“Are any of you people of the ‘Nerd Faith’?”
A resounding ‘yes’ from this crowd. It’s Saturday night and I’m at the “Basement Dweller’s Ball” at the Masquerade to witness a self-proclaimed night of “Nerd Rock.”
So what is Nerd Rock? You can safely assume it will involve sci-fi and video game references, old school nintendo sounds, and a bunch of socially awkward people. But is that it? Maybe, but that’s the equivalent of summing up punk, goth, emo, grunge, and every other sub-genre as just a collection of bad haircuts and poor lifestyle choices.
I’m amused by this joking reference to a “Nerd Faith” and I decide to look a little bit deeper. Maybe there is something more meaningful that ties all these people together.
The first band up is Blood Oaks and it’s their lead singer Blake Ray currently questioning our religion. (Reverend Blake Ray, I should add – one of his friends had him ordained as a birthday present.) They are a ‘Death Western’ band and play songs about appreciating love once you’ve lost it; fighting aliens with a shotgun; and toasting the end of the world from your fallout shelter, even as the roof comes down and the walls cave in. They definitely have country influences, but the lyrics are darker and the guitars much harder. Blake doesn’t have a great voice, but he often uses a punk vocal style that works fairly well.
The next band up was Go Robo Go. I was impressed when they first started to play; they had good stage presence, entertaining band banter, and managed to blend three guitars seamlessly with a keyboard playing old school nintendo sounds. According to the song introductions, they sang about robots and gay sex in the 1800′s, but I’ll never know for sure. I couldn’t hear the lead singer. At all.
After that, the New York Disco Villains appeared, a four person band in retro garb with a large projection screen behind them. Supposedly they are “Carnival Rock,” and they definitely had a melodramatic, villainous flair. Clark Watson, their mustachioed and mop topped lead singer, pounded the keyboard with an energy that I can only describe as the dark passion of a newly sentient calliope monkey trying to express the power of its love for William Shatner.
And love William Shatner he did. After singing about anger management, the black plague, and plastic surgery (all with lovely visual aids on the screen behind him), Clark sang about how meeting William Shatner changed his life. I particularly loved the chorus. With every intonation of “Shatner. Shatner. I met William Shatner” the projection screen switched to a con photo of an exuberant Clark putting his hands on Leonard Nimoy and the man himself, William Shatner.
The final band that night was One Hard Night, the evening’s organizer and aspiring “Nerd Rock Band.” They had heavily distorted electric guitars and a female lead singer extolling the virtues of “Jedi Oatmeal”, Red Dawn, and World of Warcraft as a dating service. But not on the first song, because as band leader and bassist Zack Reinhart said to the audience: “This is a song about zombies and it doesn’t have any words.”
I’m getting a pretty strong vibe that Nerd Rock requires an imagination. Looking back over the nights performances, I can see that every song has a bit of ‘let’s play pretend’ in it. For example, we all know that robots did not go clubbing in the 1800′s, Jedi Oatmeal isn’t available in the states, and when the aliens finally do invade, a shotgun will not be the ideal weapon. But all of these things are easy to visualize, at least with some help from our surreal pop heritage. Can’t you already imagine scenes from a never-made 80′s movie where Patrick Swayze fights his way onto a flying saucer, armed only with the power of the human spirit and a shotgun that never gets reloaded?
See, playing pretending is fun. It’s probably one of the most healthy things you can do for your psychological development. But why is ‘Nerd Rock’ so focused on pretend? And why do the same toys keep popping up?
I decided that the only was to know for sure was to interview Clark Watson about his true feelings for William Shatner. His performances had been very theatrical. Was he overplaying his feelings? Was he being ironic? Not in the least: “I’m a joke man. Just ask my wife. I’m a big cartoon. But meeting William Shatner really did change my life.”
Clark didn’t have a father influence in his childhood. Every day for most of this life, the person who came into his home for an hour a day to teach him how to be a man and how to kiss the girl was William Shatner in the guise of Captain Kirk. Meeting Shatner was like finally finding his father.
Oddly enough, this sort of resonated with me. I remember my sisters talking about how their earliest ideas of masculinity came from Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Indiana Jones. I hadn’t thought about it before that, but I realized the same was true for me. I wonder how many guys out there wished they were Han Solo instead of the guy whom the princess “loved like a brother.”
I asked Zack Reinhart and Blake Ray and they seemed to agree. Blake pointed out that “Nerd Rock is Punk without the rebellion.” I can see that. No offense, but it’s not all about the music. It’s about a culture and energy. All that’s missing is that big, monolithic daddy figure “The Man”, that figurehead that scares us into believing the world can operate according to “The System”.
It’s 2011 and we no longer have the luxury of pretending we can fix the world by defeating the idiots that happen to be in power. Add in some 1950′s “duck and cover” sound bytes like Blood Oaks and the whole idea becomes laughably nostalgic. No wonder you have to watch science fiction to find a real example of a man.
But don’t misjudge the Nerd Rockers; they aren’t wimps. They found their examples and they’re following in the footsteps. Clark Watson even says that nerds are the new jocks. He might be right. Nerd culture and “geek chic” trends have been growing for a while. It’s hardly counter-culture when sci-fi, comic books movies, and video games become the blockbusters.
So who are your local Nerd Rockers? Are they the William Shatners and Han Solos in this metaphor? Of course not, I’ll leave that honor to people who made girls think that geeks are cool, to Weezer’s singing from the heart about playing Dungeons and Dragons “In the Garage”, or to the video game designers who created a product that bridged the gap between bully and bullied.
But the “Nerd Rockers” are still essential to keep this story going. They’re the unnamed “red shirts” on Captain Kirk’s boarding party. You know they’re going to die first but there’s a lot of them and they’re here to party. If you are honest with yourself you’re probably a red shirt too. Come out and join us. Support Red Shirt Rock.