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Cooper says the workaday plotline -- especially the pub sing-along "Have Another Drink" -- plays well with the semiprofessional IBP cast. "The opening lines of that song are 'Has everybody got problems? Are you stuck in a dead-end job?' We all walk around in the breaks singing that and going, 'Yeah!' "
Winscott takes comfort in the fact that Davies, despite never working a traditional job, could obviously relate to the rest of us. Perhaps rock stars are not so different after all. "Ray Davies has never had a nine-to-five in his whole life," Winscott says. "And as great as being a fuckin' rock star is, it's probably not all it's cut out to be."
Evidently it isn't. Why else would so many rock stars have written rock operas in an attempt to be taken more seriously than their cohorts? The very existence of the genre speaks to rock and its practitioners' unnamed yearning for mainstream respectability.
The Who's Tommy is a classic example. Though not the first rock opera (that honor goes to the Pretty Things' S.F. Sorrow), it is among the most famous. According to British author and music business mogul Simon Napier-Bell, Tommywas the brainchild not so much of Pete Townshend, but of the Who's vengeful manager, Kit Lambert. Kit's father, Constant Lambert, had been a classical composer whose last substantial work was panned mercilessly by the London critics, and according to Napier-Bell, the elder Lambert drank himself to death six weeks after its disastrous opening. "For Kit, the Who doing Tommy at the Met was some sort of revenge with the traditional music establishment," Napier-Bell wrote Racket via e-mail from London.
To a certain extent, the rock opera movement was an expression of rock's postadolescence. By the late 1960s, rock had moved beyond simply doing whatever it took to piss off and/or terrify old people and started trying to beat them at their own game. It took the punk movement of the mid-'70s to bring rock back to its "hope I die before I get old" roots. By that time, the likes of Pete Townshend were singing a very different tune.
For Napier-Bell, what we call "rock opera" is a misnomer. For him, Tommy and A Soap Opera and Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar belong in the same musical tradition that gave us Guys and Dolls and West Side Story. "What was really worthy of the name 'rock opera' was any of the classic live performances by the great rock groups of the '70s," he writes. "A live show by Led Zeppelin was something far more worthy of being called 'rock opera' than was Tommy, as were any of the Who's live performances, or shows by Queen, or Guns N' Roses, or Iron Maiden. No! Perhaps they were 'rock circus.' "
And once you get to Iron Maiden, we're back cocking our eyebrows at the jitterbugging elves and hulking druids again. Lucky for us, then, that A Soap Operais not a true rock opera.
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