A Love Letter to Rod the Mod
I don’t care about his feathered hair. I don’t care about his unfortunate fascination, in the Seventies and Eighties, with puff sleeves. Or his continuing fascination with white suits. Or the fact that, with some teenage parenting, he could technically be old enough to be my grandfather. I love Rod Stewart. Unironically. And dammit, I’m not the only one of my peer group to do so.
It’s easy to crack a joke at ol’ Rod the Mod’s expense – sure, sadly, the lingering image many casual music fans have of him is of his latter-day, slightly bloated, warbling version. But the man is a legend, a holdout from when frontmen were rock stars instead of disposable pop tarts. When men could dress prettier than their girlfriends, but still ooze an air of sexual menace and complete assurance. When they could get absolutely, sloppy drunk on a regular basis, sing as though they were crying, and come out of it fine on the other end.
Rod’s is the voice that’s launched a million soggy pub singalongs, a million sessions of sadly staring out the window while Every Picture Tells a Story self-indulgently wheels around the turntable yet again. He’s the man who backed up Jeff Beck, who gave us dirty rock and roll anthems from the Small Faces – and then the Faces, the guy who’s snagged model after model while seeming to just shrug and grin. Basically, he’s the man. So here, I offer a few rebuttals to some of the ignorant’s most common easy attacks.
The episode in which he broke down while performing “Have I Told You Lately” on Unplugged, 1993. What, are you people completely callous? He was then married to supermodel Rachel Hunter. You’d cry tears of joy too if she were your wife. (Sure, they later divorced, but give the man some credit for depth of feeling at the time.)
The Cover of The Great American Songbook, Volume III: Even I had to cringe at this one, featuring Rod in yet another white suit, giving the camera a devilish grin. His wardrobe, however, isn’t the worst part – it’s the seemingly disembodied, rather muscular pair of legs jutting out from behind him. But Rod has always been an unabashed admirer of the female form. And if he likes them strong, bless his heart for that.
The hair, in general: You know what? The man came out of the English Sixties mod culture, in which combing your impeccable barnet before stepping out was a must. Height in male hair is a fun avenue of exploration that has sadly only been remembered by the side-swooped tight-pants kids. Rod keeps it real for those who appreciate a time in which the ’do completed the man. Plus, his earlier, rooster-style mop-top has been aped by many many attractive rock and rollers in excellent bands (see: the entire Britpop and garage revival eras). In fact, when spotting it in the wild you can take it as an external marker of good taste.
“D’Ya Think I’m Sexy": The people who most vocally dislike this song while sober are often those who dance most enthusiastically to it when drunk. Give Rod some credit for attempting to move with the times and try out the seemingly newfangled disco sound. Regardless of your take on it, it’s his highest-selling record to date, and the soundtrack of numerous embarrassing, awkward office party fumblings ever since.
And with all that said, I’d like to share some of my personal top reasons for Rod-loving.
He was serious about his boozing. Sure, plenty of bands pay lip service to drinking beer and getting rowdy. But it’s hard to beat Brits at anything booze-related. In the Seventies, Rod’s band the Faces actually performed with a functioning bar onstage. Today’s youth lacks that kind of dedication. They also wrote one of the best kiss-offs to a future, hung-over, morning-after sayonara: “Stay With Me.”
Real men aren’t afraid to wear paisley. Again, bless the Brits for inventing, and keeping alive, the culture of the dandy. Again, coming from the mod scene, Rod was no slouch in this department, in the Seventies even keeping up with the best British glam rock accessorizers. Pinstripe, thin-lapel suits, floor-length fur coats, the works. If only contemporary rock had that sort of unashamed pageantry that managed to remain somehow dangerous and unneutered.
Every other band he was in was good, too. While he played in some other bands in the early Sixties, he’s most known for then joining the Jeff Beck Group as a vocalist. Then, he picked up the Small Faces after the departure of Steve Marriott (who later formed Humble Pie), and made them into the ten times more awesome and loveably ridiculous Faces. He also managed to lead them while still releasing some of his most acclaimed solo records.
Album sales. Surely, my former-punk-rock heart will be the first to point out that large album sales mean nothing on the meter of good taste. But once upon a time, in certain instances, they did. Rod’s album and single sales total something like over 250 million. He’s like Frank Sinatra or Elvis – that many people just can’t be completely wrong.
“Maggie May": If this elegy for a doomed love affair with an older woman doesn’t affect your heart in any way, well, you may not have a soul. Or you need to drink more.
Rod Stewart performs Thursday, January 31 and Friday, February 1 at Hard Rock Live at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, 5747 Seminole Way, Hollywood. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets range from $100 to $300. Visit www.ticketmaster.com.