Posts Tagged ‘Hubble Telescope’

Billy Zoom Was My Hero

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Billy Zoom

When I was sixteen, Billy Zoom, the guitarist for the seminal (overused but yes, it’s the right word here) band, X, made me realize why I would never be cool.

Mind you, I’m aware that the geek status many adults bestow retroactively upon their youths is a well-traveled trope.  More so these days than when I was growing up, when the rule of thumb was that the older the man telling the story, the better an athlete or raucous a fraternity brother he used to be.  And though I probably wasn’t nearly as geeky as I thought I was, it was always clear that any honor even remotely related to the term “cool” would never be gracing my yearbook photo.

It wasn’t so much the untamable plume of hair (a single wisp of which I’d gladly swap for vital organs these days) that burst spectacularly from my forehead like a bulbous, turd-brown galaxy bubbling through the lens of the Hubble telescope.  It wasn’t my tastes in pop culture or friends, both of which had sagely led me to the Whisky A Go Go on the Sunset Strip the night in question to see the Blasters, (another seminal Los Angeles band) in concert with three other rockabilly performers.  I wasn’t disturbed, or atypical, or really exceptional in any way; by and large, I was a polite, academically sound, well-adjusted kid.  Again, no retroactive, subjectified padding required here.


No, my lack of cool was rooted more in my excitable nature — a heat-seeking miss of rudderless energy that would give today’s Big Pharma a big woody.  I simply couldn’t see the value in sitting still.  I seemed to have an unyielding need to say, to think, to share.  I say “seemed, because while I’d convinced myself that unavoidable greatness as a writer lay just a few flicks of the fingertips away, I had yet to write anything more substantial than a classroom exercise about a summer camp romance.

Which is why, at the Whisky that night, all became clear.

X hadn’t been scheduled to appear, but at some point before the Blasters and the Rockin’ Rebels (don’t ask me; I’d never heard of them either) took the stage, there they were, cranking out the opening strains to “Hungry Wolf.”  And in the resulting pre-mosh crush of leather, hairspray, and teenage flesh, I was thrilled to, for once, be the least excitable presence in the room.  And then I looked at the stage and got a load of Billy Zoom.

As a musician, Billy was a revelation: a genre-blending assault on rockabilly, punk, and roots licks, all sharpened to precision by his pickaxe of an ax.  His riffs were more furious than fast (although they were plenty that), but never feedback-frenzied or out of control.  And here was the kicker: throughout the entire concert, the guy just stood there, unmoving and seemingly unmoved, smiling inscrutably at the audience.  Forget breaking a sweat; I’m not sure he so much as blinked.

XPicture this: you’re on a stage, grinding out high-octane licks that would drive Vin Diesel to speeds yet unreached. You are awash in the adulation of hundreds, thousands of pretty damn cool people every night, because let’s face it: X wasn’t for losers.  And you are SO FUCKING COOL that you can accomplish this while standing perfectly still, the bemused, effortless smile on your face the only indication that you’re even registering being there.  Hell, the guy’s pompadour (blond, natch, and I’ll bet no one ever called his ‘do a Jew fro) didn’t notch so much as a bead of sweat.

And I realized, with equal parts marvel and dread, that cool was staring me right in the face – quite literally, as I was standing at the front of the stage, all of ten feet away from Billy’s inscrutable gaze.  That having that much life force inside you while affecting nothing outwardly, as opposed to vice-versa, was why Billy was Billy and I was me.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting X’s lead singer, Exene Cervenka.  When I told her the concert at the Whisky was possibly the best I’d ever attended, she smiled and said “Gee, I wish I could remember it.”  Suffice it to say I did, and had Billy been standing next to her, I would have told him that the experience from the vantage point of a nebula-headed, still-forming teenager was nothing short of… well, seminal.

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