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The rebirth of cool

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Every now and then, I'll be at a happening event, a slick soiree, or in the middle of nowhere for that matter, and I'll run into Rochester's painting, guitar-slingin' philosophizing bon vivant, El Destructo. We'll exchange pleasantries, laugh at each other's off-color humor, and discuss the current goings-on. We think we're so smart.

One such meeting occurred this past Saturday at Randall's Island during Little Steven's Underground Garage Festival. Throughout the day Little Steven would refer to this momentous event as nothing short of a revolution. El and I concurred, both suggesting that this event marked the rebirth of cool. I'll explain.

But first: Flashback to earlier that same day. Me and Nell were rollin' eastbound and down on 178 out of Brooklyn, destination: rock 'n' roll history. As I rolled down my window to pay the bridge toll, we heard beautiful music blasting loudly from about a mile away. Cool. My God, it was The Swingin' Neckbreakers rocking out at 11:30 in the morning. This was going to be a good day.

So this is the lo-down: Little Steven threw a party and 45 acts from every generation in garage rock showed up. Innovators, instigators, legends, and new blood from around the world all shared the stage in a show that would satisfy anyone with a rock jones... and a short attention span. The majority of the bands played terse 10-minute sets. Which even in classic rock 'n' roll ditty parameters limited most to about three songs. So everybody needed to bring their A game. And most everybody did.

The show was nonstop, one band right after another. The revolving stage broke early on so Little Steven and guest hosts like Kim Fowley, Bruce Springsteen, Chuck Barris, and some of Little Steven's paisanos from The Sopranos said a few words and took turns introducing the bands.

Except for about four acts, I saw every band --- I gots the pictures to prove it. My head is still spinning. I dug deep everything I saw, but some acts really, really shined, making this one of the best shows I've ever seen.

First of all, the history was immense with legends like Bo Diddley (I mean, every band in garage rock history has covered at least one of his tunes), The Chocolate Watchband, The Shazam, The Electric Prunes, The Creation, The Pretty Things, and Big Star all on the bill. And other than Nancy Sinatra (who kinda phoned in her performance), and Pete Best (who I'm sure is still kicking himself), these groups sounded amazing.

The current reigning generation was there in reverent force, all paying homage to Little Steven, the man who saved rock 'n' roll.

Bands like The Chesterfield Kings, The Fleshtones, The Fuzztones, The Charms, The Cynics, The Woggles, The Mooney Suzuki, The Paybacks, The Forty-Fives, The Dictators, The Raveonettes, etc., rocked in frenetic bursts of greasy attitude and swagger.

Garage's second-wave highlight was definitely The New York Dolls and Iggy & The Stooges.

I was pleasantly surprised to see David Johannsen strut out on stage all tarted-up. This man hasn't lost his roar at all. And the vicious blues that flow in their veins spilled out in a torrent of Dolls classics. Bo apparently forgot he even wrote "Pills," so the Dolls tore it up instead.

The Detroit rock band that wanted to be an r&b band and wound up being a punk band, Iggy And The Stooges, closed the show for obvious reasons. There's no band on earth that could follow them. From the moment he got on stage, Iggy looked like he was trying to turn himself inside out, writhing like a maniac covered with hornets, in a full-blown freak-out, and his head on fire. The music was beyond cool.

The rain had held off for most of the day but the sky began to slowly leak as the band hit the stage. The air reeked of danger. When the fans began to boil, Pop invited all 15,000 of them all on stage. Quite a few obliged and a good-natured riot broke out. I actually wound up on stage as well to avoid getting crushed by the surge.

The impact of this show will be felt for years. And as the years go by, people will talk proudly about being there, even those who weren't... kinda like those who claim they were at Woodstock.

This is no doubt a new beginning, as yet another generation gets exposed to an alternative to the alternative to the alternative with real guts. At last, cool is the new cool. August 14, 2004 marks its comeback: the rebirth of cool.

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