Ghosthustler Resurrects '80s Synth Beats

Rock 'n' roll is dead.

It was crushed under the leathery $400 heel of a record exec as he blithely made his way out of a Los Angeles restaurant. Or, ravaged by cancer, it succumbed with Joey Ramone at 3:21 a.m. on April 15, 2001. Or it blew its own head off with a shotgun.

Of course, we already knew this. We knew this on March 18, 2002, when the Ramones were inducted into the sterile Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, the Hard Rock Cafe of all such halls. Or maybe we knew it whenever it was that MTV stopped showing videos. Or maybe before that, when haircuts became more important than album cuts (or maybe the day people stopped using the word "album").

It's difficult to pin down a definition of rock 'n' roll—it's kind of like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's explanation of hard-core pornography, "I know it when I see it." But let's try anyway, just to keep things clear. Rock 'n' roll is an attitude, yes, but it's one that must be matched with certain things: Debauchery, frankly, is a must. (Has any band you've ever loved put out a good album after getting sober? Aerosmith pre-rehab was rock 'n' roll; Aerosmith post-rehab was embarrassing.) A certain revolutionary thread is a must. This can be implied or stated plainly, intentional or accidental. The revolutionary component can be aesthetic (Dylan goes electric); social (women begin playing electric guitars); political (Anarchy in the U.K.); or whatever, but it must exist. Guitars are important, but not 100 percent necessary. There must be a certain aggression, whether it's attacking your guitar or attacking the president or attacking the audience or attacking yourself. Most of all, there must be that thing in the music that makes your bone marrow boil and your skin prickle with an ineffable feeling, like you are harnessing the power of the sun. This latter part cannot be defined—but we all know it when we see it. Or hear it.

The following, then, are examples of rock 'n' roll: Bruce Springsteen, The Sex Pistols, Sleater-Kinney, early-to-mid Stones, The Clash, The Arctic Monkeys, Joan Jett, Elvis Costello on Saturday Night Live in 1977, The Pretenders. Purple Rain-era Prince, Gnarls Barkley.

The following are examples of what is not rock 'n' roll: Madonna, Justice, Depeche Mode, Phish, Radiohead, Devendra Banhart, Explosions in the Sky, Elvis Costello singing opera, The Postal Service, pre- and post-Purple Rain Prince, Robert Johnson.

Rock 'n' roll has been replaced by a number of idioms: post-rock, house, hip-hop, emo, electronica, experimental, jam bands, synth pop, freak-folk, nouveau synth pop, regular ol' pop and countless others. Some of these are awful genres, others not so bad. Some are fantastic, but none of them constitutes rock 'n' roll. Pop king Michael Jackson, for instance, is a glorious artist; Off the Wall is one of the greatest albums of all time. But does it give you that feeling?

The death of rock is not particularly a bad thing. It has died before, like the years when Jackson topped the charts. But rock has always resurrected itself, righted the ship, swung the pendulum the other way. For every Eagles, a Sex Pistols will roll away the stone and emerge from the tomb. For every Paula Abdul, a Nirvana shoves open the coffin.

In the meantime, there is still fun to be had. In the space between eras of true rock there is infinite room for energy, experiments, dancing—new wave, for example, and disco, and innovative, exciting pop. Ample room to create kick-ass music that isn't exactly rock, but still rocks your dick off. Something that is fun and transcendent at the same time. Something that milks, dare it be said, postmodernism, replete with choice bits borrowed from decades past plus a bit of Internet savvy and partaking in a strange, invented nostalgia.

Just ask the guys in Ghosthustler.

Ghosthustler is a band from Denton. The oldest member, Grey St. Germain Gideon, is 24; the youngest, Alan Palomo, is 19. Shane English and Noah Jackson round out the young crew. They met when Palomo, who is what you might call the Primary Ghosthustler, matriculated last year at the University of North Texas as a radio-television-video-film major. Ghosthustler does not have a publicist, a Web site, a label or even a record. What they do have is attitude, luck, the Internet, one hell of a video and one hell of a song. From all this they have garnered more buzz than a bee hightailing it to the pollen. And the story around Ghosthustler is more than just about a good song. It's about the culmination of a number of pop traditions, and how the future of music—via software, Internet communication and, oddly, looking to the past—is now.

First, the song: "Parking Lot Nights" is one of three tunes available on Ghosthustler's one link to the world, their MySpace page. The song is less a traditional tune—though, to be sure, it's as catchy as any pop song ever written—than it is a collection of layered, futuristic sounds. It begins with an electric synthesizer line. Fairly simple, the riff zigs and zags like a bolt of lightning; its strength lies in its sharp, prickly fuzz rather than in its execution.

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Jonanna Widner
Contact: Jonanna Widner