You Used To Be Cool 

Mike & Rick might be a rock joke, but they’re no joke rock

Get back here, metalhead, I’m still talking to you.

Yeah, I know it’s all strictly ’87 for you. I know you’ve got a sport utility vehicle now. I know you think you’re all brand new ‘cause you’re rocking that new Dave Matthews or Keb Mo or that Ani Whatsherface that your fiancee’s got you listening to. I see the new you. So which one are you supposed to be, Abercrombie or Fitch? J or Crew? LL or Bean?

I don’t care about any of that. What I do care about is you just sitting there and telling me that you didn’t shout yourself stupid when the lights went down and they came onstage. That you didn’t feel that surge of pride in your throat when he went “AWWRIGHT! So how you doin’ tonight, [name of hometown]? We heard [same] likes to party! So what do you got to say about that, [same]? Here’s a little song about how we like to party when we’re in [same]. One two three four!”

Tell me that didn’t mean a thing to you. That you never forked over your allowance plus your paper route money plus the money your Gramma gave you plus two dollars borrowed from me to get the crappy black T-shirt that was hanging on you like a limp sail that night but shrunk way too small the first time you washed it. That you didn’t think we were part of something bigger when we wore that stuff to school next day and got skin from the kids who never used to talk to us until they saw the incontrovertible evidence that we were there and we had the black cotton to prove it and they yelled YEAAHHHH at the show when the singer said the name of our town onstage and it meant something to be in the mental geography of someone from England like that and who cares if a roadie wrote it on a piece of loose-leaf paper taped to the stage next to the mic stand right where he could see it because that guy, remember? He couldn’t remember anything between who was going to bring the coke to the party and where’s the groupie I’m going to tie to the bed and snort me that boogie dust off her butt tonight. AWWRIGHT! Somebody puked right behind us and stunk up the whole row and we didn’t care. Tell me I didn’t have to tell your mom you “weren’t stoned, just totally rocked out, the poor little guy” when she came to pick us up past eleven on a school night and the whole way we rode back to the Heights with me in the front seat she sure didn’t believe me and her chirping on and on about was I going to take band next year and what was I going to do when I graduated.

‘Cause, dude, you can’t fool me. It’s me, man, me, you remember? I knew you, man, back in the day, before the SUV and the black lab and this chick thinks she’s marrying a lawyer. I knew you, dude.

“We’ve all been to the fair,” Mike and Rick guitarist Tim Graham told me, “and anyone who has been to a county fair knows exactly where Mike and Rick is coming from,” on Who’s Gonna Kick Your Ass?, in which we find Mike and Rick walking the fine line between the excitement of the junior high metal show and how the lead singer said the name of our town onstage, and the social experiment of being a teenager in a pack stalking back and forth behind the dart toss and the machine gun BB guns where you could shoot out the star and win a unicorn mirror and the Sons of Norway booth where they were selling spiced meat and fried dough on a stick. “Vikings.”

And I still feel like that, man. You’ve got a song like “Me’n’tha Boyz R Goin Down 2 tha Fair 2nite” and I’m all ears. You got a song called “Garden City Woman,” and you can be in some craphole bar and you’re still singing it off a five-foot-high stage in a fieldhouse where tomorrow some dudes are going to be playing basketball. Yeah, man, basketball! Right here!

This might be a rock joke, but it’s no joke rock. Unless it was all a joke when Mike & Rick broke into “Sunset on Evaro” and every lighter in the room came out and sparked at once and everyone who’s ever dug the rock and been to the fair was singing along.

Who cares if Rob Halford says he’s gay, dude? United, united, united we stand! United we stand one and all! Leather speaks rock; rock’s a universal language. I see the Flying V slung off the hip and I think. “Ah, the pride of the Teuton!” I hear a pinch harmonic and it’s the squeal of the Hessian.

So sing you the body electric. Roll the 39-sided dice and sing of the dwarves of yore weaving mighty spells; I’m still standing here, aren’t I? Lewis and Clark are up in this mother, soldiering drunkenly toward El Dorado (actual chorus on “Pride of America”: “Left, right, left/Marching forth/Lewis & Clark were the pride of America.” Actual lyric about Sacagawea: “Leading the men into the night/None of them did she lay/Though they begged and groveled and grunted/None of them did she lay.” Actual fake Corps of Discovery correspondence recited therein: “Dear Diary: So cold, so alone … until such time as I can rid myself of Meriwether’s lead, I will continue my nightly toil of drink and the quest for one good-natured buggering. … I sometimes find myself leering at the beasts of burden that surround the camp.”

Lyrical genius. Revanchist rock. Garden City meisterwerk. Dude, I knew you.

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