Bands that embrace pop-culture gimmickry are nothing new. KISS hawked lunch boxes way back. The Misfits gave us grim figurines in their own visages. And The Locust have issued self-branded coke mirrors (not the band"s intention, but common usage rules).
San Diego"s Rookie Card also embraces gimmickry-not only with their semi-indie, wryly humorous rock, but also with some of the best self-marketing pop-culture ploys known in these here parts.
As drummer Nasrallah Helewa says, they"re just a bunch of "G-E-E-K-S."
Admitting to geekdom back in seventh grade meant ruthless teasing and an agonizing wait for virginity-loss, but these days it"s a rallying call for all the self-diagnosed lonely, misunderstood, smart and brokenhearted.
Once Madison Avenue co-opted the stereotypical armor of the cool, bands like Weezer, Radiohead and Rookie Card in turn co-opted the geeks, endearing themselves to hoards of self-effacing nerds.
Rookie Card established their own self-loathing country-pop qualities in their first recording, First Day of Class. The songwriting of lead singer and guitarist Adam Gimbel combines heavy elements of country, Violent Femmes" Americana and three-chord garage hooks with songs like "Put Your Honey Where Your Mouth Is" and "Day Glo."
Admittedly, Gimbel is not from the South and has no history with country music-other than being a Wilco fan and owning a Patsy Cline CD. "Our most country song is about how I"m about a total poseur to be playing this kind of music, wearing a cowboy hat and that kind of thing," Gimbel admits. "But, we truly love that kind of music and hope that we don"t come off as being too country."
Whereas other country rockers may stereotypically sing of robbing banks and lamenting the loss of their lasses, Rookie Card chose to lament the loss of the person they robbed with the song "Dear John," a tune stolen from and dedicated to former member, guitarist John Andrews.
"Don't you wanna jump around some?," Gimbel sings. "Don't you wanna play?/ Don't let your guitar get dusty/ Don"t just fade away." It"s quite the country cliché. Quite sweet. Quite geeky.
Playing the role of Weird Al Yankovic with hipster cred, the band also wrote a lo-fi emo parody called "Mazzy Starship." With a slow riff that could have been lifted from their peers Waterline Drift, and balladic lyrics about the loveliness of local singer-songwriter Eve Selis, it strikes a chord with sentimental, "can"t get laid" geeks while, at the same time, name-dropping local music.
The apparent lack of substance and everyday humor in tracks such as "In Bed" will turn many of the serious non-geeks away. "Quit yer complainin"," Gimbel sings, "Lord knows you don"t need the practice/ In just two short semesters/ you"ll be able to be pro at this." It"s ironic guitar rock that lampoons Van Wilder-not necessarily cowing to the chain-smoking, intense-stare indie crowd.
The band"s name itself is stolen from a flick in which Ben Stiller"s character wants to get a Rabbi"s rookie card, the joke being that too many babies are thrown out with the pop-culture bath water.
Of course, and that"s what drives the foursome, who might just be a better Happy Days house band than any outfit Potsy ever assembled. Only catch is, Rookie Card has real songs.
RC"s wink-wink self-marketing genius is evinced with their merchandise-namely, the laminated, vintage "rookie cards" that they hand out to people at shows. Proving they understand the inherent irony of the pop-culture realm, the "rookie cards" are of cultural castaways like Garbage Pail Kids, Menudo, E.T., Michael Jackson and New Kids on the Block.
"We give people free rookie cards and they"ll do anything we tell them to," Gimbel quips.
"We"re pretty much all about paper products," Helewa adds.
The little "rookie cards" have become somewhat of a sought-after local item, which proves the band"s plan is working.
"It"s just getting to the point where people are drawn in to the look of it, and then they are listening to the music and giving feedback on the music," Helewa says. "You can only fool people with parlor tricks for so long, unless you"re Madonna."
Rookie Card could go either way-land an indie-label record deal or travel the dark road of adequately good spot-fillers for local shows, the equivalent of a middle reliever in baseball.
Of concern is Gimbel and Helewa"s apparent inability to keep a band together, having so far lost more members than a West London leper in the Dark Ages.
Andrews" departure left a gapping hole in the band"s ability to play new tunes. Dylan Martinez is filling in, but could only learn the "oldies," thus limiting the band"s ability to ply their new songwriting wares. Yet the band continues to whore themselves out at local rock shows, handing out flyers, "rookie cards" and playing guitar in front of clubs with a now-hiring sign for a permanent guitarist.