These bands are as American as rock and roll gets; their tuneage is woven into the American experience. That experience can be sublime or it can be schlock, but it’s always an essential part of what and who we are.
There’s a scene in Caddyshack, Harold Ramis’ quintessential comedic commentary on class divisions in the US, when Al Czervik demonstrates the near-universal power music wields in breaking down social boundaries. Just about everyone at Bushwood Country Club, except one-percenter Judge Elihu Smails, dances on cue when Czervik cranks up Journey’s good-time anthem “Any Way You Want It.”
At the end of “Made In America,” the last episode of fabled teevee drama “The Sopranos,” “Don’t Stop Believin’” plays on the jukebox at Holsten’s as things change forever for America's favorite crime family. Director David Chase’s ironic juxtaposition of what we believe and what actually is makes for a classic statement. This is how Americans live their lives, seeking out comfort and faith even at the end of things.
Although Journey’s tunes have been successfully incorporated into our culture as symbols of the transcendence of outsiders in America—neither Al or Tony are after all, insiders—Steve Miller’s songs speak directly to the American psyche. “Living in the USA” and “The Joker” are keen portrayals of life lived large, vibrantly, with a sense of individuality that borders on heroic. Sometimes it's frantically defiant. And if you grew up in the ’80s, I can predict with near absolute certainty that pep rallies at your high school showcased athletes bursting through hand-lettered paper signs and cheerleaders gamboling to the strains of Miller’s “Jungle Love.”
If that’s not enough data to draw your interest, consider Tower of Power. Coming straight out of Oakland in ’68, Emilio Castillo, Stephen Kupka, Rocco Prestia and company have played and toured a suped-up funky brand of soul—the very definition of American music—since day one. These dudes ain’t duffers, and over the years they’ve also lent their cred and horn section to stalwarts of Americana like Little Feat, The Grateful Dead and John Lee Hooker. Next time you take in a professional sports event in the Bay Area—especially any game leading up to a championship round—take notice of the preshow, triumphal and celebratory tunes floating about. That’s the Tower of Power.
So even if the pure black punk rock or heavy metal heart inside you urges an expletive, middle finger-wagging response to the thesis I’ve presented, think again. Here’s a chance to bathe in the river every American sooner or later comes upon. If you decide to dive in, the show is at Isleta Amphitheater (5601 University SE) on Tuesday, May 20, starting at 7pm. Admission ranges from $35 to over $350. Jeez. I hope you get a cheeseburger or a basket of onion rings with the big ticket.