Sad Cucumber

In olden times, Rod Stewart was not a cartoon tragedy; a depleted figure of contempt and ridicule; a tabloid fogy to be squawked over by middle-aged frumps who'd once lustily polished their pearls to his voice and image as hormones flooded their pubescent pudenda. True, today the former Rod the Mod is widely renowned for allowing his revolting, desiccated man-tits to be splashed across the pages of The Enquirer; for his desperate, flailing obsession with chasing out-of-his-league 'tang years after the thought first became unendurable; and, perhaps most cruelly, for having a morselicious daughter named Kimberly who apparently stooped to being schtupped by the retarded, funny-looking fruit of Ozzy's loins, Jack Osbourne, whose own boy-tits are very nearly as hideous as ol' Rod's, even at age 18.

I am here today to tell you, delicate reader, 'twas not always thus. The prime was brief but brilliant: Stewart collaborated in the mid-'60s with a post-Yardbirds Jeff Beck to create a template of bombastic, shrieking blooze rawk—pre-Zep proto-metal. His first five solo albums, released 'twixt 1969 and 1972, saw him emerge as rock & roll's greatest interpretive vocalist. Tender, soul-stirring covers of Dylan's "Only a Hobo," Elton John's "Country Comfort" and Tim Hardin's "Reason to Believe," plus perfect roots pop originals such as "Gasoline Alley," "Maggie Mae" and "You Wear It Well" were landmarks of the age. Concurrent with all this, Stewy also sidelined as the front man for the Faces, whose pleasantly sloppy booze muse made them a poor man's Stones. Through it all, Stewart's impeccable taste was matched by his magnificent, unique vocal timbre; a hoarse, soulful rasp that he wielded with impossibly rich, Sam Cooke-like eloquence. At his best, Stewart's work could be, by turns, an emotionally wrenching and enriching encounter.

You know the rest: it was all over by the mid-'70s, when Stewart became a preening spandex fop; a cucumber-crotched conceit; the poster boy for the genesis of punk rock, whose self-absorbed, cheesedick forays into K-Mart disco, new wave, synth pop and MOR schmaltz reeked like an open-pit toilet in a Folsom torture cell for the next 25 long years.

In the '00s, Stewart has been commercially reborn as an interpreter of the Great American Songbook, which has made him reviled in the jazz community as soundly as he was in 1977 by the pogo-and-hock set. Personally, I find his forays into standards less offensive than anything he's recorded in decades, certainly no less difficult to endure than the critically acclaimed tweeting of Norah Jones or Jane Monheit. And despite his many undeniable years of turd-mongering, Stewart's early legacy will endure; t'will ever be a timeless pleasure to hear him soar on "Mandolin Wind" or "Man of Constant Sorrow." In short, all I would ask of this man in the autumn of his years is to keep his fucking shirt on because that sun-dried, parchment-skinned torso, quite honestly, makes we want to erupt all over my Rockports.

Rod Stewart performs at the Arrowhead Pond, 2695 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 704-2400. Mon., 8 p.m. $49.75-$95.25. All ages.


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