I’ve been rocking for years. Decades, to be honest.
From my earliest days buying hits of the late 1980s to the dawn of Alternative Rock and Grunge in the 1990s, to my Hardcore phase in the early 2000s; if it rocked in Chicagoland, I was there for it.
Well, that’s almost true. I wasn’t there for the “Classic Rock” era of the 60s and 70s, but I’ll drink your uncle under the table in a toe-to-toe show of who knows his rock and roll. From the British Invasion, to the Monterey Folk scene, to the dawn of what would become Metal; I know my Rolling Stones from my Math Rock. I know every era of Black Sabbath like it was scripture. I actually enjoy King Crimson.
So please, take me seriously when I tell you; Nobody in the Region plays the Greatest Classic Rock Hits, Deep Cuts, and B-Sides like the MRI Center in Merrillville just off Broadway.
I know what you’re going to say. “Chris, the Chicago Classic Rock station at 97.1 on my radio dial has it all. They’ve been rocking the Chicago market for 21 years! They hit the South Shore with 8,300 watts of deep cuts so hard that The Loop switched to a talk radio format on FM! Talk radio on FM! Come on Chris, be serious. Nobody rocks like my favorite Chicago classic rock station does this side of St. Louis, possibly Cincinnati.
I hear you, and before my doctor told me I had to have the second MRI I’d undergo this year to square away the cause of my sudden (and rapidly improving) facial paralysis, I’d have agreed with you.
I mean, when I went in for the first MRI I had this year (an image of my brain to be absolutely certain that I hadn’t had a minor stroke,) I didn't give it too much thought when they asked me what kind of music I'd prefer for the 45 plus minutes I was to lie perfectly still in the MRI's cramped tubular chamber. I was more concerned with the fact that I'd be surrounded by magnetic fields so strong they could rip any ferrous metal embedded in my body out of my skin and into the very air. Given several options, I was slightly let down that I couldn’t just listen to Public Radio as I ordinarily do when I need to pass an hour in an emotional state slightly above sleep. I reflexively chose Alternative Rock.
My journey through life has taken me a lot of places and taught me a lot of things, including various types of meditation. I figured “hey, I can slow my breathing to almost undetectable levels and control my body’s response to pain to the point where medical professionals have grown concerned that I might not be able to feel pain. Being perfectly still for 45 minutes while the water molecules in my cells gently vibrate to produce an image of my nervous system without the need for invasive procedures should be no problem.
"I was certain that nothing you could call “classic rock” was going to be anything that could surprise me."
Yeah that’s all well and good until you’re 35 minutes into impersonating a statue when The All American Rejects' song “Gives You Hell” comes on.
Try hearing that song without expecting it during something serious. That song could make the Pope laugh at a Baptism. I had to completely clear my mind of all thought except to count my breaths ten at a time for three minutes and thirty five seconds. Then I had to refrain from remembering having heard the song through the entirety of Weezer’s rendition of “Africa’. I haven’t held back a laugh that desperately since I girl I was dating asked me if I could give up sarcasm and be completely sincere. For her.
So when the time for my second MRI arrived and I was given my musical options, I went with “classic rock." as there would be less likelihood of unexpected selections that could make me laugh. Further, I’d be able to push it into the background of my consciousness easily because I was bound to know every note, ever lyric, and every beat. I was certain that nothing you could call “classic rock” was going to be anything that could surprise me.
As the metal slab I was lying on slowly moved backwards into the imaging chamber I could hear the gyroscopic arms that held the powerful electromagnets inside the walls of the MRI chamber fire up and begin to move in their rhythmic sequence. If you’ve never had an MRI, imagine the sound of a printer. Like the printers that you hear in restaurant kitchens or how FAX machines sound on TV shows about police because everything on TV is shown making noises including things that no longer do. Now imagine that printer at the volume of an old vacuum cleaner (at least).
It was then that I heard something else. A sound was coming from the headphones that had so far only served to dull the noise of the machine. The sound was perfectly mechanical in its own right and if I hadn’t spent so much of my life rocking like few have rocked before me, I might have thought it to be just another sound the machine I was trapped inside of was making, indifferent to what I heard from inside of it.
But deep inside my brain, in my very spine, I knew what the sound was and I knew every second of 1980s arena-rock badassery that would follow it. It was the sound of car horns, pitch shifted and slowed by legendary producer Ted Templeman in the opening seconds of Van Halen’s “Runnin’ With the Devil.” Every ounce of my body’s endocrine system anxiously anticipated bassist Michael Anthony’s first few rhythmic licks that could only be close behind, reminiscent of a heart monitor. There, with a full 40 minutes of perfect stillness ahead of me, I knew only where I was. My future was filled with uncertainty.
Now I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. You’re thinking “Chris, come on. You’re telling me that you’re willing to attest to the supremacy of 45 minutes of non-stop rock based entirely on the track list opening with some David Lee Roth era Van Halen? That happens every day on my drive home down 80-94 listening to 103.9 FM just after sports, traffic, and weather. Plus, they have Alice Cooper’s show from 7PM to Midnight.”
I was right there with you, feeling my eyeballs slowly drying out as I stared at the off-white paint adorning the inside of the imaging chamber I was trapped in for the foreseeable future. I knew from my last MRI that the music I was hearing wasn’t broadcast radio or satellite- there would be no station identification or commercials. I knew that the origin of the rock in question was a mystery. Was it a curated iTunes collection set to random? Did it come with the machine? There would be no finding out anytime soon for me. All I could do was wait to find out what would be next. It wasn’t your standard afternoon commute fare, not even on the “deep cuts” station.
"Whatever force assembled this playlist had shown its inspired, possibly otherworldly hand."
Like a series of semi-automatic gunfire bursts, the opening chords rang out from the silence that Van Halen left behind them. I knew the next song on some level, but I confess that it took me until the chorus to be certain and even then, I wasn’t sure if it was one of Judas Priest’s lesser works. Trapped inside chamber of cold metal with 480 volts of power coursing forward at 200 amps, I lay frozen in amazement to realize I was hearing KISS’s “Love Gun.” Every second of it.
I’m predictably cynical, a man of objection. My license plate literally says “DOUBT.” I assure you, I was right there with those of you shaking your heads, sure that all I’ve described at this point is 10 minutes of golden era cock rock with an admittedly bold willingness to favor tracks featuring the Prince of Darkness and penis analogies. But lying there, awaiting the brief period in which I would be removed from the chamber to have a solution of liquid metal called gadolinium injected into my arm for improved contrast in the final scans of my skull, I was made into a believer. Like Thomas, I saw and believed.
A single tear ran down my cheek through the stubble of my sideburn as I struggled not to blink. The machine’s repetitive screeches, each from a giant magnet completing half of an orbit around my head as they passed unseen behind a wall of aluminum just inches from my nose, were rhythmic and predictable. The machine and I: we were predictable together. What came through the headphones next was not.
Abruptly, a surge of rapid drumfire, guitar, and bass punched through the noise of my temporary medical prison. Just as suddenly, silence took its place, leaving a space for the sound of the machine to return. Repeatedly, this binary music and lack-of music interrupted the sounds of what was happening to me. As I lay in the shadow of the unfathomably expensive machine that can see what no man does (the very inside of a man,) I became resigned to the knowledge that the next eleven minutes and twenty eight seconds would be a view into myself and my own mind, courtesy of Yes’s 1971 masterpiece “Heart of the Sunrise.”
Whatever force assembled this playlist had shown its inspired, possibly otherworldly hand. This was not merely a block of the choicest rock from 70s and 80s. Each selection was one that a radio programming director might pass over on instinct. “Too lowbrow.” “Too highbrow.” “They have a bigger hit on the same album.” “Twelve minutes? Can we even play a twelve-minute song?”
In short, this was 45 minutes of tracks assembled by some person, machine, or spirit that knew only one thing about its audience; They were trapped inside a giant metal coil pulsing with electricity and instructed not to move under any circumstance. They must not smile. They must not swallow. They must not blink. They must only listen. Listen to this, the most glorious of rock.
I no longer wanted to move. When it was over, I did not want to leave.
Nobody Rocks The Region like the MRI Center in Merrillville Just off Broadway.
The Author apologizes for the length of this piece, as his schedule did not allow him to edit it to a more manageable size. He also would like to offer the MRI technician that curated the playlist that inspired this article a chance to be interviewed if she learns of the article and would like to be given credit. Images used under Creative Commons license courtesy of Wikemedia.