Band themed movies, or “Movies that Rock” are about the fans. Rock and Roll High School is a movie screen played by Joseph McBride, Russ Dvonch, and Richard Whitley, featuring the Ramones. Although the movie’s dialogue circles around the Ramones, and plays The Ramones’ music, it’s mainly about a girl named Riff Randell, who is their biggest fan and her best friend Kate, who is a geeky girl trying to find enough confidence to get a date with her high school crush. The movie does a great job of embodying two things: the magic life of being a devoted fan girl who believes in “her band” and what it’s like to be a kid in high school in the seventies with no other worries than “will my crush ever notice me?” Riff Randell, the hardest rockin’ roller, student at Vince Lombardi High School, is played by the beautiful PJ Soles. She finds out that her favorite band, The Ramones, is coming to her town and she decides to brush up her songwriting skills so that she can get them to play her music. She comes up with an instant hit she calls “Rock and Roll High School”. The only problem? Her dictator of a Principal is trying to get rid of rock and roll activity on campus and in the personal lives of students completely. Riff Randell has to try to find a loop hole with the help of her trusty best friend Kate to make it to the Ramones concert, so that she can give them her song! Meanwhile, Kate, her best friend who is totally beautiful, but painfully shy, has this debilitating crush on “Tom Roberts” (the clueless quarterback of Vince Lombardi High, who is kind of a nerd too).
That’s enough plot talk though; I don’t believe in spoiler alerts! I will say this, in order to fall in love with music, or specifically a band, there has to be something that exists previously in the individual that is being spoken to in order for that admiration to exist. The things one admires says a lot about who they are as a person. This is why Riff Randell is so magic! Her love for the Ramones shows in the way she likes to dress, the way she writes her songs, and the way she carries herself. But it’s her love for individuality and freedom of expression that drew her to the Ramones in the first place. She doesn’t seem to be looking for a relationship as a high school girl; she just wants to rock! She doesn’t seem to care about her grades at school; she just wants to rock! She doesn’t want to dress like anyone else, SHE JUST WANTS TO ROCK! It’s who she is. The evidence is in how she introduces herself:
Principal Togar: “Who are you?”
Kate: “Kate Rambo.”
Principal Togar: “AND WHO ARE YOU?”
Riff Randell: “I’m Riff Randell, Rockin’ Roller.” *sticks out hand for a sarcastic shake*
“You can bet your last money it’s all gonna be a stoned gas honey.” Don Cornelius’ deep smooth voice would say at the end of every episode of the hippest trip in America, Soul Train. Before Cornelius created and hosted Soul Train, he was a Sports Anchor in Chicago on WC IU TV. WC IU TV was one of the only channels that broadcasted black people in a positive way. Even though the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, racial discrimination, segregation, social mobility, and social inequality was still an issue. Black people still lacked employment opportunities, especially in show business. When African Americans were shown on television, they were playing a character that was uneducated, poor, or a maid, or a nanny working for a white person. Before Soul Train was a hit, there was American Bandstand. It was a show where young couples would come and dance live band music. The show’s chief purpose was to be a representation of American youth’s culture. However, all the dancers and musicians on American bandstand were white. Even after segregation was made illegal, black artists, dancers, and musicians didn’t feel safe or welcome enough to come on the show. This upset Don Cornelius and he wanted to create a platform where black men and women be seen in a positive light, black culture could be showcased the right way (by black people), and to create a window of opportunity for black artists, dancers, and musicians to succeed in show business.
Don Cornelius created Soul Train with the purpose of representing black culture in America the way American Bandstand showcased white youth. He wanted to create a bridge between people who had no idea about black culture, or had never met a black person before and tear down the stereotypes and lies that White American Television had been selling its people up until that time. He also wanted to create a show by African Americans for African Americans to enjoy. This is exactly what he did on August 17th 1970 when he was able to air the very first episode of Soul Train on WC IU TV, in Chicago. He paid for his pilot episode with his own money, four hundred dollars. “When it came on, it was almost overnight hot. Almost in minutes, every black person knew about it. Not because it was such a wonderful show, but because it was theirs.” (Don Cornelius, Interview) The show consisted of local black Chicago artists such as BB King, Curtis Mayfield, the Staple Singers, and more. Cornelius had all black dancers on his show and would even hand pick local teenagers who came running to volunteer after school to dance on Soul Train. Through this platform, America fell in love with black music, black fashion, black dance moves, black power.
When the show became successful, Cornelius took the Soul Train from Chicago and made a stop at Los Angeles, California with the dream of mainstreaming his hot steam machine. Even though he moved his show to LA, he remained loyal to his Chicago roots and continued to invite local Chicago dancers and musicians to star on his show. This helped him keep his old audience while building a new one. Once the show got big in LA, EVERYONE wanted to a chance to ride the hippest trip in America. Cornelius no longer had to ask people to star on his show because artists like Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and the Jackson 5 asking him to be on the show. Later on, White artists like Elton John and David Bowie would make an appearance on Soul Train as well. Stevie Wonder, like many black artists, thanks Soul Train for giving him a platform where he could succeed in show business. Don Cornelius’ Soul Train kicked racial inequality in the ass with badass music, badass dancers, with bad ass attitude. Thank you so much dude! And as the man-man would always say “You can bet your last money, it’s all gonna be a stoned gas honey.”
“Don Cornelius.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 2 Apr. 2014, www.biography.com/people/don-cornelius-273681.
Youtube, 15 Apr. 2013, youtu.be/yDCokBrXefs.
The Museum of Broadcast Communications – Encyclopedia of Television – Soul Train, www.museum.tv/eotv/soultrain.htm
“You feel like underappreciated scholars so you shit on the people who know less than you, which is everyone.” (Louis, High Fidelity)
Every music nerd knows what it is like to love band, album, or song, so much it hurts. We know the time we invested reading the history of the band, their process, and their philosophies towards music. We also like to pretend that discographies were subliminally planted in our brains from birth; to us, it is commonsense. But the truth is, it’s not. It was hard fucking work impressing the people you thought knew more about Zeppelin than you did. That’s why when you see hot girls in band tees from Forever 21, you question their authenticity, as a fan and as a person. This is why when you see a kid get a guitar for his birthday, who never felt moved to teach himself at least three chords, looking through a Sam Ash magazine searching for the next six-sting he wants to add to his collection, you die a little (on the inside). I mean, HELLO, Paul McCartney took a bus to meet up with a fellow guitar player so he could learn one chord; B7. We don’t have to take buses anymore dude! We have YouTube!
Our identities get tangled in the religion of rock and we forget to stop. We forget our “uncool” parents who don’t understand, heard this shit when it was fresh. It was their ears that were “thunderstruck” by ACDC. It was their Partridge Family childhood set on fire by Alice Cooper a rebellious preacher kid from Michigan. We forget music is supposed to make everyone feel fucking cool, and that great rock artists are some of the most “uncool” people. I mean take rock away from Tenacious D’s JB and Kyle Gas and they are powerless man. I get it. Rock music is supposed to make you feel strong, makes you sexy. It makes you feel different from the people in high school who used to look down on you. But as you grow, rock should inspire you to embrace your humanity and see the humanity in others (*Flips Willy Nelson’s braids behind shoulders*). Music is free man, and her fruits are to be enjoyed by the people who get her. People who don’t get it are missing out, but it’s our job as lovers of music to spread the love instead of discourage and shame people who haven’t discovered it yet.