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Rock 'n' Roll in Their Hearts

The Secret to Longevity for Snotty Scotty and the Hankies? Forget Fame. Rock Because You Love It.

November 23, 2003|Martin Booe | Martin Booe last wrote for the magazine about the etiquette for guests at parties.

Rock 'n' roll is a vocation to which many are called but few are chosen. Thirty-three years ago, a motley assortment of Southern California teenagers coalesced into something loosely resembling a rock band. In the beginning, they called themselves "Hop In," but soon they repented of their good taste and settled on the pointedly sophomoric name of Snotty Scotty and the Hankies.

The band heard the call, the burning bush whispering the usual Babylonian promises of musical success. Broadly speaking, it reckoned, success would bring excess, glorious carnal excess: riches, flashy clothes, fawning groupies, limousines, stardom, fame and fortune. Only after years of hunger and deplorably common existence do most bands realize their dream has died.

Not, however, Snotty Scotty and the Hankies. The members recognized almost immediately that their future was grim. But rather than pawn their instruments and slink away, they rallied. They chose not to be chosen, and they reveled in it. They got day jobs. They kept playing. They still play. And though their intrepidity may not have won them wealth and fame, it has earned them a certain notoriety. Most tangibly, they are perhaps the very soul of the wanton brattiness that defines Pasadena's Doo Dah Parade, the city's renegade rebuff to the strait-laced Rose Parade, in which they'll appear today for the 26th consecutive year. They have a similarly perfect record of attendance at the annual Celebration on the Colorado Street Bridge, and while their scruffy aspect and scruffier repertoire might seem at odds with an event that is a benefit for the genteel Pasadena Heritage Society, they are probably its main draw.

I'd heard their name invoked for years but hadn't laid eyes on them until the bridge celebration in July. Scott Finnell, lead singer, a gangly 6-foot-1 in Hawaiian shirt, rose-tinted aviator glasses and a face as craggy as a nuclear test site. Steve Bruen, pony-tailed, mutton-chopped, with a vague resemblance to Neil Young. Drake the Bass Player, a Winnebago of a man with long red pigtails suggesting an errant Viking. And finally, drummer Barbara Goodman, an unexpected injection of yin to the prevailing yang, though there was nothing girlie in the way she pounded the toms.

I judged them to be a band Neil Young would approve of because: Song by song, their set-list of sometimes familiar but frequently obscure covers constantly careened to the edge of falling apart, and sometimes did, which is the way rock should be. This was rock as a raggedy druidic religion, despite a lot of sloppiness, clowning and beery jokes hitting wide of the mark. Inside it was a sort of primitive energy, but mostly it was just fun, not the least because of Scotty, beer in hand, jumping and twitching as if he were gripping the wrong end of a battery cable, having the time of his life. The music may have lurched and sputtered, but it was infectious, and when the band lit into a jagged cover of "All Along the Watchtower," I found myself leading a weird sort of conga line prancing through the crowd. Which, really, is not like me.

At any rate, I began to ponder just what kept middle-aged dudes tilling the rocky soil of bar gigs, weddings and the like after so much time, after a hard day's work, when just loading and unloading the van (no roadies here) is truly tiresome. Actually, the answer was fairly apparent: They just didn't want to bother with growing up, a proposition that demands considerable devotion.

What follows is a ridiculous assertion, but stick with me and see if you don't find some truth in it. The male species can be divided into two basic categories: Those whose power fantasies center on being star athletes and those whose center on being rock stars. (Males who have achieved either don't count, but a man who does not indulge in one or the other is not trustworthy.) Frankly, I have no clue as to the existential meaning embedded in either choice, but for what it's worth, I am of the latter persuasion. Despite the fact that I can boast lifetime earnings as a professionally paid musician of $387.32, I have come to terms with the bitter and unjust probability that it is too late for me to become a rock star.

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