The whole Hard Rock enterprise — which started as a café and has since branched out into hotels, casinos, and a vast nationwide network of lame T-shirts — has built great success on the idea of “rock.”
What the hell is rock these days? I can’t quite define it, but it pops up everywhere. It’s the operative word in Rock of Love and VH1’s Movies That Rock: The MC Hammer Story. I think it’s the secret ingredient in Rockstar Energy Drink. Kid Rock has it in spades. If I close my eyes and try to imagine it, it sounds kinda like Eddie Money and looks like Tommy Lee, but older.
Don’t worry, I’m not trying to blow your mind with the shocking scoop that rock and roll hasn’t remained completely free of commercial taint. I’m talking about the word, which the Man has co-opted and rendered beautifully meaningless. The Hard Rock Café uses the rock concept — mostly in the form of memorabilia — to sell people food, beverages, and T-shirts. Which sounds like the most natural thing in the world until you think about it for 10 seconds. Why does rock equal food? Because rock equals anything you want to sell to Baby Boomers.
Earlier this month, a new extension of the brand made its public debut, further eroding the meaning of “rock.” The Hard Rock Park — I am absolutely not making this quote up — “turns up the volume on the family leisure scene” with a rock-oriented adventure for all ages. The sprawling theme park is the biggest tourist destination ever to hit Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, having cost a whopping $400 million. Its bizarre attractions and muddled themes paint a delightful picture of a bunch of square-ass suits making a valiant attempt to figure out this whole “rock” thing, and I can’t say I blame ’em for being a little confused. Allow me to guide you through the park with this evocative boilerplate from the press release:
“ROCK & ROLL HEAVEN — AN OASIS OF ROCK, EXPLORES THE FEELINGS AND EMOTIONS ‘BEHIND THE MUSIC’ — THE INFLUENCES, THE LEGENDS AND THE VIBRATIONS THAT STIR THE SOUL.” This section houses the park’s biggest attraction, “Led Zeppelin: The Ride.” I find it rather odd that they’d pick a three-quarters-living band to represent the booming industry of dead rockers, but they probably didn’t want to get too pessimistic. (And the Hendrix estate is an expensive bunch.) Phoenix editor Lance Gould suggests they beef the place up with a “Lynyrd Skynyrd Flight Simulator” and a “Jimi Hendrix Puke Lagoon Submarine Ride,” plus some fine dining at the Mama Casseteria. (Don’t blame me for those jokes. All him.)
“BRITISH INVASION — CELEBRATES ROCK ’N’ ROLL ENGLISH STYLE. THE LOOK AND FEEL OF LONDON CREATES A BACKDROP TO EXPLORE ROCK’S MOST INFLUENTIAL ARTISTS AND MUSICAL GENRES.” Skips all the Beatles bullshit and heads straight for the good stuff: a trippy ride based on the Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin,” a roller-coaster with an ’80s new-wave theme, and three restaurants that focus on the world-famous delights of British cuisine. Be sure to take your children to the “charming toddler play area” in the psychedelic “Magic Mushroom Garden,” which lights up like a giant black-light poster at night. It’s never too early to teach your tots about the thrilling effects of psilocybin!
“COOL COUNTRY — EXPRESSES A DISTINCTIVELY AMERICAN FORM OF MUSIC AND ITS INCREDIBLE LASTING POPULARITY, PARTICULARLY IN THE SOUTH!” This section has one of the park’s top coasters, “Life in the Fast Lane.” It’s an Eagles-themed . . . uhh . . . mine-cart ride through a spooky haunted lumber mill. I guess it makes a lot more sense when you consider the original title, “Midnight Rider” (after the Allman Brothers classic). Actually, that still doesn’t make any goddamn sense, does it?
“BORN IN THE USA — SALUTES THE BIRTHPLACE AND ‘MELTING POT’ OF ROCK: AN AMERICAN TAPESTRY OF EXCITING STYLES AS DIVERSE AS THE PEOPLE THAT LIVE FROM ‘SEA TO SHINING SEA.’ ” The Hard Rock Park Web site doesn’t delve too much into the melting-pot angle; an early review posted on a theme-park blog noted that the area seems to ignore the role of black artists in the history of rock, but hey, at least this section features a Bon Jovi–themed “Slippery When Wet” ride. If you want a little diversity, head over to the kid-friendly “Reggae River Falls” for a celebration of the black man’s sole acknowledged contribution: “island rhythms.” Hey, it’s South Carolina. Let’s not think too hard about this.
Although the park is open to the public now, the plan is to have a huge grand-opening celebration on June 2 and 3. Better book your tickets now, before the thing inevitably goes bankrupt. Forgive me if it’s already closed by the time you read this.
PS: One good reason to go: the Web site advertises “Kid Rock — Free with Park Admission.” If you’re looking for a hardy laborer to clean your rain gutters and organize your garage, you might consider it.