What Is This Thing Called Rock?

In front of the MUSEO DEL ROCK in Catanzaro Calabria (note the Hebraic lettering)

Rock Museums are curious beasts. Cleveland's "Rock and Roll Hall of Fame" a case in point.

First off, in the whole history of this musical whatacallit, the only white hot throbbing sub-culture / phenom that matters, it's always been quote ROCK 'N' ROLL unquote to any serious purveyor / adept of the genre. I mean, what is this "and" bullshit anyway?? "And" being a very, very weak sister of "'N". 

But hey you can wiki the Cleveland RRHOF (actually situated at-- get this -- "1100 Rock and Roll Boulevard," oy!) only to discover that in some instances (like on their own website) they try to fudge the whole wail bone o' contention here and merely refer to themselves as the "Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame." Ampersand that! 

"Let me whisper sweet words of 'pismotality and discuss the puppetuse of love," indeed (best line in the spoken word section of Vernon Green & the Medallions's  epic "The Letter").


The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is let’s face it mainly about Money -- money made over the years for labels, managers, publishers and promoters, and is not exactly, ummm, artist-friendly…it's more about how many tables they can sell to labels with vested interests in whatever "worthy" they deem fit to induct.  

And let's face, the Hall of Shame has NO TIME FOR BEEFHEART.

Despite Don Van Vliet's name coming up in the first few years of the Hall's inception as a worthy inclusion to its august ranks, as well it should have been considering Van Vliet's enormous contributions to single-handedly Changing the Face of Music as we know it with 1969's Trout Mask Replica and even earlier (wouldnae been an actual Punk Rock movement now would there without his pioneering bluesy Outsider aggression, going back to his very first single of '66 "Diddy Was Diddy," and also 1967's groundbreaking Safe as Milk  album)  -- Beefheart never made the cut, go figure. 

I have that on good authority from various music critics and industry folks who participated in the selection process for a couple years and then dropped out of the RockaRollaHalla in disgust. Whether Don's name comes up at all at this point is kind of moot.

I once tried lobbying Sire label supremo Seymour Stein  -- one of the RRHOF's founders along with Jann Wenner -- about this up at Pop Montreal -- making the case for Van Vliet in reference to the reverence shown him by the first wave of Punk and New Wave avatars: John Lydon, Joe Strummer, David Thomas, The B-52s, DEVO, Nick Cave, etc -- also citing earlier Beefheart fans like Robert Plant, Ian Anderson, and Tom Waits, and also forwarding to Beef aficionados PJ Harvey, Jeff Buckley, and Jack White. 

"All of them would tell you that Don Van Vliet should be inducted into the RRHOF now, Seymour! That's how heavy an influence the guy had on these artists!"

"Gary, Gary," Seymour replied, non plussed, "My friend Neil Sedaka's not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!! Now how do you think I feel about that??"

Anywho...imho (the only POV that matters for the nonce -- otherwise why are you bothering to read this?), the Real Deal Rock 'n' Roll Museum is located not in Clevo, but in the heart of Calabria Southern Italy -- in the capital city of Catanzaro to be precise. 

There you will find the MUSEO DEL ROCK in all its glory -- a splendid shrine to the unholy musical rites du sauvage, a pagan temple to all things lewd, pulsating, transgressive, marginal, and (dare I say) fascinating about this thing called Rock.

I mean, imagine an entire wall devoted to cracked lunatic poet SYD BARRETT, original founding member of Pink Floyd. 

Imagine an entire wall devoted to CAPTAIN BEEFHEART. And a whole wall devoted to THE MOVE. Also MOBY GRAPE…

And on and on into cult artist heaven (not neglecting the acknowledged heavyweight champeens on the order of yr Beatles Stones and Dylan of course et al)…

"We Italians love what you call 'damaged artists,'" the be-earringed Museuo Del Rock curator confided to me when I gaped in astonishment at the cult-ish sonic wonderment enshrined / festooning the walls of this joint.

And how did this master of the Museo assemble such a magnificent collection? I mean, they had Dylan artifacts on display on the order of original lyrics from Bob's white-hot early '60s heyday jotted down on a torn bit of motel stationery.

"Well, the civic fathers of Catanzaro gave me a budget," he smiled. "And I went all over the globe on a rock shopping spree, basically."

I'll say!

So you the reader, if you have even the slightest love of rockrockrocknroll, have to go. Leaving there lovely port city of Gioia Tauro, and driving up the wild coast of Calabria, with pounding ocean on one side of the narrow highway and decaying, crumbling castles perched high up in the mountains on the other side, is worth the price of the journey alone

If you think you know Italia…you ain't seen nothing like Calabria.

And if you think you know ROCK…


True confession: I played my heart out giving an intense sweaty solo concert at the Museo Del Rock a couple years ago with my Calabrian rock star pal singer Jack Vee a/k/a Emilio Sorridente and his band sitting in at the close.

The Museo had just brought legendary UK drummer / scenester Twink in there  (a member of Pretty Things and the Pink Fairies amongst other psychedelic beat combos du jour). Jack and I did a bunch of Lucas / Buckley tunes and in honor of Syd a medley of "Astronomy Domine / Interstellar Overdrive" at the close. The audience ate it up. I was so honored to play there.

Afterwards, the thin,white-haired City Fathers / Keepers of the Keys to the Museo took me to dinner outdoors in a lush green grotto. We sat at one long picnic table under fairy lights -- and one Calabrian specialty after another was served up for my delectation throughout the long evening -- along with a selection of the finest local and regional wines (I'm a tee-totaller, but I tasted them all!) --  a real Feast of Friends.

It was one of the best nights of my touring life. 

And I can't wait to come back to play in Italy!

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