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It's Only Rock N' Roll
Music television, Daisy Jones & The Six, and The Sunset Strip
This week I'm going to write about something that I've thought about since last summer. While the subject's tone may differ week in, week out, every newsletter, as the title attests, be about things rather dear to me. So here it is, my love letter to music television, rock bars, and 'Daisy Jones & The Six'. I hope you enjoy, and please let me know if it resonates with you.
During the past year, we have all have developed coping methods for living during a pandemic. When things are unreliable, unpredictable, and intensely stressful, we turn to what soothes. Some friends have spent more time watching movies, some lingered over jigsaws for hours, and others spent days "visiting" friends through Animal Crossing, it was music television that became my comfort blanket.
During March or April (I can't recall exactly which month, it's all of a blur) I found myself numb to the constant cycle of news I was watching. I sat with my laptop on lap, continually refreshing the page for any updates, stomach twisted into a knot of sheer worry. It did not help that I was doing this while bingeing CNN around the clock. My forthcoming trip to Los Angeles was in doubt, but with no cancellation notice from the festival I was attending, or the airline, I did not know what to do.
A few weeks later, it soon became apparent that I would not be leaving my home, let alone the country. The decision, made for me, felt better than making it myself. After what felt like weeks, I managed to tear myself from news, but my mind was elsewhere. Watching a film, such a pleasurable activity, became hard work, so I fell in a rut of binging reality/scripted-reality shows. One night, fed up from just, well, everything, I turned on Kerrang! TV. I sometimes flick through the music channels briefly in passing, but I left it on this time. As a late teen and twenty-something, I frequently watched music television; it was often on in the background as I was preparing for college, uni, or work. On this particular day, I recall it being a countdown of some sort (likely Top 20 Rock Anthems or something similar that the channel is so fond of doing). I didn't turn away until I went to bed over an hour later.
Kerrang! TV, loosely connected to its sister magazine, launched in 2001 with an instant propensity towards nu-metal, indie rock, and pop-punk of its era. As the channel's Wikipedia states:
'The first broadcast of Kerrang! TV had a countdown of voters' most-desired videos. The most popular choice and the first video ever shown on Kerrang! TV was Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit". Limp Bizkit's "Break Stuff" and Everlast's "Black Jesus" were also in the first 3 [sic] videos ever played.'
Sometimes I would switch to MTV Rocks, which was more my speed (mostly because they played Guns N’ Roses pretty frequently). To compare, let's say the former was the older, hotter, rocker brother who would loan his younger nu-metal fan brother his records from time-to-time. With its programming innovatively titled things like 'Biggest! Hottest! Loudest!' and the irresistible '80s Vs 90s Rock Legends' it was geared entirely towards my music preferences. The channel became a visual radio, and I found the music videos took me away, however briefly, from the constant anxiety of living during a pandemic.
The distinction between the two channels reminded me of XLs, a Birmingham rock club and my favourite place to go on a Saturday night. Situated in Five Ways shopping centre, you paid at the door and climbed two flights of stairs to reach the second level, which homed three rooms (classic rock, nu-metal, and 90s — I rarely went in that one so barely recall what was even played). The carpet was always sticky, and I can't recall anyone being ID. Young teens with chains attached to their jeans swigged from plastic pint glasses, while older rockers danced to Aerosmith's 'Living on the Edge' clutching bottles of beer or cans of Diet Coke. It was the same faces every week, the setlist was big on 80s LA sleaze, heavy metal, and hard rock — it was bliss and always a fun place.
One morning I turned on MTV Rocks to discover it had vanished, taken off the air. Maybe I was the only one who watched it? I was also voraciously reading rock autobiographies, often those of the musicians in the same band. Doing this, you often find yourself reading the same tale told three (or more) different ways: the three band members’ accounts of what occurred, and the truth. Everyone has a different version of what happened, and time warps specific memories or adds characters who were never there. Sometimes, the person describing the event was not there themselves. It all makes for compelling storytelling, and you are left wondering whose version, if not believable, was the most accurate.
Yes, I read three autobiographies by past and present members of Guns N’ Roses — what do you expect? I was also seeking out fiction set around the Sunset Strip. 'Daisy Jones & The Six' came on my radar, and I devoured in a single day. Taylor Jenkins Reid's novel (soon to be an Amazon TV series starring Riley Keough) talks us through a fictional 1970s rock band's rise. From the Sunset Strip venues to their mysterious and acrimonious final concert and break-up on a Chicago stage, we learn the ins-and-outs of their story. The structure of band members telling their sides of the story through alternating paragraphs is a perfect example of how multiple people experience the same event in very different ways. Instead of having one character per book, it's all in one, clear as day. Egos clash, creative differences, affairs, it's all in the there. It feels uncannily real; as though, you are reading the account of a genuine band. While there is certainly a comparison to Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous to be made, Daisy is not Penny Lane.
"I had absolutely no interest in being someone else's muse" she defiantly states on page 14.
I am not a muse.
I am the somebody.
End of the fucking story.
Daisy is an “It Girl”, but she knows she is supremely talented. Her statement automatically reminded me of the Surrealist artist Leonora Carrington's comment on women, artists, and subservience. "I didn't have time to be anyone's muse... I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist." I was reeled in and invested in this band; it felt comforting, like being there, experiencing the ride for yourself, when you cannot go anywhere.
Who knows when we will get that feeling of standing in a dive bar, or a concert hall, watching a band play again? I worry about those bands who rely on small intimate venues to build their careers, especially now that some establishments have not survived the past year. I imagine it will be a long time before clubs have packed dance floors, and sticky carpets, again, and imagine the standing room of concerts will be a thing of the past. With everything so uncertain, who knows when I can see my friends on the West Coast, have a drink at The Rainbow or see a band play live at The Whisky. Maybe in time, the world will return to some modified normality, but, until then, we stay safe indoors, and I will take whatever musical, visual, and literary comfort I can get as a distraction for living in the real world. And that includes Kerrang! TV.
Love Letters During A Nightmare is a series of newsletters by me, Sabina Stent, about things I adore. It’s free (for now), but if you enjoyed and would like to buy me a coffee/contribute to my research fund, you can do so via my Ko-Fi Page. If not, please subscribe via the button below. Thank you for reading.