At the opening show of Bruce Springsteen’s new tour, the first 30 feet of floor space was separated from the rest by a bike rack barricade. Right behind the bike rack, a fellow in maybe his early forties, long hair, beard, motorcycle style t-shirt and jeans, held a tow-headed boy about 10 years old. The kid had a crayoned sign: “Bruce Rocks.” The father occasionally had exchanges with the security guards about the dad putting his son’s feet on a ladder on the “wrong” side of the barricade.. I thought, “What a drag if this is this kid’s only chance to spend time with his dad, and he has to pretend he’s interested in a middle-aged rock’n’roll star.”
Late in the show, the band lit into “41 Shots,” Bruce’s song inspired by Amadou Diallo’s shooting. They’d rearranged it so when I heard a high, sweet “41 shots!” in my left ear, I looked toward Nils Lofgren. But Nils wasn’t singing.
Then I realized that the sound came from behind me. I turned and there was the 10-year-old singing every word of the song in a voice to tear your heart up, especially on the verse where a mother reminds a kid his own age to be careful not to give the cops a chance to kill him. When the song was over, I thanked him.
I should have thanked his father, too. Kids learn songs like “41 Shots” only at home. That particular song got played a lot only by people who know that it could be also be their kid lying on the cement. That was one hell of a father.
This comes to my mind a week later because I just learned my friend John Woods of Rock Out Censorship died this weekend. His huge heart gave out at age 51.
Nobody but those of us in the censorship trenches ever paid much attention to Woods or ROC. They looked like they’d just gotten off work and were headed on their bikes for a beer. The kind of guys who are supposed to hate rock critics and not take anything seriously except sex and drugs. In truth, John’s crew-which included Randy Payton and Kenny Moore–was tough, smart, fearless and shameless. When it seemed like Tipper Gore had the keys to a steamroller in her purse, rather than backing up like the record labels, they put out a t-shirt. “Who made Tipper Gore God?” it said.
John Woods worked as a coal miner in his native northeastern Ohio. He deserted from the Army and went to Sweden when that was the right thing to do. He organized welfare recipients when the mines closed. Later he became president of the Jewett, Ohio Junior Chamber of Commerce. He always lived so close to the ground that you could never be sure his phone number was working. Yet he, Randy, and Kenny traveled on tours by Guns’n’Roses, Metallica, Wu Tang and Rage Against the Machine. They turned up with their powerhouse tabloid newsletter, The ., pamphlets, shirts, buttons on a card table. They talked to-and accepted censorship “incident reports” from–kids who had to live with abuse from parents, “teachers,” cops and, for that matter, record store clerks, for liking the wrong kind of music, wearing the wrong clothes, having the wrong hair-all the every day crap that turns out Eminem and Axl Rose and Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Zach de la Rocha, even Bruce Springsteen.
John loved the music and the people who made the music, as we all do. But he also loved the other people who loved the music and the musicians. To stand up for them, he slept in his car or on somebody’s floor and sat in the heat and the rain and sometimes even the snow. He complained, a lot, but it wasn’t about that. It was about the fact that nobody paid attention to music and kids getting fucked over, and about the government going on a rampage against the people who were least able to protect themselves.
Did I say he deserted from the army? In the Guitar Army, the greatest on Earth, he belonged to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I’m proud to have served with him.
DeskScan (what’s playing in my office)
1. The Rising, Bruce Springsteen (Sony)-A middle-aged man considers death and chooses life.
2. A Cellarful of Motown: Rarest Motown Grooves (Motown)-If Motown had promoted, say, The Fantastic Four’s “If This World Were Mine” instead of Marvin Gaye’s, of course it wouldn’t have been the greatest record label of all time. It might not have been any better than fourth.
3. Jerusalem, Steve Earle (E Squared)-The real Neil Young.
4. The Complete John Lee Hooker, Vol. 4: Detroit 1950-51 (Body & Soul, Fr.)
5. Love That Louie: The Louie Louie Files (Ace UK)
6. Africa Raps (Trikont)
7. “Skin to Skin,” from What We Talk Of…When We Talk, Stewart Francke (Blue Boundary)-Source material for Springsteen’s “Let’s Be Friends (Skin to Skin)”? Sure seems like it to me. Anyhow, Francke and Barb Payton turn in the blue-eyed equivalent of a Marvin and Tammy duet, so what the hell are you waitin’ for?
8. All Over Creation, Jason Ringenberg (Yep Rock)-Alt-country pioneer struggles between embracing Southerness and freedom, seeing the Civil War like an Irish immigrant and finishing the civil rights movement.
9. Time Bomb High School, Reigning Sound (In the Red)-If anything could revive doowop, it’d be that opening version of “Stormy Weather.”
10. Try Again, Mike Ireland and Holler (Ashmont)
11. Adult World, Wayne Kramer (MuscleTone)
12. Down in the Alley, Alvin Youngblood-Hart (Memphis International)
13. Born Under a Bad Sign, Albert King (Stax/Fantasy)-Not a straightup blues album but as good an R&B album as exists. To my ear, the best horn charts in Stax history.
14. 1000 Kisses, Patty Griffin (ATO)
15. Viva El Mariachi: Nati Cano’s Mariachi Los Camperos (Smithsonian Folkways)
16. Woodeye, Joel Rafael Band -Terrific collection of Woody Guthrie songs, including some obscurities (“When the Curfew Blows,” “Dance a Little Longer”) and “Ramblin’ Round,” credited to Woody, Leadbelly and that paragon of honest folklore, John Lomax, Sr.
17. Que Pasa?: The Best of the Fania All-Stars (Columbia/Legacy)
18. Playing with the Strings, Lonnie Johnson (JSP UK)-The blues guitar genius with Armstrong, Ellington, Don Redman, and a jug band and blind Willie Dunn’s Gin Bottle Four.
19. Keep on Burning, Bob Frank (Bowstring; )
20. Superbad! The Soul of the City (Time-Life)-A seamless argument for celebrating the ’70s while ignoring the Bradys, Kiss and the Osmonds.
Dave Marsh coedits Rock and Rap Confidential. Marsh is the author of The Heart of Rock and Soul: the 1001 Greatest Singles.
He can be reached at: email@example.com