This Band Could Save Your Life

Can you think of a band that could save your life? I didn’t ask which band could be your life, the subject of the Minutemen‘s classic “History Lesson, Part II” and Michael Azerrad‘s survey of the American rock underground circa 1981-1991. The question posed here is more literal. A Reuters article this week reported that the Bee Gees’ falsetto-fortified 1977 disco hit ‘Stayin’ Alive,” which clocks in at 103 beats per minute (bpm), almost perfectly matches the 100 per minute rate that the American Heart Association recommends for chest compressions during cardiopulmonary resuscitation. A recent study at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria found that listening to “Stayin’ Alive” helped 15 doctors and medical students perform chest compressions on dummies at the appropriate speed. By contrast, Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” despite its title, plods along at a potentially lethal 50 bpm.

No disrespect for the Bee Gees, who started out as a rather classy British Invasion band, but I suspect the disco-loving doctors stacked the deck on this one. Quick review of an online bpm directory reveals that the medical authorities strangely bypassed plenty of songs registering exactly 100 bpm, including such life-affirming ditties as “Straight Cadillac Pimpin‘” by 8-Ball and MJG and “No Shelter” by Rage Against the Machine. But I’m probably just getting defensive because I had to give a guy CPR once, and the song I recall hearing in my head was “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones, which races along at a frightful 175.8 bpm. Miraculously, he survived. For years, I’ve harbored the delusion that the Ramones helped save his life, when the life they helped save was mine.

One song I’d identify as a “lifesaver” without resorting to mathematical determinism is “(Reach Out) I’ll Be There” by the Four Tops, whose lead crooner Levi Stubbs passed away yesterday. It’s as thorny as a hook-laden love song can get, with “confusion” rhymed with “illusion” and an outstretched hand offering solace in a “world crumbling down.” Almost as good is the 1986 British hit that Stubbs inspired, “Levi Stubbs’ Tears,” which probably ranks as Billy Bragg‘s finest moment. The song is a bittersweet character study of an enduring woman that says more about living with dignity in hard times than a dozen of Bragg’s wordier political anthems. “When the world falls apart, some things stay in place/ Levi Stubbs’ tears run down his face.” When the nameless woman in the song quietly places the Four Tops tape back in its case, her world remains bleak, but she’s managed to survive to face another day, a little wearier and a little wiser. Call me corny, but at a time when the world sure seems like it’s falling apart, keeping the heart moving a little may be the most subversive impulse available. And it’s not just based on math.

Ramones, “Blitzkrieg Bop”

Four Tops, “(Reach Out) I’ll Be There”

Billy Bragg, “Levi Stubbs’ Tears”

About Roger Moore

rocklobster3.JPGRoger Moore is a writer and musical obsessive who plays percussion instruments from around the world with an equal lack of dexterity. An environmental lawyer in his unplugged moments, he has written on subjects ranging from sustainable development practices to human rights and voting rights, as well as many music reviews. A native Chicagoan, Roger lives in Oakland, California with his wife Paula, who shares his Paul Weller fixation, and two young children, Amelia and Matthew, who enjoy dancing in circles to his Serge Gainsbourg records and falling asleep to his John Coltrane records.

Roger Moore’s Musical Timeline

1966. Dropped upside down on patio after oldest sister listened to “She Loves You” on the Beatles’ Saturday cartoon show. Ears have rung with the words “yeah, yeah, yeah” ever since.

1973. Memorized all 932 verses to Don McLean’s “American Pie.”

1975. Unsuccessfully lobbied to have “Louie Louie” named the official song of his grade school class. The teacher altered the lyrics of the winner, the Carpenters’ “I Won’t Last a Day Without You,” so that they referred to Jesus.

1977. After a trip to New Orleans, frequently broke drumheads attempting to mimic the style of the Meters’ Zigaboo Modeliste.

1979. In order to see Muddy Waters perform in Chicago, borrowed the birth certificate of a 27 year-old truck driver named Rocco.

1982. Published first music review, a glowing account of the Jam’s three-encore performance for the Chicago Reader. Reading the original, unedited piece would have taken longer than the concert itself.

1982. Spat on just before seeing the Who on the first of their 23 farewell tours, after giving applause to the previous band, the Clash.

1984. Mom: “This sounds perky. What’s it called?” Roger: “ It’s ‘That’s When I Reach for My Revolver’ by Mission of Burma.”

1985. Wrote first review of an African recording, King Sunny Ade’s Synchro System. A reader induced to buy the album by this review wrote a letter to the editor, noting that “anyone wishing a copy of this record, played only once” should contact him.

1985. At a Replacements show in Boston, helped redirect a bewildered Bob Stinson to the stage, which Bob had temporarily confused with the ladies’ bathroom.

1986. Walked forty blocks through a near-hurricane wearing a garbage bag because the Feelies were playing a show at Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club.

1987. Foolishly asked Alex Chilton why he had just performed “Volare.” Answer: “Because I can.”

1988. Moved to Northern California and, at a large outdoor reggae festival, discovered what Bob Marley songs sound like when sung by naked hippies.

1991. Attempted to explain to Flavor-Flav of Public Enemy that the clock hanging from his neck was at least two hours fast.

1992. Under the pseudonym Dr. Smudge, produced and performed for the Underwear of the Gods anthology, recorded live at the North Oakland Rest Home for the Bewildered. Local earplug sales skyrocketed.

1993. Attended first-ever fashion show in Chicago because Liz Phair was the opening act. Declined the complimentary bottles of cologne and moisturizer.

1997. Almost missed appointment with eventual wedding band because Sleater-Kinney performed earlier at Berkeley’s 924 Gilman Street. Recovered hearing days later.

1997. After sharing a romantic evening with Paula listening to Caetano Veloso at San Francisco’s Masonic Auditorium, purchased a Portuguese phrasebook that remains unread.

1998. Learned why you do not yell “Free Bird” at Whiskeytown's Ryan Adams in a crowded theater.

1999. During an intense bout of flu, made guttural noises bearing an uncanny resemblance to the Throat Singers of Tuva.

2000. Compiled a retrospective of music in the nineties as a fellow at the Coolwater Center for Strategic Studies and Barbecue Hut.

2001. Listened as Kahil El’Zabar, in the middle of a harrowing and funny duet show with Billy Bang, lowered his voice and spoke of the need to think of the children, whom he was concerned might grow up “unhip.”

2002. During a performance of Wilco’s “Ashes of American Flags,” barely dodged ashes of Jeff Tweedy’s cigarette.

2002. Arrived at the Alta Bates maternity ward in Berkeley with a world trance anthology specially designed to soothe Paula during Amelia’s birth, filled with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Ali Akbar Khan, and assorted other Khans. The project proved to be irrelevant to the actual process of labor.

2003. Emceed a memorable memorial concert for our friend Matthew Sperry at San Francisco’s Victoria Theater featuring a lineup of his former collaborators, including improvised music all-stars Orchesperry, Pauline Oliveros, Red Hot Tchotchkes, the cast of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and Tom Waits.

2003. Failed to persuade Ted Leo to seek the Democratic nomination for President.

2005. Prevented two-year old daughter Amelia from diving off the balcony during a performance of Pierre Dorge’s New Jungle Orchestra at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival.

2006. On a family camping trip in the Sierra Nevadas, experienced the advanced stage of psychosis that comes from listening to the thirtieth rendition of Raffi’s “Bananaphone” on the same road trip.

One thought on “This Band Could Save Your Life

  1. Now everyone is talking about the American economy and eclections, nice to read something different. Eugene

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