Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Jesse and the Rippers: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Speech

Music is like an ocean – constantly rising, falling; ebbing and flowing. To stay afloat in the music business is akin to not drowning in the actual ocean. There are some artists, however, who are relative Neptunes of the music world. When I first heard Jesse Katsopolas (Cochran) and his Rippers, my world changed. They were rock, but not roll. Rhythm but not blues. Hip but not hop. No, they were something more, for I had seen God for the first time, and he was in the form of a cover of “Doo Wah Ditty Ditty Dum Ditty Doo”.

To witness the band at their peak was to witness a musical assault that would rarely, if ever, have mercy. From the first few notes of whatever golden oldie they would launch into, it was always obvious that the revolution was on. The life revolution. To hear their music was to awaken a dormant part of your soul, a part that realizes it has yet to be a proper participant in this world. The term “Ripper-boomers” was coined to describe those children conceived the second a couple heard a Jesse and the Rippers tune. They predated grunge, completely missed new wave, and flat-out ignored synth-pop, but boy howdy could they rip through a sizzling “Pretty Woman”.

It’s tough to establish a musical career based entirely on the previous work of others, but that in a way is what makes J & the Rs so enigmatic. Sure, they could have been original, like every other band, but they took the path less traveled. Way less traveled. Of course some naysayers claimed that redone versions of old timey rock songs are not what the kids wanted circa 1988. These people were clearly not at DJ’s prom.

Some would call Katsopolas the first real rebel leader of popular music. Under his stoic guidance, Jesse’s Rippers made their own rules; they practiced in the living room long after the girls’ bedtime. Though they were caught by Danny, they didn’t let it get them down. The Rippers were rebels with literally no cause or purpose.

Jesse and the Rippers changed the way we thought of the concept of a band. The non-Jesse members, though relegated to the background most of the time, were each an integral element to the band’s creative energy. For instance, few other bands featured female backup singers who served no purpose other than to look “sooo late-80s/early-90s”.

Sure, there are those who have covered this territory way better before and since, but…um…

For sheer euphoric power pop perfection, one need look no further than the group’s breakthrough single, “Forever”. Sure, some original fans simply could not get on board with the relatively soft tune, though Katsopolas never did what he did for the fans. He followed his own path, wherever his muse led. You were either along for the ride, or you weren’t. In this case, the ride was a Beach Boys cover; one of the seminal recordings of the nineties. Perhaps the accompanying video creeped some out with its ample use of silk, twins, and candles, but not everyone liked the Mona Lisa either. One thing was for damn sure - the Japanese got it. They always do.

What drove the Rippers apart? Some say women, some say money, some say drugs. Others have suggested Katsopolas’s inexplicable radio career became a distraction. However, the actual reason for Katsopolas’s exile from his own band came from his time consuming relationship with his wife and children. This lifestyle did not mesh with the remaining Rippers, steadfast to remain single and childless into their early forties. Additionally, the Rippers were not huge fans of the way Jesse solved every inter-band argument by having a heart-to-heart, hugging them, and calling them “Munchkin”.

Nevertheless, like a “q” and a “u”, Jesse needed the Rippers, and the Rippers only too late, realized they needed Jesse; for they were perfect compliments to one another. Venturing out on their own, the Rippers, known then as Barry and the Rippers, quickly lost the interest of their fanbase. Evidently, demand for a rock band featuring former Brady Bunch star Barry Williams was predictably low amongst the MTV youth. Oddly enough, Jesse garnered no interest from the fans on his own, though he kept up his quest to make music with solo projects, the reopening of the SMASH club, an attempt at managing Stephanie and Gia’s band they had for some reason, and his “Wings” – Hot Daddy and the Monkey Puppets. Regardless of his ill-fated post-Rippers output, Jesse Katsopolas remains a towering figure amongst musicians, and men on the whole.

Though they don’t have one original song to their credit, the Rippers’ shadow over the rest of popular music is majestic and ever-growing. New fans continue to discover their discography; every minute, a ten year-old boy picks up his first guitar dreaming to be the next Jesse Katsopolas. In early November, a box-set of recently unearthed outtakes, demos, and live-performances will be released. Truly, Jesse and his Rippers aren’t going anywhere.

Barry and the remaining Rippers died in a helicopter crash, but Michelle had gotten anesthesia that same day, so the story got very little attention.

So today, I am honored and humbled to induct Jesse and the Rippers into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

(Jesse wakes up)

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