Jan 21, 2017

At River Rock Cafe, the history of rock is on the walls (with thoughts of a Virgin Mary and Marilyn Monroe)

Henry at the bar
Doc’s report:

Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, who owns the Kwik-E-Mart on “The Simpsons,” venerates an icon of Ganesh, which he keeps on the store’s roof. He shows Bart Simpson the secret passage to the roof through the beer cooler, behind the non-alcoholic beer.

Bart: “But what if someone wants a non-alcoholic beer?”

Apu: “You know, it never comes up.”

Indeed, if, whether by responsible choice or medical necessity, you say goodbye to a half-century of alcohol abuse, the frigid and seductive mistress of non-alcoholic beer may well be your first stop. And your last.


In my case, at a recent trip with Harry and the G-man to River Rock Cafe, that meant an O’Doul’s premium amber, a frothy and filling brew with toasted and caramel accents appropriate to the season. But a one-night stand.

On a second trip, my Catholic upbringing kicked in, and I ordered a Virgin Mary. A refreshing drink, if you want a reasonably-priced and mildly-spiced chilled tomato juice with a stalk of
TV advice on getting sober
celery and a curled cellophane-topped toothpick piercing olives, cucumber, and pickle. No detective in the history of American pulp fiction has ever ordered a Virgin Mary.

I finally broke down and asked my delightful bartender Holly, who sings and dances to the radio throughout her eight-hour shift, a coded question: “What do designated drivers order?”

Holly: “Water.”

Right. Why pay for a hollow buzz? Sex with a condom. Mass on TV. The experience without the authentic intimacy.

But our trip to River Rock was authentic. So elusive today with our iPhones, authenticity requires an awareness of history and tradition. (For example, by established practiced, the G-Man and I pretended to let Harry beat us at pool, by scratching on the eight ball.)

A mind-blowing trip to authenticity, the walls and some tables at River Rock are covered with decades of decoupage posters, photos, magazine covers of both music celebrities and sex stars -- blurring the distinction.

By far the most prevalent images are those of one-hit artist (“Happy Birthday, Mr. President”) Marilyn Monroe. Her photogenic seductiveness out-numbers the hundreds of other pinups from six generations on the walls. One table is covered with Monroe’s iconic images. Bogie ogling her
A slice of River Rock wall
cleavage as Bacall looks on. The Andy Warhol image. (Elsewhere: Warhol’s Jacqueline Kennedy, who, with her husband, introduced sexuality to American politics.)

You want to know what sex looks like? Check out Marilyn at River Rock.

Captaining Team Testosterone, the images of Elvis show how male animal sexuality can be expressed both subtly with a curled lip, oiled cowlick, and heavy-lidded glance; and also not so subtly, with pelvic thrusts rising from his tip toes through his knees to windmilled arms.

Of course, Monroe and Presley died prematurely of accidental overdoses, and it’s one thing to live through these tragedies as they come up. But seeing so many spatially, on the walls and tables of River Rock, all at once in an afternoon, is a real life lesson, well worth a few trips to this friendly and informative establishment. The walls of the River Rock are a conversation starter. It’s like Bay City’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Before I record my mural necrology from two visits to River Rock, I’d like to say, in the interest of fairness, that the most talented and influential pop musicians of my lifetime are still alive and
James Brown, Woodstock and others
practicing well into their 70s and beyond (with the exceptions of Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson, whose deaths both involved drugs): Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Sir Paul McCartney, the Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan, and octogenarian Willie Nelson.

In other words, the myth of Orpheus, the Greek poet and musician who must be torn to shreds for his art, is just that: a myth. Artists don’t have to die by self-inflicted substance abuse, accidents, or calculated violence.

I’ll try to make that point when I bring future dates and out-of-town visitors to River Rock to see and share memories. A sampling:

  • Jim Morrison, the poster, always pouting; electrocuted in a Paris bath tub
  • John Lennon, with Yoko, naked and photographed from behind on the cover of “Two Virgins”: shot in Manhattan
  • Patsy Cline, a poster from 1962, promoting a concert. Tickets: $2.50: airplane crash
  • Nirvana: A poster from a 1992 concert tour. Tickets: $22.50: lead singer: gunshot
  • Hank Williams, a concert, with Bill Monroe, in Corinth, Miss., March 8, 1952. Tickets: $1.25: alcoholism
  • Amy Winehouse, on the cover of the June 14, 2006, Rolling Stone: “The Diva and Her Demons”: drugs, alcohol
  • Keith Moon: A photo of the mad drummer: drugs, alcohol
  • Janis Joplin, the cover of the album “Pearl”: drugs, alcohol
  • Jimi Hendrix, kneeling over his burning guitar: drugs
  • The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane performing from noon till 3, June 30, 1972, in Golden Gate Park. Free concert. R.I.P. Jerry Garcia.
Maybe Thomas Wolfe and F. Scott Fitzgerald were right: There are no second acts in American life. You can never go home again, if home is alcohol and drugs, as it was for those two authors.
Steppenwolf, 1968
The place where you always feel safe. Viewed as that journey to self-destruction, the history of rock-and-roll can be a haunting memory of untimely loss.

Or it can be an image of renewal. At River Rock, there’s a recent Rolling Stone cover proffering a seductive photo of Britney Spears, with a cover blurb promising: “Cher: Back on Top.”

So I guess I’ll have to make do with the sex and rock-and-roll. Two out of three ain’t bad. As 71-year-old Bob Seger has been reminding us for 40 years, giving the lie to Wolfe and Fitzgerald: “You can come back baby, rock-and-roll never forgets.”

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See the hairy guy’s report on River Rock: Beer, food, pool and rock-and-roll history starting at 7 a.m., complete with a car bomb anytime

1 comment:

gsman1 said...

Those reviews brought tears to my eyes.