Pop Rocks: Comments cause dissent, but, hey, that's rock 'n' roll

It’s not much of a secret that Ed Turner, the man behind six years of successful Number 9 charity concerts, ruffled a few feathers from the stage of the Imperial Theatre. Much has been made of it and much has been written.


For those very few not yet in the know, here’s a sketch of a recap: Turner voiced his disdain about renaming the adjoined Georgia Health Sciences and Augusta State universities. Specifically, he aimed his wrath – it was fairly good-natured as far as wrath goes – at GHSU’s Ricardo Azziz and Kessel Stelling of Syno­vus Bank. Stelling is an Augus­ta native and a member of the Board
of Regents of the Uni­ver­si­ty System of Georgia.

Turner talked to me about an e-mail he received from the Columbia Coun­ty Exchange Club, an e-mail that demanded he apologize. Turner, quite rightfully, severed ties with the Exchange Club, and the club – also quite rightfully – apologized to Turner for sending a missive that they considered ambiguous and misunderstood.

I found the whole episode, the whole discussion of what is proper and right, curious. Do I find it odd because I consider Turner an honorable man? No. I do, but that has nothing to do with this. Do I find it odd because I consider the Exchange Club an honorable institution? No, but again I am in agreement.

I find it odd because we are talking about a rock show.

Rock ’n’ roll, when done right and well, is the music of dissent. It’s the soundtrack of tirades. You can’t have rock ’n’ roll without commentary because rock ’n’ roll, by its very nature, is commentary.

Look, I’m not going to pretend that the Number 9 shows are organized as musical manifestos. They are pretty innocuous. The band’s sets tend to run heavy on love songs and light on angry anthems. There’s no turn toward black metal, and the nearly always jovial Turner has never once spit blood or indulged in an Ozzy-style bat snack. But he is playing rock music. The rock music that has always enjoyed healthy helpings of passion and, yes, protest.

The surprise isn’t that Turner, a rock musician and scholar, said something slightly controversial. The surprise is that it took him six years and scores of live performances to get around to it.

It will be interesting, moving forward, to see how things play out for the Number 9 concerts. By separating from the Exchange Club – which also handled a lot of the production aspects of the show – Turner and his band find themselves at a crossroads. I know the plan is to move forward, to become an independent unit staging, promoting and performing. The elimination of the middle man, however, means a lot of additional responsibility for people who have previously been allowed to concentrate on show business and not the business of the show.

Freedom has its price. Turner seems prepared to pay it. I’m glad. He is a man who needs to keep rocking, talking and reminding people that the two activities are not mutually exclusive.