Graded on a Curve: V/A, Rock Justice
I used to imagine it was karma, within the type of a Hell’s Angel, who punched the late Marty Balin within the face at Altamont. I used to be flawed. Callous even. I can’t consider a single rocker who deserves to be knocked unconscious, and apart from, Balin’s crimes had been all sooner or later, and I don’t suppose preemptive karma is a factor. No, Balin’s solely crime was making an attempt taking the Angels to activity for his or her cruelty. It was a futile gesture, however a noble one.
Which doesn’t change the truth that Balin has quite a bit to reply for. Sure, he was (with Grace Slick) the vocalist for the Jefferson Airplane, one of many twin giants of the San Francisco psychedelic music scene. And he wrote a tiny, tiny handful of songs that matter (“Volunteers” and “Miracles” being the massive ones), and put in a number of high quality vocal performances with the Jefferson Starship.
But his solo work (he put out greater than a dozen albums) was largely romantic AOR shlock, and the one-off bands he was a member of are mainly footnotes (Bodacious DF and the KBC Band, anybody?) Indeed, certainly one of his best feats was a non-feat; god bless him, Balin had completely nothing to do with Starship’s “We Built This City”—he was by no means a member of the band, which simply goes to point out he wasn’t as dumb as he generally appeared.
Perhaps the strangest, least savory and most unremarked episode of Balin’s lengthy and checkered profession was Rock Justice, a musical he wrote and directed for the stage in 1979. Rock Justice premiered at The Old Waldorf membership in San Francisco the place it flopped about on stage for causes self-evident to anybody unlucky sufficient to listen to the ensuing 1980 album Rock Justice. So far a I do know it has by no means been staged elsewhere.
The story line is silly humorous—whereas within the studio to document an album, the lead singer falls asleep throughout a break and desires he’s been placed on trial by his personal band for failing to provide a success single. His guitarist—duplicitous bastards, guitarists—acts as prosecutor, and calls as witnesses an assortment of rock biz personages, all of whom bear him a grudge for failing to line their pockets. Record exec, promoter, supervisor, DJ… why, Kafka and Poe working in tandem couldn’t have devised a extra diabolical situation.
Balin’s involvement on the musical aspect was restricted—he co-wrote solely 5 of the album’s eleven songs, and doesn’t sing or carry out on any of them. The artists who do carry out on the album are an nameless lot—the one musician of any notice is “lead singer” Jeff Pilson, who has performed bass with Dokken and Dio and is at present the bassist of Foreigner. The album is simply partly a memento of the stay stage manufacturing—it consists of 4 studio tracks, all of them sung by Pilson, who was not a member of the musical solid. And it is sensible, to a level—three of the 4 are the tracks that bookend the singer’s dream.
One factor I’ll hand to Balin, and it’s not negligible—he’s simply good sufficient to know that his idea can solely be performed for laughs. Part of me needs he’d gone full fool and performed his brainchild as drama, however you’ll be able to’t have every part on this life. Balin fills the mouths of the prosecutor and his witnesses with insulting one-liners—the issue is that they’re not very humorous. Schoolyard taunts, most of them.
And it actually doesn’t assist that the songs, and by that I imply the entire songs, are second-rate highschool musical fodder—”Let’s placed on a present” stuff. Had Balin and the opposite songwriters aimed to write down some straight-up rock songs, and had these rock songs not fully sucked, the LP model of Rock Justice may need stood by itself deserves as a rock opera. But the dangerous comedy and the dangerous Broadway really feel of the songs put paid to that. As it stands, Rock Justice is a mediocre curio documenting an unsavory non-event that may solely be listened to if you happen to’re within the temper to immerse your self within the sordid ingredient of abject failure.
The musical opens with “Hold Me Close” and “Rock ‘N Roll Dreams,” the 2 songs the (unnamed) band is engaged on within the studio earlier than the singer falls asleep and desires about his arrest, trial, and conviction. The first is a generic onerous rocker with present tune overtones—an aspiring Broadway auteur’s thought of an enormous muscle tissues rock music. “Rock ‘N Roll Dreams” is an overwrought ballad and, properly, icky.
Pilson sings about how he needs to make a “million folks stand up and dance,” however the music itself will make you do something however. Oh, and he needs (modest man, our singer) “all of the critics in rock and roll” to say “identical to Otis he’s a singer with soul.” Well okay. Problem is Pilson, who as far as I can inform has by no means been a vocalist, is barely a singer, a lot much less one with soul. I want I may suppose that this was Balin’s level—that he selected a so-so singer on function to assist the prosecution argument. But there’s a component of self-pity behind Rock Justice—it’s onerous to flee the suspicion that Balin in the end considers the trial a miscarriage of justice.
After that comes the trial and the witnesses, the primary of whom is the star’s supervisor, whose “testimony” within the type of “Loved That Boy” is sung by Alex Bendahan. It’s a jaunty, bluesy spoken work kinda factor, very West Side Story “hep” if you understand what I imply, and options the clearly sleazy and streetwise Bendahan occurring in a jive Great White Way about how he found the singer. The refrain is full-blown hokum, and so off-off-off-Broadway it’s possible you’ll as properly be at an newbie aspect road theater in a suburb of Topeka. Balin makes clear his low estimation of the supervisor’s rapacious enterprise practices with a not-very-funny jibe—”I took ninety %,” sings Bendahan, “That’s not that a lot.” Ouch.
Then comes the live-in-the-theater rocker “Put Him Away,” which is sung by “document government” Ric Devon. You get a number of wild guitar and one lengthy criticism, primarily that the singer is “a grasp of catastrophe” incapable of manufacturing a chart topper (“Whoo, we listened, mouths agape/There wasn’t a success”). It’s adopted by the stay “Love Beat,” which is sung by “DJ” Frank Daniels, whose criticism is similar because the rec exec’s—the singer ain’t obtained what it takes. “Love Beat” is, incongruously, a disco music—clearly Balin, who all the time knew which method the wind was blowing, was not above pandering to the pattern du jour.
Also stay: “promoter” Rocky Sullivan’s “Mogul of Rock,” a frenetic ersatz onerous rocker of the kind you’d get if you happen to requested a Broadway kind to write down a frenetic onerous rocker. Makes me consider Meatloaf, it does. He too is disgusted, and comes by way of with the borderline humorous line, “But, a phone sales space/Was the largest corridor he may fill.” Lame, positive, however Groucho Marx compared to many of the humor on show. “Not Happening” is pure present tune, and dangerous present tune at that—”Not evident, not evident, not evident” sing a crew of Sha Na Na rejects, adopted by “He’s no good.”
One Dyan Buckelew then steps up for the protection with “Testify,” a ramped up and really unfastened (and oily) adaptation of the Parliament’s 1967 hit “(I Wanna) Testify.” It’s a manic rock ’n’ soul quantity that oozes “Let’s placed on a present” enthusiasm, and it’s completely exhausting. It’s adopted by Pilson’s denunciation of the biz “Take It Off the Top.” What we’ve right here is sub par Cheap Trick with a vocal efficiency supposed to achieve the oldsters again within the low-cost seats, and whereas I’ve heard worse rockers, the lyrics stink.
“Guilty, Guilty” is yet one more onerous rocker taken at an nearly punk tempo and is sung by “choose” Mark Varney. The lyrics take you nowhere—this could have been the massive second of judgment, with a message that sums every part up, however all you get is Varney tossing off lame insults and repeating “Guilty, responsible, responsible, put him away” advert nauseam. I do like that “String him up”—it’s pretty much as good a sentence for the man responsible of this abomination as any.
The LP closes with the singer waking up and returning to the studio to shut issues out with the waste of breath “You’re Such a Part of Me.” The music proves the prosecution’s case, which I doubt was Balin’s intention. Had Balin actually needed to write down a humorous musical he’d have written a intentionally shitty music—one you possibly can chuckle with slightly than at. But he wasn’t intelligent or ego free sufficient to aim a Spinal Tap—this one, in addition to the 2 cuts that open the album, ought to suck, and do, however not deliberately. In the top, Balin is just too caught on the humorless thought of a wrongful conviction.
Rock Justice is lucky there are not any musical courts—it might properly have discovered itself seated within the electrical chair. Marty Balin’s ill-fated musical has, in its method, confronted a good worse destiny than capital punishment—it’s been banished from the recollections of all however a number of. Razed, the earth salted, and all records thereof expunged from the Book of Rock. Balin was by no means the brightest of rockers—he possessed a voice, however smarts weren’t on his resume.
That stated, Rock Justice, for all its faults, wasn’t an inherently dumb thought. Played solely for laughs, it may need lived on to grow to be a negligible however intelligent bauble. Alas, Balin wasn’t any funnier than he was good. The solely humorous factor he ever did happens in “Miracles,” when he sings, “I obtained a style of the actual world/When I went down on you woman.” That one cracks me up each time.
GRADED ON A CURVE:
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November 17, 2023 at 05:19PM
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