Quirk Your Enthusiasm (11)

By: Joshua Glenn
August 11, 2016

curry

One of 25 installments in a series of posts analyzing and celebrating a few of our favorite New Wave songs from c. 1977–1982. Josh Glenn’s series introduction is here, and you can listen to the QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM playlist here. Enjoy!

“I DO THE ROCK” | TIM CURRY | 1979

In-between his career-defining turn, in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, as a sweet transvestite from Transsexual (a planet in the Transylvania-ha-ha galaxy), and a lesser-known but equally uncanny performance as late-night DJ Johnny LaGuardia, in the proto-riot grrrl movie Times Square, Tim Curry recorded “I Do the Rock” — a rock’n’roll anthem, complete with wailing sax, that pokes fun at the rockist worldview. (In the ’80s, the “I Do the Rock” video was often played before midnight screenings of Rocky Horror, in which Curry’s glam character assassinates Eddie, an avatar of authentic rock’n’roll, with an axe.) Through these campy provocations, Curry articulated and performed for us the possibility of an unnerving, enticing cultural-political mode… one that preserved-yet-destroyed the authentico-rockist cultural politics of the Sixties. Nice!

If the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club album asked us, in idealistic Sixties fashion, to imagine a trans-historical community of outsider artists, intellectuals, actors, gurus, and athletes, then “I Do the Rock” dismisses the glamorous spell cast by such figures, via devastating couplets. Literature: “Gertrude’s hanging pictures/Alice making tea/Me, I do the only thing that still/Makes sense to me.” Rock’n’roll: “Rodney [Stewart]’s feeling sexy/Mick is really frightfully bold/Me, I do the only thing that stops me growing old.” Philosophy: “I’m afraid philosophy/Is just too much responsibility for me.” Celebrity: “It must be really frightful/To attract publicity.” Politics: “I could never get the hang of ideology.” Instead of subscribing to any of these supposedly liberating ways of life, Curry does the rock. Note: In the true tradition of Oscar Wilde, Curry articulates a passionate, yet simultaneously ironic ethos. He doesn’t rock… he does the rock.

So how does one do the rock? Curry recognizes the temptation, for misfits and outsiders, to withdraw into a protective subculture… and he warns against doing so. (Consider Frank N. Furter and Johnny LaGuardia, each of whose role it is to provoke tribes of misfits until they rebel against his diktats.) At the level of form, the song’s chugging, “Werewolves of London”-esque forward momentum is itself an appeal to keep going, ever forward. Doing the rock is life-affirming, mind-expanding: “stimulating, stimulating.” At the end, Curry urges us to be fearless (cf. the title of the album on which this song first appeared) when it comes to tearing the roof off our cherished assumptions: “Sunshine, sunshine!/Oh, we got the top down now!/If you don’t have the top down, pull the top down!” Still — if you watch the video — even these encouraging final sentiments are delivered with a knowing smile. We’re going to have to figure out how to do the rock ourselves.

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QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Mark Kingwell on Soft Cell’s TAINTED LOVE | Joanne McNeil on Gary Numan’s METAL | Devin McKinney on Suicide’s FRANKIE TEARDROP | Douglas Wolk on Family Fodder’s SAVOIR FAIRE | Elina Shatkin on Marianne Faithfull’s BROKEN ENGLISH | Steph Burt on Altered Images’ HAPPY BIRTHDAY | Greg Rowland on Jilted John’s JILTED JOHN | Gordon Dahlquist on XTC’s RESPECTABLE STREET | Adrienne Crew on D-Day’s TOO YOUNG TO DATE | Jonathan Lethem on The Blue Nile’s I LOVE THIS LIFE | Josh Glenn on Tim Curry’s I DO THE ROCK | Molly Wright Steenson on Missing Persons’ WORDS | Anthony Miller on The Nails’ 88 LINES ABOUT 44 WOMEN | Luc Sante on The Normal’s WARM LEATHERETTE | Mimi Lipson on Dolly Mixture’s HOW COME YOU’RE SUCH A HIT WITH THE BOYS, JANE? | Tim Carmody on Talking Heads’ LIFE DURING WARTIME | Ingrid Schorr on Ian Dury’s CLEVOR TREVER | Adam McGovern on Lene Lovich’s LUCKY NUMBER | Deb Chachra on Rough Trade’s HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL | Tor Aarestad on Oingo Boingo’s LITTLE GIRLS | David Smay on The B-52’s’ DANCE THIS MESS AROUND | Jessamyn West on Blondie’s HANGING ON THE TELEPHONE | Drew Daniel on The Human League’s MARIANNE | Erik Davis on Tuxedomoon’s TIME TO LOSE | Dan Fox on Thomas Dolby’s EUROPA & THE PIRATE TWINS.

NEW WAVE HILO HEROES: Debbie Harry | Marianne Faithfull | Grace Jones | Ian Dury | Mark Mothersbaugh | Plastic Bertrand | Tim Curry | Kate Pierson | Green Gartside | David Byrne.

MORE ENTHUSIASM SERIES at HILOBROW

#SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST & dozens of other squads | GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other new wave songs. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other fantasy novels from 1934–43. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other old-school hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.

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Enthusiasms, Music, Pop Music