I was thinking about Type O Negative and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, two alternative unique bands and the most recent concerts I’ve seen. They are similar in many ways, with imposing leaders standing at the stage helm. Type O Negative, part Goth, part metal, part eerie coolness spawned in the dark alleys of New York. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, garage punk, hard rock power riffs, Siouxsie and the Banshees smitten, are also from the heathen underground of the Big Apple. Both bands play in their own profound way. The connection here I suppose, besides having seen these bands of late, is they are fronted by a unique, sexually charged leader.
So we ask, “Why mention the ‘Cock is Rock’ mantra?” I first heard this perversely poetic term in the pedestrian Oliver Stone film The Doors. Groupies and roadies (actually actors) often used the term during the endless biopic when referring to Jim Morrison, played of course by Mr. Bland himself Val Kilmer. Eventually Morrison grew weary of the “Cock is Rock” label, growing a shaggy beard and a lovely white-trash beer belly. According to Stone, he was rebelling against the entire sexual mystique that makes up the bizarre universe of rock stardom.
I thought of the “Cock is Rock” term when watching Type O Negative and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Type O Negative is led by gigantic front man Peter Steele. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a band leader Steele’s size, towering over six feet with a voice that would crack a castle door. One of the greatest Goth bands in history, Type O pounded through one hit after another including “Black,” “Everyone I Love is Dead,” “Christian Woman,” “Love You to Death” and of course, the David Leanian anthem, “Unsuccessfully Coping with the Natural Beauty of Infidelity.” Their confident skill comes only from a band having toured for well over a decade.
All eyes, male and female, were on Steele. Call it mesmerizing intimidation. Put an ax in his hand and a helmet on his head and, by God, you have the mutant son of Thor and Satan. I suppose I have a peculiar fascination with this most unique band. Songs last 10 to 12 minutes. Choruses change in mid-verse, riffs slow down at unexpected moments. A silhouetted Steele tells stories into the insanely tall microphone. It’s not easy to understand just what inspires this foursome to write such unusual songs played for us mere hobbits. Type O Negative is not really jamming during their endless numbers more than they just perform indefinable productions within their brooding heads. They are an acquired taste, requiring great concentration before finally reaching the foggy climatic plateau where Christopher Lee crouches and Alice Cooper hides. Once within their wax museum nightmare, welcome to a lost paradise.
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs don’t waste much time when they hit the stage. They sort of grab you by the balls and squeeze for about two hours. Lead singer Karen O must rank as one of the sexiest rock front women to come down the pike since the glorious yesteryear of Chrissie Hynde and The Pretenders. You either want her to fuck you to death or kick your ass – and either one is just fine. Black hair, tight leather pants and a smiling sneer that purrs erotic tattle, she grabs the microphone with a sexy know-all. Once again, both men and women are staring at the dark beauty straight out of a Bosch painting. And when she wails “Pin,” “No No No,” “Date With the Night” and “Black Tongue,” she is an erotic fantasy, our dreams uneasy because of it.
Obviously we could not hang the “Cock is Rock” sign around Karen O’s lovely shoulders, but the term does apply. We dream of rock/pop singers during the darkest most intimate hours of ecstasy. But how important is the sexual attraction to the success of the band? Is Johnny Rotten or Joey Ramone truly sexy? What about James Brown, Elvis Presley, Madonna and Janis Joplin? Do they all possess some kind of spark that causes us to fantasize about steamy hours of passion on a midnight balcony?
I think men fantasize about the women Elvis had at his sweaty fingertips, while women dream of running their hands through his dark, matted hair – and in other places too. Together, we writhe in orgiastic fashion on the dance floor, staring at the great “Cock is Rock” Gods our parents warned us about.
The Rolling Stones can still play “Satisfaction” as if it were 1969. But we see these wrinkled and faded men, hair dyed and disappearing, and we laugh because the “Cock is Rock” term no longer applies. They wear the skin-tight pants while suggestively moving their deteriorating hips, and we laugh secretly. The sexual spark, once so sublime while listening to the funky hump riffs of “Sympathy for the Devil,” is now an absolute farce.
Frank Sinatra stayed attractive until a ripe old age, and for good reason. He was a lounge crooner, or in his own words, “a saloon singer.” He moved with grace, adorned in designer suits and silk ties, humming “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” The band then reaches a trombone crescendo and suddenly sex, no matter the age, is infinitely cool in a Miami beach kind of way. Sinatra’s songs have a way of doing that.
But romantic sex and dirty sex are two entirely different things. One reeks of hand lotion and Old Spice. The other drips with the scent of sweat and beer, howling from dark buildings on endless summer nights. Like Type O Negative and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, it’s uninhibited, youthful and pure, the “Cock is Rock” spark undeniable.