Social media polarization, fake news, causes celebre, political distraction, Russian disinformation, pandemics, Hollywood award show scandals, leaked Supreme Court rulings, incriminating laptops, inflation, Ukrainian war and election integrity, just a sample listing of the zeitgeist that is the 2020’s. As not only Americans, but as citizens of the world, there is something we all have in common. What would that one thing be, you ask? On the big chess board of life, unless you are one of the political, social or financial elite, with rare exception, we are all just pawns. Each of us trying to avoid the attack of one of the multiple-square moving pieces that can eliminate you from the game without you ever seeing it coming. Chess is a game in which artful sleight of hand will keep you looking at the left hand, while the right hand is poised to strike. The problem with being a pawn, is that to retaliate, you must expose yourself in an adjacent square, without the element of surprise of attacking from a distance. Seems like we are all at a slight disadvantage, doesn’t it?
OK, so what? What does all of this have to do with rock n’ roll? So glad you asked! Rock music has always been about rebellion at its core. Little Richard, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis shocked the world with their flamboyant personas. Next came the British invasion, what with their long hair, they posed a serious threat to the status quo. The next wave was the psychedelic, hippy era, the hair got longer and the drug use was unhidden. Acid rock evolved into protest music in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Alright, that was 50 years ago, what does that have to do with 2022? Although the spirit of protest music might have gone dormant to a large degree, if you look hard enough, you can still find artists with something to say. Every once in a while that utterance may come from a band or artist of whom you have never heard. Just because you may have never heard of them, does not mean you should not hear what they have to say. That is where the hammer hits the proverbial nail. Enter The New Bardots.
As previously mentioned, you may not be aware of The New Bardots, so let’s start with an introduction. The group is a collection of four musicians from New Jersey who have mostly known each other for a really long time. Harkening back to the days of their youth, these veterans of the New York Metro area punk scene of the 1970’s, these Garden Staters cut their teeth in legendary Big Apple music venues like CBGB’s, Max’s Kansas City and the China Club. Consisting of Wayne Olivieri on vocals and other things, Dan Skye on bass, Gar Francis on guitar and Johnny Rago on drums, the present day band resembles the figures against whom they were protesting some decades ago. That juxtaposition seems fitting from a visual standpoint. After all, the counter culture activists of the 1960’s have actually become that which they themselves railed against during the Woodstock era. The difference here, is that the fabled flip never occurred with these guys.
Recently the band released a song entitled (Just) Another Dance In The City. As Olivieri describes, “We were working on another record called United The States Project, and that was a bunch of protest songs, really, because we really didn’t like the way the world was going. We wrote about five political songs and we released it as an EP, and (Just) Another Dance In The City was one of those. We wanted to leave it as a New Bardots song, because we felt it was a really good, interpretive song.” So not wanting to be what they were speaking against, they did not want to define what the song means. “It wasn’t a straight up, we don’t like the left or we don’t like the right. It was an interpretive song, but lyrically speaking, it’s just when somebody’s just giving you a lot of BS. It’s the same old song and dance. And you know the city we are talking about.” Skye interjects, “The core of our message is, these are tumultuous times, and this is our reaction to that. Wayne and I are on opposite sides of the fence, we like different teams, if you will. One thing we agree on however, is that the arguing plays against everybody, and it’s not really about this side is right and that side is wrong.”
There was a time when as Americans specifically, we had a sense of patriotism and regardless of which side of the aisle you might sit, we could all come together in a collective voice when we felt perhaps our sense of who we are had been threatened. Skye relates his feelings on that sentiment, “We try to take that approach in our protests. Not to say you’re right, I’m wrong, but rather we are all doing it wrong, and there’s a big difference in that.” While many things may appear to be one way, but actually be another, a lot of people can have knee-jerk reactions to specific occurrences, he continues, “We want to dig a little deeper into the issues that make the government not as good as it could be. And we all agree, no matter what side you’re on, left or right, government is corrupt.” Even if you do not subscribe to that philosophy, it is difficult to deny that we are clearly in a place where things are topsy-turvy, Skye sums it up this way, “If you listen to the lyrics, we’re not taking sides, we’re just saying the whole thing is funny. It needs to be looked at, everybody needs to pay attention.”
This approach may lead one to believe that these guys take themselves entirely too seriously. All one has to do is watch one of their videos or see them perform live to realize that they have a sense of playfulness and humor as well. The Bardots’ videos feature them wearing creepy Mardi Gras style masks. Olivieri posits, “I’m a showman, I’m a Freddie Mercury type guy, he’s my idol. I went to party city and saw these masks on the wall and thought they looked kind of cool. I brought them to rehearsal in a bag and all of a sudden the guys started putting them on, and I thought, that’s pretty cool.” So wearing masks on stage may be a nod to anonymity and unity as opposed to just a niche for recognition. He goes on, “What we do now is when we come out, usually we have the masks on. We usually end up taking them off after a couple of songs.”
In case you think these guys are falling on their swords, never fear, there is more music in them. Olivieri shares his thoughts on making music, “We still have fun and we still enjoy what we do. I call it a blessing and a curse all in one. It’s a blessing because we can do this, and I’ve always been infatuated with being able to do what we do. It’s a curse, because you can’t stop. We do this because creative energy unused, turns into weirdness.” Skye adds this, “My mission is to create awareness about what happens to you when you become a musician. Your brain literally transforms itself, they can do a scan and tell if you’re a musician, and get this, they can tell if you play a stringed or keyed instrument.” It causes one to wonder what the effects of listening to music are on non-musicians. As far as musician go, he adds this final thought, “I want to make people aware that you’re not crazy if you think you get unhappy when you don’t play, there’s a real reason for that.”
Without divulging their ages, it seems that some 40 plus years of making and playing music, begs the question what keeps them going? Olivieri concludes, “We’ve been musicians all our lives and we see no reason to stop. Groups like The Rolling Stones that are still out there touring are an inspiration to us.” It’s hard to stop doing things that are just part of your DNA. He offers one poignant final thought about continuing to create music, “Birds got to fly, musicians got to play.” You need to listen to (Just) Another Dance In The City. Regardless of which color you represent on the great chess board of life, the song can serve as an axiomatic smelling salts to the nose. Why do we love rock music as a people, because it speaks to us. Give it a listen and contemplate the message. Hopefully we will all wake up and smell the coffee soon and realize, we are not the enemy, they are. If there is an underlying message in this song, that would probably be it.