Rocktoberfest Acht

So yeah, my friends and I, in a bout of total unoriginality, started this annual party called Rocktoberfest back in 2002. Rocktoberfest is a celebration of beer and friendship and meat and rocking until you break yourself. If that sounds childish and/or unimportant to you, maybe you should attend Rocktoberfest before you go judging things you don’t understand. Or maybe you’re humorless California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, who doesn’t seem to like anything at all, especially if it has ever a) been in a union or b) been poor. But I digress.

This year was the 8th annual Rocktoberfest (Rocktoberfest Acht in German. So Achtoberfest, as my pal Jom pointed out while quite drunk) and we held it at my friend Badier’s mostly former house in Menlo Park, which is dangerously close to Stanford University. Having a massive party in a house that is mostly empty is definitely the way to go. Less shit to break.

I’d like to think that everyone who attends  our Rocktoberfest recognizes that, like Hold Steady albums and good beers, the most recent one is always the best one ever. This year was no exception.

Somewhere in the haze of music, drunk, and smoke, I realized why Rocktoberfest feels like a holiday to those who attend it and, as a sort of bonus realization, why rock ‘n’ roll is not a terrible substitute for a religion (when it doesn’t suck, of course). Let’s deal with the last thing first: at its best, rock ‘n’ roll creates community. When you go to see your favorite band, you share in the pure joy of music with a roomful of strangers. The audience and the band are all plugged in to something much bigger than the sum of its parts. The potential exists in that moment to meet new people and make new friends. You don’t have to do that, of course, but you totally can. And maybe you should. Rocktoberfest is a celebration of an ever-expanding community that started with five guys in a house. Those five guys didn’t always get along by any means, but Rocktoberfest creates a unique present in which the past is mostly obliterated while people sing along to songs like “This Fire” by Franz Ferdinand (modified by us so that the chorus is now, “This beer is out of control/ I’m gonna drink this beer/ drink this beer”) and “Holy Diver” by Dio (we poured one out for Ronnie James Dio this year). Sure, it’s silly. But what’s wrong with being silly?

What happened at Rocktoberfest this year was what I  imagine happened around Joe Strummer’s famous campfires at Glastonbury. Old friends met new friends, some of us had wives to bring, others had kids to leave at home. But for several hours of a Saturday, everyone was cool with everyone. For my part, I was deliriously happy. You can do this anytime you want, and you should. Gather your friends and some drinks and some great music, and celebrate your personal community. Rocktoberfest Acht was a reminder of why I love music and – more important – why I literally love a majority of the people I know. It’s not prayer and it won’t save you from much besides boredom, but it could provide you with one helluva a great night.

So, in the great words of Mr. Craig Finn, “Let this be my annual reminder/ that we can all be something bigger.” Go forward, kids, be awesome to each other, and rock the fuck on.


The Songs of Rocktober 100-91


Do you know what today is? It’s the first day of Rocktober, the month wherein some enlightened souls choose to celebrate Rocktoberfest. It’s not hard to guess, from the name, what Rocktoberfest is all about: conservative Christian politics. Okay, that’s a lie. Mostly, Rocktoberfest is a barbecue with good friends and good beer and really kickass rock music. There has been robust scholarly debate about who started Rocktoberfest but, friends and neighbors, I am here to tell you that no one started Rocktoberfest. It has no beginning and it will have no end. It is no invention of mortal men. We are merely the vessels through which its spirit is made (drunken) flesh here on earth. Just as the Buddhists believe that we all possess an inner Buddha Nature that can bring us to enlightenment, I believe that we all have a Rocktoberfest Nature that dwells within us, cranking up Stooges (and the Clash and the Ramones and the Hold Steady and you get the idea) records in our souls, pushing us toward… well, maybe not enlightenment (you can call it that if you want), but certainly toward a pure feeling that may be lying dormant within us (or maybe it’s being killed by your job or school or whatever is getting you down), the kinda thing that can send you home feeling like you’re ready to grab life by the balls again. It’s a recharging of your spiritual battery, without the guilt of a church service.

On Rocktober 9th, I’ll get up early (really early), board a plane, and fly back to Oregon. On the 10th, I’ll celebrate Rocktoberfest Sieben (for it is believed that the dawning of the modern Rocktoberfest Era – there have been roughly fourteen distinct Rocktoberfest Eras since humans first climbed out of the primordial soup – was sevenish years ago) with a houseful of my very closest friends. And I wouldn’t be telling you this if I didn’t think that every single one of you out there had within you the power to tap into your Rocktoberfest Nature and throw your very own Rocktoberfest with your very own friends. Over the next ten days, I’ll provide you with a primer, countdown style, of 100 Kickass Rocktober Songs. This isn’t your dad’s list of great rock songs, either – no “Stairway to Heaven” and no Journey (sorry, kids, but it’s time to just stop believin’. Let go of that feelin’. Okay, I’ll stop now). Sure, there are older songs on here, they’re just… you know… good older songs. Let’s get this party started:

100. Iron Maiden – “2 Minutes to Midnight” – I probably don’t strike you as the Iron Maiden type and I’m not, but let me explain: this song appeared on the soundtrack to Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on their hilarious rock radio station. I logged a lot of hours on that game in college and this song is a Rocktoberfest mainstay. Naturally, it should be played at 11:58 p.m. (if your Rocktoberfest ends before midnight, you’re doing it wrong.)

99. Blondie – “One Way or Another” – It took me a long time to get around to admitting that I like Blondie (their early stuff, not that stupid “Maria” song that came out my senior year of high school). This song is a great pseudo-punk tune that features Deborah Harry at her sinister best. What does it say about me that I think women singing about stalking people is kinda sexy?

98. Placebo – “This Picture” – The great thing about Placebo is that you only need one of their albums. Every time a new Placebo album comes out, just play the one you have and save your twenty bucks. This song also has nostalgia value for me because my roommate across the hall in college used to blast it repeatedly in the mornings (along with “The District Sleeps Alone Tonight” by the Postal Service) and it became sort of an addiction for me.

97. Nine Inch Nails – “Heresy” – There’s only room for one religion at Rocktoberfest, and that’s Rock ‘n’ Roll. Back when Trent Reznor could still get riled up about something, he was really good at getting riled up about religion and “Heresy” stands as the ultimate Sunday school room-clearer. The chorus? “God is dead/ and no one cares.” Where’s your banana now, Ray Comfort?

96. Pavement – “Unfair” – It’s one of Pavement’s screamier tunes, but Stephen Malkmus screams about burning the Hills of Beverly in a way that I like very much. His strength in this song, though, is calling himself out on his own snark, bellowing, “This is the slow, sick, sucking part of me” over and over. Good times.

95. Patti Smith – “Gloria” – I guess everyone and their dog covered this song in the 70s but Patti Smith grabbed it by the lapels, tossed it out into an alley, and beat the holy fuck out of it. Opening with the tossed off “Jesus died for somebody’s sins/ but not mine”, Smith then proceeds (over nearly 6 awesome minutes) to simultaneously make this song her bitch and to make everyone else who did it (looking at you, Van Morrison) sound like a no-talent assclown. In her spare time, Smith encouraged the musical career of Mr. Jim Carroll. In other words, Patti Smith is fucking awesome.

94. Pearl Jam – “Leash” – I was maybe fourteen when Pearl Jam’s Vs. came out and living with a psychotic (no joke – I mean literally fucking crazy) mom and an alcoholic stepdad (she tried to run up a collection of these during my adolescence. Some people had Beanie Babies, I had town drunks; I hear both items are worth about the same these days) and songs like “Blood” and “Rearviewmirror” kinda got me through a bad patch. It’s still Pearl Jam’s best album and “Leash” is the only time Eddie Vedder really sounded good doing that screaming thing he likes to do.

93. Radiohead – “Killer Cars” – Radiohead have moved out of the guitar-rock phase they were in when they recorded The Bends and I get why and all, but goddamn, were they good at it. This song, recorded around the same time (and I think it’s available on the deluxe reissue) as The Bends, is not only awesome on its own, but it makes me think of an old Monty Python cartoon.

92. Yo La Tengo – “Sugarcube” – Yo La Tengo is another band that doesn’t do the full-on guitar rock thing very often, but it’s pretty satisfying when they do. “Sugarcube” is exhibit A to support that theory.

91. The Presidents of the United States of America – “We Are Not Going to Make It” – Not only is this song kickass, it’s fairly accurate. Sure, their first album was huge, but the Presidents kinda fizzled from there on out, despite the fact that they really grew up musically (playing guitars with all the strings and everything). This song has the adolescent, bashing your brains out in a basement vibe that Weezer faked so well on their first album.

So there are the first ten songs of your Rocktoberfest primer. Tomorrow, I’ll drop ten more on you. And so on, until we reach what I think is the absolute ultimate kickass Rocktober song. It’s difficult considering and ranking 100 kickass songs and it will be even more difficult updating my blog every day for the next ten days, but these are the sacrifices we must make in the spirit of Rocktoberfest.

Special Bonus: If you clicked the Ray Comfort video link, here’s an excellent retort from web comic genius Jeffrey Rowland.