Hosing Down

Hardly Soft

I can recall my elementary school days with nearly day-to-day precision. One day Mrs. Merrill introduced a new word with the first really fun, evocative definition I’d yet encountered. The word was perseverance and her definition was sticktoitiveness. Tenacity, persistence, doggedness, and the like would come later but this was the first definition we could repeat with an arched eyebrow, just as we were beginning to appreciate the varied uses of that facial affectation. Mrs. Merrill emphasised the third syllable but in time I was to learn that most like-minded teachers emphasized the second, making the definition sound slightly more legitimate or scientific. Regardless of all other considerations, perseverance always seemed a proud and desirable concept.

Also, in time we would grasp the occasional downside, when perseverance would be tainted by delusion. After all, the concept itself was man-made…

In music, we’ve been blessed with many who kept on creating masterpieces almost until the moment they died, leaving those left behind and those to come the benefit of their on-going, second pseudo-existence on earth.

Then of course there have been those who hit relatively big and perhaps should have thrown in the towel well before they became an embarrassment to themselves or their disciples. Do names like Justin Beiber or Sade or Jose Sinatra ring a bell?

As for the good ones who stick to it in the music industry and thrive, we owe them a great deal just as they surely owe their fans classy product. By still being around, they’re able to revive cherished feelings from our pasts. They can inspire gratitude that we breathe the same air as they do at this point in history – a sense of shared humanity – along with anticipation of future goodies we might be able to grab in hope of stuffing ourselves senseless. It’s great to have something to look forward to.

Are there any really great ones still at it? The purist in me (when I’m able to locate him) would require that as far as groups are concerned, they’ve got to be still as strong as when they first broke through and to have had zero change in personnel through the decades. That pretty much eliminates groups, don’t it? And if we’re considering a solo artist, I’d change personnel to personality and retain the rest, with the additional requirement that the singer never lowers the key of any songs during concert performances. That would leave the English-speaking world with approximately two candidates. Ladies and gentlemen, the Purest Potentates of Perseverance, the King and Queen of Sticktoitiveness are Tom Jones and Aretha Franklin.

But in an imperfect world there’s nothing wrong with latching onto what remains. It was truly thrilling (in an ambivalant way) to learn that one of San Diego’s own, finest New Wave-era groups, the Stiffies, are still going at it. In deference to Time, they are now known as the Soft Rockets, but their own perseverance should forever stand as a model in any sense save an instructive one.

In the early ’80s the Stiffies disappeared suddenly, splintering into various new groups (Rockola among them) but their rigid (okay, stiff) determination never left them after all and lo, after many decades they are back although aged, infirm, even dead, and there’s a lot of unspent passion they’re ready to shoot out if only the flesh were willing. The music continues so that the legend may grow, and perhaps the most admirable element of the reformed band is the fact that in all these years, none of the members ever beacame a politician, lawyer, or terrorist.

I’ve held them in high regard since 1983, when Johnny Stiffy and Tommy Stiffy gave Troy Dante and me our second (and second biggest) hit, “Too Young for Love” (available on Knowing Me, Touching Me and Education and Outreach as well as the forthcoming Jose Sinatra Great As Tits.) In addition, Tommy was my older brother.

Johnny Stiffy – now Johnny Softrocket – put things into someone else’s perspective during a recent trans-county call: “I’m just continuing what we’d be doing, what Tommy would want to be doing, had he not passed away 16 years ago,” he states without a hint of pedophilia. And sometimes at night I hear Tommy telling me that Johnny is correct, if perhaps skirting a bit over one indespensible aspect of the true Stiffy experience: the eternal importance surrounding the proper accommodation, care, and “feeding” of the all-important Groupies.

“It’s true, we don’t really get out much anymore,” admits Johnny, “And we’ve yet to perform our new album live anywhere. We’re not spring (chickens) any longer and the various infirmities of  our ‘mature’ years – SBS, life-threatening illnesses, death – have a tendency to inhibit proper delivery of our essence. But tomorrow is another day and where the will perseveres, there’s a way. Or not. We were never big on quibbling over details.”

Indeed, perusing the band’s website, it’s clear that despite their new name, the caring, sensitive side of these barbarians is still a powerful consideration. Ladies should  notice especially the Top Ten Qualities It Takes to Be a Soft Rocket Babe (there are actually 26) and plan their futures accordingly. Or, the list of what they look for in a groupie. And one about what they look for in a woman….

Also on the site, you’ll learn all there is to know (and more than you deserve to) about the group’s legendary, overconfident manager, the mysterious “Mr. Bruiser.” This much-feared character, long speculated about but never adequately neutered, is a prima face example of the truth that every dog has its day.

The ten songs on the new CD The Soft Rockets are wonderful. I have a stiff suspicion that it’s actually a soft, solo job by Johnny himself (with maybe a killer guitar solo from the mysterious Miffy Stiffy thrown in?), but the spirit is all there. As is an undeniable poignancy; a statement from someone who probably couldn’t care less how to define perseverance yet finally reveals the concept in its most natural state:

I want to cry… I remember loving you… you smell like licorice… I’ve done a lot of wrong… Here we go again down the path to oblivion… I’m shatterd and afraid… living past my “best by” date… the future’s yours, I’ve lost mine… I don’t buy your mistique… call me stranger, call me strange… you were always quicker on your feet…

All spiked with a whimsical bitterness, enveloped in a sense of truth that should be enough to pave someone’s path to forgiveness, if not salvation.

Please visit the Soft Rockets (at thesoftrockets.com) for your own amusement or your own soul and at your own peril. If it’s jammed, keep trying. Nobody loves a quitter.

  • September 2012

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