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

Album: Rock, Rot & Rule
Label: Stereolaffs

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On Nov. 19, 1997, Tom Scharpling, a DJ at WFMU-FM in New Jersey, interviewed Ronald Thomas Clontle about "the ultimate argument settler," a book Clontle says will determine once and for all which musical acts rock, rot, and rule. For 47 minutes, Scharpling skeptically questioned Clontle about his lists, opinions, knowledge, research methods, and theories, taking calls from a long string of usually irate listeners. The interview and the book were both hoaxes, though the listeners' calls are real, and the result, found on the new Rock, Rot & Rule CD, is a marvelous, skillfully executed bit of high-concept comedy. Puff Daddy rules, but The Beatles merely rock? Bruce Hornsby rules? David Bowie rots? ("Too many changes," deadpans Clontle.) Neil Young, too? Clontle's web of logic and illogic—a band can rule without rocking, but it can never rock without ruling—gets funnier as the interview progresses, as do his short, consistently decisive answers. That all-important self-assuredness hacks off WFMU's listeners to no end, with Clontle's assertion that Madness rules because "they started ska" eliciting responses from countless angry ska fans. When met with impassioned arguments and concrete evidence, his responses are clipped: "I totally disagree" or "I disagree 100 percent" are frequent retorts, while a caller contesting Clontle's assertion that Stereolab has no guitars is told, "Time will vindicate me." Others attempt to decypher the book's mission and methods—Clontle has compiled the opinions of a cross-section of America, as found in two towns in Kansas and Florida—but are repeatedly dismissed with the equally cryptic and definitive statement that Rock, Rot & Rule is "the ultimate argument-settler." It's a funny, well-crafted hoax, though it's not so much hilarious as it is hypnotic: Clontle's game of confuse-a-cat, with its bemused host (Scharpling may be in on the joke, but it never shows) and cavalcade of angry music geeks, has a rhythm and deadpan wit that makes Rock, Rot & Rule priceless. (Stereolaffs, P.O. Box 1530, Woodbridge, NJ 07095)