Sex & Cars & Rock & Roll

I entered the Rolling Stone Rock & Roll Bowl on a whim. How'd I do? Just call me Johnny Ca$h.

Midweek we schedule a practice dinner, something to oil the joints before we make our debut. It's difficult at first to downshift from academics; regurgitating rock facts isn't exactly like tracing metaphors of return in Ulysses or unpacking Nietzschean rhetoric. We start with simple drills (Who is Cynthia Plastercaster? How did Tim Buckley die? What was the Infidel Sharks' biggest hit?) and when we get sick of the shootaround, we trade our favorite apocrypha: Faith No More's Mike Patton, terrified of toilets, leaving onstage packages for Axl Rose before the Gunners' sets; Marvin Gaye's father, furious over an insurance letter, emptying a round into his son's angelic throat. As team captain, I reserve the right to tell the final story and I pick something inspirational, Sly Stone in Fort Myers in 1983, passed out on a hotel bed with a teenage trick, the coke a faint white dust upon the pillows when the police arrive. "Did you have drugs here?" asks the cop. Sly twists open one reddened eye, slurs, "Yeah, man, but they're all gone," then slips into sleep again.

We arrive early for the Chicago regional competition; we are, after all, the home team and we feel that we should take full advantage of our psychological edge. The stage decor is generic game show, three panel podiums fitted with buzzers and microphones, a raised platform nearby for the host, comedian and former MTV personality Mario Joyner. Before the partisan crowd of about 100, Mario introduces the three teams and explains the rules: nine categories of three questions each; ten-, twenty-, and thirty-point awards for correct responses; first team to ring in has five seconds to confer and answer; no penalties for wrong answers; a final question whose value depends on the teams' wagers, Final Jeopardy-fashion. The three highest-scoring regional winners will travel to Los Angeles for the national semifinals; the top two squads from that round will move on to Daytona Beach for the finals, scheduled amid spring break. The grand prize: a brand new Ford Mustang apiece. "Are you ready?" asks Joyner. All nine of us nod in unison.

"This punk singer," says Mario, "began her career as a poet and is perhaps best known for her cover of Van Morrison's 'Glo--My finger, hovering over the buzzer, drops like an anvil. Our panel light glares white. "Northwestern," pipes Mario, and we answer "Patti Smith." Ten points appear on the electronic scoreboard in front of our podium, and we never look back. DePaul seems to have cornered the market on questions about the Dead, and Loyola is quicker on the trigger when it comes to bubblegum A Kylie Minogue? Please. Even trivia has its limits A but everything else is in our jurisdiction. Let the record show that we were good sports, gracious competitors, not prone to grandstanding. Let the record also show that we pounded the opposition as flat as LPs. When Mario needles us for phrasing our answers in the form of a question A "This isn't Jeopardy," he says disparagingly A Will calls him "Alex," and the audience laughs approvingly. By the time the final question rolls around, we're undisputed local champs. The Northwestern Daily, in a stirring show of school spirit, misspells my name.

About a week after the competition, while we're waiting to see if our score qualifies us for Los Angeles, I get a wakeup call in the form of a UPS package. It's drab-brown on the outside, a little beaten at the corners, but it's the inside that really intrigues me. There, among wadded newspaper and Styrofoam peanuts, is my team's round-one booty A three Aiwa personal cassette players, coupons for eighteen free pints of H„agen-Dazs and three one-year subscriptions to Rolling Stone, three denim jackets, each with an embroidered Rock & Roll Bowl patch spread across the back. For the first time the real face of the competition moves into view: I'm not just a winner, I'm a prizewinner, and the difference is material. I can listen to tapes on my new walkman (estimated retail value $49.95) while I enjoy my twelve months of glossy rock coverage (estimated retail value $30) and upholster my arteries with Cookie Dough Dynamo (estimated retail value $15). I can gaze admiringly at my new jacket (estimated retail value $59.95) before I consign it forever to the cheap seats of my closet.

I call Will and Steve to tell them the good news, but they're uneasy at first, philosophically uncomfortable about taking handouts from big business. I try to bring them to their senses by reading aloud from the corporate publicity materials. "Ford, whose cars and trucks are at the forefront of the youth market, has five of the top ten best-selling vehicle lines.... Aiwa, America, Inc. is a leading manufacturer of superior quality home and entertainment systems.... MBNA America is the nation's second-largest lender through bank credit cards, with $12.4 billion in managed loans.... H„agen-Dazs is the only worldwide brand of superpremium frozen desserts and novelties...." Will jumps on board as soon as I mention the "youth market," but Steve proves a harder nut to crack, holding out all the way through "second-largest lender" and "managed loans." Only when tempted with "superpremium frozen desserts and novelties" does he finally capitulate. "Okay, okay!" he cries. "Bring on the prizes!" I feel a twinge of guilt at having undone his idealism, but only a twinge. It's like the man said: Multibillion-dollar corporations don't compromise people; people compromise people.

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