Thursday, May 25, 2006

Is Rock Conservative?

The National Review seems to think so. Check out their list of the top 50 'Conservative' rock songs here. Bob Dylan's pro-Israel "Neighborhood Bully" comes in 12th.

But looking at that list got me thinking....

When I was in high school, I thought rock music was the voice of youth and rebellion. That's what Rolling Stone magazine told me it was, anyway. But the more I paid attention, the more I suspected something else going on, something that had little to do with challenging authority, self-expression, or even Woodstock.

The first hint was rock radio. No matter which station I tuned into, everything they played was stuck in a single format. I tried "Classic rock," which played and played and overplayed the Giants of Rock, all of whom are now museum displays at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That wasn't youth; it wasn't rebellion. There was some Woodstock there, but that belonged to a previous generation. It was a fun place to visit when the Grateful Dead or Bob Dylan rolled through town, but I knew I couldn't live there.

So I tuned to the local college radio station, the precursor to the "alternative" format. College kids are eclectic, I thought. They're young, and they hate authority. No one's going to tell them what to play. That may be true, but in the 80's, someone should have. The big star on the station was the pre-breakout REM, a band that embodied everything I came to hate about college rock. They cultivated a pretentious aura of having a "message" - which never actually materialized - and their sound came to define that era of college radio. Any band that didn't sound like them had a hard time getting played.

bands that didn't fit either format could still get exposure on the other rock and pop stations, all of which played "the hottest hits first," and kept their playlists down to the top five songs on that week's Billboard magazine charts. After a while I was no longer sure if the songs all sounded the same, or if I there was actually just one song that they played over and over. Either way, it was miles away from being the voice of youth and rebellion. It was youth, but it was about as subversive as a can of Coca-Cola. I wasn't surprised, then, when that song each station kept playing incessently turned up in a Coke commercial. It was only a matter of time.

My next insight into the nature of rock came when I actually started meeting people who played in rock bands. These people were far more varied than rock radio, but it was clear that rock had lost its progressive edge. The more time I spent in the rock scene the more I saw how much the music had become the sound of mainstream culture.

There were also rebels, real ones who chose to live on the edges of society, and they were young. And rock was still a vehicle for their self expression. But no one likes to live as a parody. Throught their eyes, I witnessed rock's death in the rise and fall of Nirvana. These rebels were the first to embrace the band, finding a soul mate in Kurt Cobain. But they were horrified to see the fans the ban attracted as Nirvana climbed up rock's Mt. Everest. As they slowly left the scene, ashamed to be associated with the people they live to subvert, rock lost its last remaining claim to youth and rebellion.

So rock is dead; long live rock. It has gone the way of be-bop - still walking around, breathing the fumes remaining from its creative period. But who needs it anyway. Hip hop, for anyone who hasn't heard, is today's rock music. It's true. I read it in Rolling Stone.

How long before someone publishes a list of the top 50 conservative hip hop records?


At 10:47 PM, Blogger oishkapipik said...

awesome!! I loved it. It is so true. I agree that rock as we know it died with Nirvana. Did R E M really have a message? I really disliked R.E.M!! I don't know how they made it so big. But like you said there wasn't really much to choose from.

Your right, rock is kind of like the big band era. No one plays big band music anymore.

We did get to ride the end of its wave though. We did get to enjoy many of those awsome rock bands from the 70's that still played in our generation. From the 80's and on though was the steady and fast downfall though. 80's rock was pretty bad with exception of maybe u2 and the bands that spun off of Nirvana.

I guess we are old men or something and will yell at our kids "what the h##### music is that, thats not Music!!!!"

How long can hip hop last? It will be interesting to see what replaces it????

At 6:30 PM, Blogger tafka PP said...

Fascinating reading.

Although I would venture that the writer of the article you linked to is worried that he or she is becoming conservative. I've seen more and more articles like this in the music press of late, where people worry about the growing gaps between themselves and the musical zeitgeist.

And as you correctly say, it is only a matter of time before the Hip is taken out of the Hop.

At 2:30 PM, Blogger Kalman Rushdie said...

Oish - Good point about riding the last wave of real rock. I forgot to mention the feeling I had when I went to see Pink Floyd live. I was completely blown away by all the stuff they did - the big pig, the movies, the exploding beds... -and then I thought about it. It was the most thought out/least creative show I'd ever seen. It was actually kind of cynical. Instead of giving the fans something dynamic, they gave us pre-packaged entertainment. I think that's when rock started to die with me.

TAFKA PP - "Taking the hip out of the hop" - I love it. Honestly, its a matter of time. But what's the opposite of hip? I think it will probably be known as "the music formerly known as hip hop."


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