Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Devil's Devil Music

Not much time this morning, so I guess I'll just start an argument.

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.


Lisa said...

Okay, I am probably going to take shit from some Bobbleheads, but I have to put my foot down and disagree with Bob once in a while! Off the top of my head, I can think of 2 bands that are great and influential after 1985. They would be Nirvana and The White Stripes.

My particular favorite being The White Stripes. What is so outrageous and unique about this band is that it is comprised of only 2 people. Jack & Meg. The sound that these two produce is simply elegant and rocks so f'ing hard! It is a lo-fi garage band that can cut into your inner-core. I saw them live the first time I ever really heard of them and I felt like they changed my life or at least my vibration patterns. I was too young to experience Hendrix or Led Zeppelin, but if I had to guess I could easily put Jack White up there with the best. His use of feedback is very cool. He can even sing a Dolly Parton song like Jolene and not creep you out(too much)!

will said...

Good morning -

I'm sensing that there are going to be many comments today.

Well, here's my vote for the most conservative rock song, like, you know, ever. But first, the amusing . . . Topo Gigio . . .

Hokay . . . but does the term "conservative" basically mean to me? It means - seeing without illusion, seeing through artifice and glamour, willingness (because without the willingness, even if an unconscious willingness, it can't happen) to open one's self to the existential abyss whereby all false values are destroyed and ultimate values, the only ones worth "conserving" are discovered.

With that in mind, the greatest conservative rock song is . . Like A Rolling Stone by you-know-who.

"You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can't refuse
When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal."

How does that feel?

Senator Palpatine said...

Hey Dude: Chill Out!!!!

You read an article on music in National Review on rock music, actively go to look for some extreme lefties views on music (on music!!!!! ha ha - far out man) and then go on an absurd diatribe about such and such music and politics and psychology that anyone who knows anything about modern day brain science can see is full of shit.

Here's an idea, why don't you pscyhoanalyze your own reptile brain and try to find your cerebral cortex, specifically the frontal part. That way, when you finally figure out how screwed up and stuck in your ego you are, we can have one less righty spewing out the same type of hateful garbage the lefties spew out. Extremists, left and right, and hate spewers like you. That's what's wrong with this country and why its so divided. The left wants to blame the right and the right the left for the hate. Somehow since the other side does it is okay for our side to be as ignorant and hateful as the other. Yeah, that's solving it.

Wake up man! Get back to God or something instead of paying the occasional lip service.

Now some may call this hateful toward poor Bobby. I agree it is. Boy, and I'm sure my fellow humans can understand, its just so hard to get out of that hateful cycle when someone spills it out, you know.

Of course you know this Bobby! You go looking for hateful lefties all day long and then come back here to spew out more hate from the other side. And if a highly educated and enlightened shrink such as yourself succumbs to the dark side how can you expect a simpleton like me not to?

I'm going to work on it though bobby - the hate in reaction to hate. What are your rates by the way? Oh wait, why would I go to a shrink who hasn't figured it out for himself yet?

Going to need to find someone else I guess.

Hateful responses please. I know you got it in you. One only need to look in the archives. Let the cycle continue.

will said...

Lisa- I don't being "great" is the issue here. More like, as bob says, "genuine artistic breakthroughs".

And Bob, thanks for the nod, but we Capricorns, the "evolved" ones (heh), are known for upholding and preserving the best of tradition. That's why I'm folk-oriented, basically. 'Course, one can be innovative within the tradition (Aquarius rising) and I do my best.

"Post-modern" is an amorphous term but often, when applied to artistic endeavor, it means "pastiche", a bit of that, a bit of this, thrown into the soup. Nothing really new, just new combos. I can see new artistic genres being forged out of the melding of tech and old forms, eg.,techno world music and maybe someday, holograms w/music. But I wonder - if we are "at the end of history", awaiting the arrival of a new heaven/new earth, maybe at this point in linear time, all artistic forms have been discovered and the frantic search for newness is in vain. If so, maybe there's a point to it - that the time is near in which form no longer counts as much as content, and that the content must be spiritualized in whatever way as to rebirth the form in a transcendent context.

For example, after Joyce has there been any real innovation of the novel? Some would argue, but I don't think there has been. However, Tom Wolfe's novels are self-consciously Dickensonian to a, I think, spiritual end. Old form, but a new, spiritualized, content. I would hope to see, not only a new appreciation for Flannery O'Connors short stories, but new Flannery O'Connors, using the traditional form of the short story in order to express a transcendent vision. *That's* that kind of newness we need.

Anonymous said...

Bobby, Palp, hey guys...
this whole 'cool,uncool, hater' spiel is SOOO junior high school

ed in texas

geckofeeder said...

Senator Palpadine,
Mind your manners. You are a guest and add nothing to the conversation.

jwm said...

Senator Palpatine:
A nice strong C-/D+ for the rant.
You'll have to do much better to rate a good flaming.

Hi ed! How's the child?


Sal said...

"maybe at this point in linear time, all artistic forms have been discovered and the frantic search for newness is in vain"

Dang, Will - stop reading my mind!
That was my non-musical person's question that you just so ably answered.

My thought, though, was that the human element keeps changing, with new people coming along, even if you get to the limits of the technology. So supposedly there would always be something a little new?

Michael Andreyakovich said...

The reason, I think, that we see so much that can be called "retro" is that people are eager to go back to the old boundaries and see how they can still be pushed. Perhaps there's a sense that we didn't take this or that musical style as far as we COULD have, that the accelerated rate of cultural evolution left too many promising ideas by the wayside - ideas that are worth pulling out and reexamining once in a while, just to see what we might have missed.

Besides that, never underestimate the power of nostalgia. As a child of the Eighties who grew up listening to his dad's Sixties music and am only now finding out what I missed out on, I personally wish I had a chance to go back and see it all happening again.

will said...

Sal - sorry for reading your mind but you've just got such an open one . . . .

Yes, I think that there would always be "newness" of a sort. I cited T Wolfe as being Dickensian, but of course, he's the one and only T Wolfe with his modern sensibilities and attunements - he's certainly not a Dickens clone. He's "new".

I don't really foresee the coming of an artistic, innovative, steady state exactly. I do think that its possible that the historical cycles upon which artistic, social, etc. changes have been contingent ahd that have been in place for lord knows how long may collapse in a way. Those cycles have been dependent on linear time; in a sense, they have defined linear time. And linear time itself may undergo a transformation, which is to say, our perception of it may be radically transformed. I would think this would mean less of an emphasis on change of form and more on what is truly enduring, ie., the transcendent.

Hmm, I think it could be that this yearning for newness, which is particularly evident in art, is a type of precognition on the part of the collective unconscious. That is, people sense the coming of the "ending of time" and wish to hasten its arrival, but are not spiritually developed enough to fully understand its implications - thus they try to bring it about by newness and more newness, in the same way a spiritually barren person might be driven to seek satisfaction in ever-increasing indulgence.

Gagdad Bob said...

Senator Palpatine--

Perhaps you could answer this. Why are none of my detractors as thoughtful and articulate as you are?

Lisa said...

Will- I point to those 2 bands in particular because they do represent genuine artistic breakthroughs and have been or will be very influential in the development of new rock-n-roll. These stripped down versions of rock represent the conservative side of rock because they do not use fancy computers or engineering tricks to falsify the sound and create some utopian version of reality/rock.

As far as everything new is just something old with a bit of extra thrown in is true. The same could be said for religion. Judaism has all the bases covered, so why look any further? Rock-n-roll is the same thing. The classics are classics, but it is still important to see how the youth are interpreting the world through music as they see it.

Anonymous said...


Both boys are doing ok; nobody currently in a war zone, so we're between anxiety attacks at my house.

ed in texas

jwm said...

Some of the most exciting music that I have ever heard came from the Augusta Heritage Arts Festival in Elkins WVA. They bring the best in the fields of traditional music from all over the world to teach week long classes, play concerts, and jam. The jams are by far the best. I remember Irish week in '93. It was late; the concert was over, and a handful of musicians sitting around the ice house just started getting it on. Guitar, mandolin, tin whistle, boudran (hand drum) Irish pipes (name sounds like 'illen', but its one of those gaelic words with a zillion vowels)There was such incredible magic. They couldn't seem to stop playing; the crowd couldn't walk away. It was so intense that you almost wanted to yell,"STOP, I CAN'T TAKE IT!" They kept on till after 4:00 am. The spell lingered. People talked about it for years afterwards. I still get a chill thinking about it. The problem is that that sort of spontaneous magic rarely translates to a recording. Lisa: I'll check out White Stripes. That sounds like fun.


jwm said...

The Master said, He who by reanimating the Old can gain knowledge of the New is fit to be a teacher.
Analects of Confucius, book II,11


Michael A. said...

"Jazz is not dead. It just smells funny."
Frank Zappa

will said...

Lisa - I guess you're right when I think about it. I don't know White Stripes at all but do know a little Nirvana, and they did have quite an influence. They weren't exactly genre-creaters though, at least as far as I know.

I might be sort of an age-chauvinist when it comes to pop music. i still think the best of everything in pop came in the 60's, and everything since has been an extension of that amazing explosion. Remember, the Beatles, Dylan, et al. didn't create rock music but they reinvented it to the extent they may as well have created it. I just don't think there has been a pop reinvention since that is anywhere equal in creative impact.

I keep thinking that if there was anything really new in the 90's it was the introduction of World Music into what I suppose could be called the pop market. But that had a lot of precedents, obviously, and it never was really that influential on pop music itself. Maybe the availability of so many categorizations of music now - techno, post-punk, retro, jazz rock, euro-post-punk-techno, and on and on - weighs against any one new style affecting the broad spectrum of pop music.

Lisa said...

Ughhh, please, don't confuse pop and rock! ;0)

jwm said...

LOL That statement brings back some memories! Mid 1960's am radio would have cracked you up. We had a choice of 1110KRLA, and 93KHJ. But the mix! In any given hour you might hear The Four Seasons, The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennet, Elvis, Roger Miller, The Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, Some R&B, and a smattering of novelty songs. Sukiyaki, and The Singing Nun come to mind.
And what ever happened to comedy rock? One Eye, One Horn, Flyin' Purple People Eater, Monster Mash, They're Coming To Take Me Away...


Lisa said...

Ha Ha! That must have been a trip, JWM. My husband played in a rock band that had a novelty song called The Three Little Pigs that was included on a Dr. Demento album at one time. I think some of those songs you mentioned above were also on that album!

I hope you see the beauty in the noise otherwise known as White Stripes!

Anonymous said...

hilarious, you stop listening to new music, therefore rock is dead and everything is derivative

listening list

death cab for cuties
white stripes
franz fedinand
even coldplay, chemical brothers, esthero

but it's so much easier to be crotchety old man "kids turn off that noise, in my day they made real music"

par for the course

Hoarhey said...

>>"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."<<

Bill Clinton used the "implied liberal coolness technique" quite effectively with both Bush and Dole.
I remember in the debates, while Bush was speaking, Clinton would shake his head back and forth with a disgusted look on his face as if to say "you clueless, out of touch old man".

Hoarhey said...

Similar to what anon. just did, ridiculing a man he is unworthy to shine the boots of.

Gagdad Bob said...


Jeez, buddy, you're aging yourself. U2 has been around for 26 freaking years, Nirvana was 15 years ago, and the Chemical brothers, Death Cab and White Stripes have all been around for longer than the Beatles entire recording career. Talk about a nostalgic old geezer! People have made music since you left high school, you know.

Lisa said...

Hey Bob- I am feeling a bit ignored. I said you were wrong first thing this morning and you just let it go! Too busy with senators and anons to be bothered with lil ole me! Geez, I suppose I'm just old meat by now. Would it have been more noticable if I made some snarky remark about your crotchitiness? ;0)

Why are all your non-fans complaining they can't get their point across without everyone ganging up on them? I am finding that to be untrue! Only Will made a half-hearted attempt, btw thanks Will! ;0)

will said...

Lisa, I think it's because you made your point so air-tight, case-closed, conclusively that it became a Fact Of Nature, something that no one could question any more than one could question the changing of the seasons or Liberace's personal "preference".

And you're welcome.

Gagdad Bob said...


Okay, I'll take the bait. In the 1960's, millions of kids picked up guitars, grews their hair long, and formed bands because of the Beatles. That's influence. Kids are still forming bands today because of that.

But as good as White Stripes may be, something tells me that we're not going to see a spate of two-person boy-girl rock groups.

dilys said...


One of the favorite laws in our household is The Increasing Importance of the Smaller Difference, discovered in building electronic speaker systems. Thus, perceptually, there will always be novelty, choice points, and innovation, right down to the turtle on the very bottom.

A question, though, how does the vertical dimension, the realm of the One, engage novelty, other than its sustenance of the many via the One? How do the perceptual systems of the very advanced deal with this? I just started reading Schuon's The Eye of the Heart [may the dour Scots G-d bless Carnegie and the public library system]; perhaps Schuon's writing and rhetorical style can shed some light on this. Certainly the pell-mell trajectory most of humanity exhibits toward addictive distraction via novelty, narcissistic attention-seeking, or sensory overload is strictly horizontal.

But new things to notice? More -- at least new levels -- to appreciate and relish? More being, displayed here there and everywhere? Sounds like the vertical could encompass this.

New archetypes, or Good-is-Bad po-mo type spin on Platonic Ideals, though? I doubt it.

We may now be so attenuated in our morality and aesthetics that breaking-of-the-forms, living off our cultural and spiritual capital, is front-and-center. With a little trivial sensory-molasses mix-and-match.

In times of frenetic cultural exhaustion we can probably expect some kind of reformation on all levels. Danger Will Robinson!
Opportunity Will Robinson! [Wasn't he back in the day a subscale pickup instrumentalist on an album by Jay Jay the Jetplane?]

Lisa said...

When the student is ready the Stripes will appear!