Rock ’n’ Roll Sublime

If she had to make a top-100 list of the things she most enjoys about the approaching millennium, one of them would surely be that Culturebox dearly loves a top-100 list. In fact, she thinks that one of the top-100 greatest things in human physiognomic development is whatever process led to people having the right number of fingers and toes for base-10 mathematical calculations. But even given that the purpose, or anyway the function, of such a list is to provoke debate, No. 36 on Entertainment Weekly’s 100 Greatest Moments in Rock, “Lou Reed begins electroshock treatments,” seemed like it was carrying the hierarchical ranking of experience to an offensive extreme. As the entry, which is jauntily illustrated with a cartoon of the sunglasses-wearing Reed strapped to a gurney, explains, Reed was 17 when “at his parents’ behest he underwent a series a treatments to “cure” him of his homosexuality (he wrote about it in 1974’s “Kill Your Sons”).” In other words, while it is true that this experience played some part in Reed’s subsequent career and mythos, he was not, properly speaking, “in rock” at the time, and unless you think undergoing electroshock therapy as an adolescent because your parents are concerned about your sexuality is a rite of passage to be celebrated, sort of like the underground rocker’s equivalent of a bar mitzvah, only a very cold-blooded perspective would call such a moment “great,” no matter what kind of art it eventually led to. It is roughly equivalent to ranking “Tori Amos gets raped” among the 100 greatest moments in women’s songwriting in the ‘90s, because she wrote a song about it and it contributed to her image.

Of course, these things are hopelessly subjective from any perspective. Culturebox would like to propose ranking the 100 greatest moments in rock, in a literal sense. She once went through a period of a month or so a few years ago where the only thing she wanted to listen to was not just Sticky Fingers, or even a song on Sticky Fingers, but the moment in a song on Sticky Fingers (specifically 1:59 in “Sway,” according to the CD player) when Mick Jagger unleashes the words “Hey, hey, hey now” with so much emotional intensity it could blister paint, not to mention so many vowel sounds that for years Culturebox was under the impression that these were more verbally meaningful but hopelessly unintelligible lyrics. A cursory survey of the two people she happens to have talked to this morning added these nominations: the moment of silence before the guitar solos start in Television’s “Marquee Moon” (“it’s like the moment between something really great and something that’s going to be even better, like the moment between oral sex and actual sex”); the subsonic bass on the Beastie Boys track “Posse in Effect” (“no one had done anything like that before, and it sounded like it was about to blow the woofers right out of the speakers, it went through your whole body”); the “drip, drop, drip, drop” chorus in Irma Thomas’ “It’s Raining” ("because it’s beautiful, that’s why”); and Van Morrison’s audible intake of breath on “Crazy Love” ("it sounds so great, and it’s the kind of thing where there’s also knowing you’re not the only one who noticed it”). There’s Elvis Presley’s eerie howl on an early version of “Blue Moon” ("anything from the Sun sessions is pretty much lightning in a bottle, but it’s like he’s channeling some unearthly force, and it’s the first time you might have thought, hey, this guy has an unusually powerful connection to the cosmos”). There’s the guitar at the beginning of Dusty Springfield’s “Breakfast in Bed” ("it sounds like crying, and it’s right before words about crying, plus that ridiculously sexy sex-in-the-morning vocal”). There’s the part of The Last Waltz where Muddy Waters, singing the words in “Mannish Boy,” “I’m a full-grown man,” shakes his fist (“and he’s shaking his fist like he’s an old man, but his voice is so profound, it’s like he’s blowing the whole ‘60s and ‘70s out of the water, it’s like he’s saying, this is where it came from, this is where it lives”).

Culturebox was listening to the White Album not long ago, which in a sense is a superfluous activity, since she listened to it so much when it came out when she was 8 that she can sing every note and inflection of it in close to real-time reproduction to this day, and will, at the drop of a hat. She thought of these personally great moments at which the moments of her life overlapped with the moments of the White Album when one of the two members of the two-member nominating committee quoted above said, with reference to Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise,” “I just put it on blind, you know, I wasn’t expecting anything, and I felt like it must have felt to be walking into some showing of painting in Paris, and thinking, ‘But these people don’t look like people! They look like cubes!’ ” Culturebox encourages you to try this at home and send in what you find. And if she could sneak in just one more example, she never hears moment after sublime moment tumbling over one another in the Temptations’ “Just My Imagination” without thinking that producer Norm Whitfield should be a candidate for sainthood, because he’s created a miracle.