Tom Scharpling and Ronald Thomas Clontle: Rock, Rot & Rule

Tom Scharpling and Ronald Thomas Clontle
Rock, Rot & Rule

UNLIKE MOST ROCK critics, Ronald Thomas Clontle doesn't bother trying to persuade you that his opinions aren't wrong--he doesn't even try to convince you he knows what he's talking about. The Lawrence, Kansas, native is the author of Rock, Rot or Rule, a 98-page tome consisting of nothing more than band names and one of three final judgments: "rock," "rot," or (you guessed it) "rule." Except for the index, that's it. Clontle described his book as "the ultimate argument settler" in a 1997 radio interview, which has now been released (with an altered conjunction) as Rock, Rot & Rule.

Naturally, nearly everyone who calls the show takes issue with Clontle's viewpoints. Pressed by host Tom Scharpling of the East Orange, New Jersey, radio station WFMU, Clontle exposes himself as an appallingly stupid historian: He claims Madness invented ska, despite being presented hard evidence to the contrary by caller after caller. (One of them begins reading the track listing of The Birth of Ska Vol. 2: 1966-69. "Is it called 'Our House'?" Clontle smugly interrupts.)

The book and interview are also, as you might suspect, a joke. As "Clontle," Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster proffers his opinions on the radio show with almost religious sincerity. Bush rule while Nirvana merely rock; Neil Young rots (Clontle has only heard the likes of Landing on Water and American Dream); and Madonna rules, because "the people have decided her body of work is far better" than Young's. Frank Zappa rots, because "humor has no place in music." By itself, this is funny stuff, but Wurster stays so perfectly in character that unless you're aware of the gag, you believe every dumbfounding word. As a prank-call joke, Rock, Rot & Rule buries the Jerky Boys; as a rock satire, it's every bit as acute, and funny, as This Is Spi¨nal Tap.

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