The Devil's Devil Music
Perhaps you have heard of the list on National Review of The Fifty Greatest Conservative Rock Songs.
Although there are some good choices here, I’m sure that I could come up with a better list if I put my mind to it, since I’m pretty much of an idiot savant in my knowledge of rock music history. I’ll admit that I can only claim any real expertise to somewhere around the early 1990's, when rock began to be displaced by rap and hip-hop anyway.
Although I could be wrong, I am unaware of any true innovations or genuine artistic breakthroughs after that. It’s not that there haven’t been some decent performers. It’s just that they are recycling settled forms from the past. Rock has basically become just a genre exercise, like groups that perform rockabillly, doo-wop, power pop, or prog-rock. It’s all been said and done before. It reminds me of when I would go to Disneyland in the 1960’s, and they would have big bands from my parents' era, a bunch of old guys trying to bring the past to life. Now you might see Aerosmith in the midst of their Lifestyle Support Tour on the Tomorrowland Bandstand.
As a matter of fact, most artistic movements have a beginning, middle and end. There won’t be another Bach, Mozart or Beethoven. There was a time that Dixieland jazz was at the cutting edge, but it never will be again. Then came big band swing, bebop, cool, hard bop, free bop, and jazz fusion. Each of these successive genres came and went. Although there are people who still do them, they are just shadows of the past, when the genre was vital, innovative and exploratory.
Interestingly, this makes contemporary rock extremely conservative in the negative, or passive sense of the word--it’s decadent and exhausted, with nowhere to go, just like contemporary liberalism. Liberalism is about the past. It’s extreme form, “progressivism,” is about driving the car while looking into the rearview mirror, so it should come as no surprise that progressives were outraged at the thought of conservatives encroaching on their sacred art form: rock music.
I found an amazingly obtuse article to this end on puffingtonhost, Right-Wing Rockin’: The Hypnotized Never Lie (bad link... no time to fix). The author, R. J. Eskow, hauls out all of the usual clichés, writing that “All the kids are talkin' about the National Review's new list of ‘the 50 greatest conservative rock songs of all time.’ Heh, heh. It looks like the righties are assuring us that they're 'hep.' You can almost hear the squeak of pencil protectors against Ban-Lon as they insist: Yes, sirree, we're down with what the young people are doing.”
That’s a big giveaway right there. I recognize that obnoxious, juvenile attitude, because I used to share it when I was an idiot. It goes like this: liberals are cool. Conservatives are uncool. End of issue. No actual thought is required.
You don’t have to lurk about the leftwing blogosphere or Air America for very long to discover this pervasive adultolescent attitude. Cognitively it’s a very pre-formal operations way of thinking--basically a sort of tribalism based upon status, status revolving around “coolness.” The content of what it means to be cool will change in arbitrary ways, but the point is always to be among the cool and to project the uncoolness outside the group. This is one more reason why liberalism is so conspicuously “content free” to those who can view it coolly and objectively from the outside.
Eskow, who is obviously very cool, makes the trenchant observation that just because conservatives are “pro-war business tools in thrall to religious extremists, that doesn't mean we don't know our 'beat groups' and 'rhythm combos.' We read Teen Beat too, you know! And conservatism can be fun.”
Now there’s another interesting giveaway, because it directly parallels liberalism itself. Unaware of the irony, Esky notes that rock music can never be conservative, because “words are less important than the sound in rock & roll.” Like liberalism itself, rock music is a merely a cacophonous “sound.” The sound of liberalism is the message. As if we didn’t know that. As if Eskow’s piece doesn’t drive home the point.
And what is the liberal message of all rock music? Well, for one thing, it’s very cool. Your parents wouldn’t like it at all, dude: “people receive rock & roll as a rhythmic construct and a sonic texture. The effect is physiological. Real rockin' music raises blood pressure, stimulates adrenaline, creates sexual stimulation and physical aggression.”
There you have it. Rock music is inherently liberal because it releases adrenaline and makes you want to fight and copulate. In other words, it is entirely reptilian and subhuman. To perform or enjoy it, a medulla will suffice. This would apparently explain why Eskow is such a medullard. For him, rock music bypasses the neocortex and simply stimulates the hormones, just like those crazy pastors and preachers said it did, back in the 1950’s.
For Eskow, the content of rock--musical or lyrical--doesn’t matter. You could sing the “the foreword to ‘God and Man at Yale,’" but the effect will nevertheless “be subversive to everything conservatism represents.”
And what does conservatism represent? In a delightfully clueless display of unintended irony, Esky notes that the present administration, or “cabal,” is “demonstrably the incarnation of evil. Modern conservatism is Satanic.”
So for clueless liberals, rock is still the devil’s music. But they merely project the devil into conservatives. But isn’t the whole point that “devil music” is cool?
Since conservatives are lawless devils, Eskow notes that “I Fought the Law” might be a good conservative choice. Of course, "robbin’ people with a six gun” is “cruder than the Halliburton-style corruption that dominates the conservative movement, but it may be apt nonetheless. What's striking about the song is the sheer amorality of the singer's explanation for his life of crime."
In fact, Eskow wonders if “the National Review will be coming up with a list of ‘Top 50 Conservative Hip-Hop Songs’ soon. That’s one I'd like to see, given the Right's inclination toward easy money, bling, infidelity, theft, gas-guzzling cars, and shooting people in the face.”
So now we’ve come full circle. Rock music is all about releasing cool, “outlaw” sexual and aggressive energy, so it has to be liberal. But because it is about those things, it must be conservative. Make up your mind. Is it the devil's music? Or the devil's music?
Whatever. It’s cool. The Dude abides. Preserved in amber, where it’s always 1967 and the grown-ups are way uncool.