: Rembrandt van Rijn and Vincent van Gogh: both died in poverty, yet their art has lived on for several centuries.

    And before you start to protest that we’re talking *pop culture* here, let me give you a number from the Dutch Golden Age (Rembrandt’s time). I was visiting the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam with my sister who had come over from Melbourne (Australia), and I bought a book in the souvenir shop. It mentioned the number of paintings that were made during the Dutch Golden Age (roughly the 17th Century).

    How many paintings were made in the Dutch Golden Century (in Holland alone)? My sister and I thought a couple of thousand, maybe over ten thousand.

    Now hold your breath…


    Approximately. That’s a number larger than the people that lived in Holland at that time. It would be the equivalent of — say — two hundred million novels written in the USA in the 20th Century. Or two hundred million albums recorded. If that’s not *popular* culture, then please tell me what is…;-)

    Anyway, at that time, while considered a master, Rembrandt still died in poverty. Yet his art still lives on 400 years later. So, the simple answer (which is actually very complicated) is: produce the best art you can, and let history sort it out.

    Wasn’t Shakespeare considered a hack in his time? But he was popular, and is until this day. There’s just no telling.

    Therefore, artists should:

    a) do what they feel is best; and

    b) take the whole popularity thing with a large pinch of salt.

    By-the-by 2: I like to think that one of the strong points of heavy metal was that it didn’t take itself too seriously. Cue to Spinal Tap: that was (is) brilliant, and every decent metal/rock fan loves it (and sometimes I wish SF would have the same sense of humour).

    So when I read that the US ‘Dancing with the Stars’ opens with a butchered version of “Ballroom Blitz”, I nearly pissed my pants laughing.

    Great post.

    Pop culture dies, and it’s a depressing spectacle to watch for those who stick around to see it.

    Let’s call it Sturgeon’s Law combined with evolution in action: 99.99% of pop culture will die over a sufficient span of time. Some will survive, though. And now I’m going to make myself immortally silly, but here’s my guess:

    The Beatles and Rush.

    Terry Pratchett and Stephen King.

    Now who said I didn’t have a sense of humour…;-)

  8. David Louis Edelman on March 31, 2007 at 4:07 pm  Chain link

    Great stuff, Jetse. All kidding aside, I’d guess that the 20th century musical artists who are going to survive in the long run are (drum roll): The Beatles and Bob Dylan. (Rush might have had a shot until Neal Peart opened his mouth and started rapping 15 years ago. I think the Singularity started right there.)

    Literature from the 2nd half of the 20th century? My best guesses: Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, J.R.R. Tolkien.

  9. Scat on July 20, 2007 at 12:17 am  Chain link

    None of this really bothers me…except the fact that you assume Jim Morrison was ever actually trying to be cool. If you’ve read any of his poetry books (most of which flopped with critics) you’d know that it was never about being popular, or “cool”. Why does everything have to be about fame and your supposed coolness anyway? Some people, like Jim Morrison, were just doing their thing, whether it was to others’ like or dismay.

    And even if it’s not cool, his words do still live on…I’m 20 and have listened to the Doors all my life. And for the record, screw the box office, I love Oliver Stone’s movie…it’s fantastic.

  10. Ashley on July 24, 2007 at 2:43 am  Chain link

    I’m only 18 years old but just about everyone in my generation that I know of listens to The Doors and loves them. Quite frankly, I believe that The Doors music, Jim Morrison’s legend, along with everything else in the sixties will live on forever and will not be forgotten. Oh and Scat, Oliver Stone’s movie was good but it did not give a complete portrayl of Jim…only the wild side which is the only side of him that the older generations know. I was reading a biography about him a couple of months back and a teacher saw me reading it and started talking about how much of an idiot he was and that he probably couldn’t even read which made me furious. Stone should have shown in the movie Jim’s poetic and sensitive side as well.

  11. Brittany on July 24, 2007 at 9:36 am  Chain link

    “Witness Jim Morrison, whose star diminishes further with each passing day. Does anyone really think his music is going to outlast the Boomer generation?”

    I’m 18 still in high school and me and all of my friends love the Doors and I beleive Jim Morrison’s Music will continue to be popular with all generations because you don’t have to be born when the music was popular to love it, you just have to be able to connect with it

  12. David Louis Edelman on July 24, 2007 at 10:40 am  Chain link

    Okay, okay, enough already. Jim Morrison and The Doors still rock. I get it. :-)

  13. anonymous on October 30, 2008 at 2:36 am  Chain link

    hmm calling the late jim morrison a dork huh? odvious you know nothing about real music or truly anything for that matter! lets see in 10 years if todays garbage will be remembered or not!!!!!!!!! idiot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. Kevin Rose on January 13, 2009 at 12:21 pm  Chain link

    Jim Morrison was a great guy, a very important man in the Rock history, and i would like kill to every person who think something bad about him and about the doors. Maybe they don’t sell music like other bands, but the important thing is that the people who really knows about good, always know to this band, and enjoy their music.

  15. David Louis Edelman on January 13, 2009 at 3:13 pm  Chain link

    I’ve changed my mind. Enough about Jim fucking Morrison already. I dig most of the Doors’ stuff just fine, but there’s a lot of their catalog that’s just fucking embarrassing. (Come on… “Touch Me”? Please.)

    If you feel like threatening to kill me, at least use proper fucking English.

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