Thursday, September 14, 2006

Rock Music and Progressive Emotiology

How did rock music--and rock music criticism--get appropriated by the moonbats? What is it about the medium of rock music that makes it the ideal vehicle for unhinged moonbattery?

Awhile back, powerline published an excerpt from an article by Edward Azlant on the ideology of rock, entitled Who stole the Rollin' Stone? In it, Azlant writes that

“Rock and roll lyrics may stray anywhere, but they are everywhere soaked in adolescent rebellion and the quest for identity. The bigger question is: where does all this come from, what are the roots of rock and roll and how did it develop?”

He points out the truism that rock music “derives from the blues, from the Delta through Chicago; from gospel, through R&B; and from hillbilly music through country and western. The various contributions of the key figures and precise mixes of these elements constitute the enormous library of rock history, but there is little dispute that these are the basic ingredients.” But these forms of music are hardly adolescent, much less politically "progressive" in content. Rather, they are adult music with adult concerns.

As I have noted in the past, what makes the diverse forms of American roots music so great is that no one invented them. Rather, it is as if they emerged spontaneously from the earth, making their appearance in various human communities. The way I think of it, just as there are “celestial revelations” in the form of various authentic scriptures that have been vouchsafed to mankind, there are “earthly revelations” that emerge from the body and from our collective experience--not our ideological experience, but out of a much more primordial, archetypal matrix of universal human experience: man-woman relations, the clash between reality and our unlimited desires, and just the toil and trouble of day to day life. Roots music is very much existential, not ideological. And it is anything but politically correct.

Rather than thinking of the blues as an exclusively African American idiom, you might say that each American community developed its own form of the blues. Early country or "hillbilly" music is structurally and lyrically no different than the blues. Likewise, there is a more sophisticated form of blues that emerged when blacks migrated north to the big cities, reflecting a new urban sensibility instead of a rural one. I would even suggest that something like doo wop, the early form of a cappella rock that emerged from the streets of New York, was just another spontaneous form of blues reflecting its time and place.

Azlant notes that the ingredients of rock music “are all deeply rooted, traditional folk materials. Gospel is spiritual music; soul means the presence of belief and inspiration. To listen to The Soul Stirrers or the Dixie Hummingbirds, who would contribute basic elements and lead singers to R&B, is to listen to black fundamentalist Christian music. Country music is but a couple heartbeats from the old Celtic lyric and instrumental traditions that were preserved in America’s back country. To listen to C&W music is to listen to the Scots-Irish mountain music the Carter Family and Jimmy Rogers reworked and recorded. The Blues, while evolving from field hollers and work songs and containing the pain of servitude, derives much of its furious beauty through the tangled duplicities, angry melodramas, and tragic endings of the ancient war between men and women....”

However, “there is little in rock’s early ancestry to support a ‘progressive’ sensibility, hardly a sliver of grand historical perspective, little mention of a benevolent natural world, nary a social heaven on earth.” There is no Marxism, feminism, environmentalism, multiculturalism, or queer theory in any of the tributaries that contribute to rock music.

The question is, “How does all this get so turned around, appropriated?” How and why did rock music get hijacked by moonbats? Unfortunately, Azlant’s article has yet to appear in its entirety, so I can only speculate.

One factor that readily comes to mind is the emotionality of rock music. There is no correlation whatsoever between musical virtuosity and rock & roll greatness. Bad, even unlistenable, rock music is routinely produced by highly schooled musicians (e.g., "progressive rock"), while most of the greatest rock music was produced by musical primitives--Elvis, John Lennon, John Fogerty, The Clash, Keith Richards. Likewise, lack of complexity is no barrier to producing transcendent rock music. Most of the greatest songs--say, Gloria, by Them--probably have only three chords, and some--like Eight Miles High, by the Byrds, or Tomorrow Never Knows, by the Beatles--have only one.

Therefore, since contemporary liberalism is largely rooted in feelings rather than the intellect, rock music emerges as its ideal medium. What could be easier than affixing a simplistic and primitive political message to a simplistic and primitive musical vehicle?

Still, it can get awfully tedious. I am a somewhat serious collector and amateur scholar of pop music trivia, and one of the most annoying aspects of this is wading through liner notes that routinely contain obnoxious and gratuitous political asides. For example, just a couple of days ago I picked up an otherwise outstanding compilation of R.E.M.’s early work on the independent IRS label between 1982 and 1987, long before they became such insufferable musical and political loads. I think this string of early albums is among the finest body of work produced by anyone in the annals of rock.

But the portentous and vacuous (yes, it is possible to be both) liner notes by rock critic Anthony DeCurtis are torture. To place the music in context, he writes that “the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 had marked a seismic shift in the political consciousness of the U.S. Compassion, community and the utopian dreams of the Sixties were out.” Yes, this awful reality had been foreshadowed by “the murder of John Lennon in December of 1980,” which “seemed a frightening premonition of the harsh, unforgiving world being born.”

Yeah, right. It's bad enough to get murdered by a psychotic nut, but Lennon had to go and get killed by someone who, for moonbats, represented a frightening symbol of Ronald Reagan. Talk about lack of perspective. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, “progressivism is deeply ahistorical, for it merely examines the now, pronounces that it does not like the now, and proposes radical policies to change the character of the now.” Can anyone with a shred of historical awareness even compare the world of the 1980’s to the harsh and unforgiving world reflected in early blues and country music of the 1940s? Whose fault was that? FDR?

But all was not lost with the ascendancy of Reaganism: “Suddenly, but in a quiet way, R.E.M. suggested a smarter, sweeter, more generous alternative.” This is such a pathetic analysis. I mean, back then I was as much an anti-Reagan moonbat as anyone else, but it never occurred to me that I enjoyed the music of R.E.M. because they were a “sweet alternative” to Ronald Reagan--or that Reagan was a "harsh alternative" to R.E.Mism, for that matter. Rather, I liked them because they were good. They were probably the best band to emerge from that decade, and I knew at once that their music--like all true art--had a universal and transcendent value, not some sort of time bound, ideological value. The latter type of didactic art is almost always disposable--think “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire. But if you listen to those early R.E.M. albums, they do not belong to any distinct time or place. They are very ambiguous, mysterious, and dreamlike, which is a big part of their charm.

And in fact, their fourth and fifth albums began to suffer because of the increasing politicization of band. (You can definitely say that the quality decreased as Michael Stipes' previously mysterious lyrics became increasingly intelligible.) Naturally, the morally preening left always describes the descent into mooonbattery in a self-congratulatory way, as an ascent into higher consciousness, “political awareness," or "social responsibility." Not coincidentally, this “ascent” marked the beginning of the slow descent of the music into pandering, mass-market arena rock. DeCurtis calls it their “sharpened political sensibility”: “By the mid-Eighties, Reaganism was in full swing," and Stipe, in particular, became determined to “summon a new generation to activist ideals" and "indict the failures of that ideology.” What failures would those be? Oh, for example, “environmental and Native American issues."

Again, the pretentiousness and lack of historical perspective are stunning. Blaming Reagan for “Native American issues?” What, they had no issues before Reagan became president? Ironically, primitive Native Americans most certainly had some serious environmental issues of their own, as they had no word for “environment,” much less “environmentalism,” and simply despoiled whatever environment they happened to inhabit before moving on the the next pristine campsite. And why no indictment of communism for producing Chernobyl? For that matter, why no indictment of Jimmy Carter's harsh and unforgiving (but progressive) economic policies, which produced a staggering 13.3% rate of inflation, usurious mortgage rates of 20%, and unemployment at 8%, not to mention a crime rate that increased 50% during the 1970’s?

Memo to Michael Stipe: the evolutionary journey from primitive kinship structures to the classical liberalism of Reagan is called “raising consciousness” or "gaining political awareness." Also known as "growing up," or "dealing with reality."

But in any event, don't let the bad liner notes and silly politics stop you from enjoying this superb music. Otherwise, it's as if the errorists have won.


stu said...

The guy who went on that shooting spree in Montreal yesterday was a huge Metal fan. His "Vampire Freaks" profile can be accessed using the link below.

Aside from all the hate, rage and personality disorder bs, it's fascinating to see how easily leftist values incorporated themselves into his pathology.

This guy was probably human once --as opposed to the occasional monsters who are born soulless and evil. But clearly, the demons won the battle for this guy's soul.

It is sad and disturbing to encounter (even if just virtually) a person who has so completely given up his humanity and succumbed to evil.

But it is also the most straightforward example I have ever seen of the symbolic, estoteric and multi-layered meaning an action can have.

Mary said...

Bob, for the last two weeks, I have had a terrible time getting to your most current post. My bookmark doesn't work nor do the links from other blogs that mention you. I have found you by doing a google search and finding the last entry that comes up by date. My bookmarks for other blogs work. Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Try this link and scroll down a few paragraphs until you get to:


Anonymous said...

mary, clear your temporary internet files and your history

Lisa said...

Rock has been hijacked by the Progressive Left because of it's simplicity and ability to repeat one line over and over again. That is very similar to the Progressive Left's message of being simple, repeatable, and utterly useless in reality. Example: "Socialism does work if truly implemented, but no one has been able to do so yet." Yeah, that may be the case if you implement it on a bunch of rocks or robots, but once you deal with human beings, fuhgettaboutit!

Personally, I love rock music because of the overall rhythms and beats. I could care less about the lyrics because most of the time I can't understand what they are saying. It's probably a blessing in most cases. Does it make me want to get up and dance? That is the important question. I don't listen to rock music to expand my knowledge of history or world events. Most rock musicians are so self-absorbed and isolated from reality that their opinions come off as silly and kind of cute. The smart ones just keep it to themselves and stay out of politics in the public arena.

Anonymous said...

mary, my browser does the same thing with Bob... just refresh by hitting F5 and it usually appears.

Will said...

Even if the best of rock is timeless and beyond temporal politics, it's going to be appropriated by those for whom nothing but the revolutionary, rebellious ethic will do. After all, there was a time when adults were horrified by "race music", so, they must think, we've got to keep the stone rolling. In the same way, lefties of all ages can't see current world issues but through the prism of Vietnam and Watergate.

Van said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Van said...

Even if the best of rock is timeless and beyond temporal politics, it doesn't come from the same place as the lyrics or the words of the musicians.

When you were in a band, did you ever write a song, solo or with someone else? You start with some musical hook or beat - something definite that connects into your nervous system, you start tapping, bouncing rocking, literally, as you begin drawing the tune out of ... Something within or between you, an under the radar plug into your root & soul, even something a bit (gasp!) mathematical. There's no pretending the beat isn't there, or pretending that a chord is "Really" in key if it's not, or that your guitar is in tune if it's not - if you're not in tune you'll be yanked back into reality really damn quick, probably from a half full budwiser can being bounced off your head!

The music, when it's good, can't be faked.

Lyrics, however, only need to be able to have their sylable's fit the bar. The words are almost always written to get a rise from someone, or to impress your budd's. And when you bring the song out for a crowd the first time, you spiel it to get enthusiasm and approval from the crowd - what crowds do bands climbing out of the garage into paying gigs usually play for? College crowds of course. Usually the least serious of the college students, at that.

And therein lies another big 'Of course'.

And once the big time's been hit, if you're still looking for people to impress, who do Rock musicians most often hang out with? Historians? Nah, babes - models, actresses, and of course that means the glitter crowd of New York & Hollywood.

...Of course....

Anonymous said...

"If you're listening to a rock star in order to get your information on who to vote for, you're a bigger moron than they are. Why are we rock stars? Because we're morons. We sleep all day, we play music at night and very rarely do we sit around reading the Washington Journal."
-- Alice Cooper

Will said...

For a controversial and VERY politically-incorrect perspective on rock music, check out this book: THE SECRET POWER OF MUSIC: THE TRANSFORMATION OF SELF AND SOCIETY THROUGH MUSICAL ENERGY, author David Tame.

I can't say I totally subscribe to Tame's theory - after all, I loved rock 'n roll the first time I heard it - but I can't entirely shake it either. To summarize as briefly as I can: Tame's perspective is based on ancient Chinese musical theory, which has it that music has a mystical property far beyond what even the most ardent music lovers ascribe to it. (it's akin to ancient Greek music theory) In fact, the ancient Chinese understood music not to be merely reflective of societal emotions, moods, values, etc., but that it virtually dictated those emotions, moods, and values. That is, as music went, so did the stability of civilization. To this end, a tonal and rhythmic system was set in place - supposedly by the same being who introduced the I Ching to Chinese civilization - and deviation from the system was outlawed, on pain of death. If there were to be any slight changes in the music system to correct societal imbalances, these were to be initiated only by sages, this after long periods of meditation and reflection. In time, of course, the musical system became corrupted and consequently, so did the Chinese dynasties.

Tame then goes on to view 20th C. Western music through the same philosophical lens. Did atonal and "motor-rhythm" music a la Stravinsky merely reflect the social turbulence and disintegrating mores of the 20th C? - or did it actually cause it to a great degree? Tame favors the latter. As to rock music - and here's where things get really controversial - Tame says, keep in mind the mystical property of music and look at the origins. The origin of rock - and blues and jazz - is to be found in African voodoo drumming, which Tame largely views as being a deliberate attempt at upsetting the natural, divine rhythmic underpinning of the cosmos. The stress on the backbeat (as is also found in jazz and rock) is, in Tame's view, literally the music of black magic - it is the music of actual curses, of profaning, it deliberately excites the blood and brings the energies to a base, instinctual level. It is the music of spiritual regression.

Tame points out that jazz first flourished in the bordellos of New Orleans. When the Secretary of the Navy issued an order forbidding American sailors to frequent the bordellos, business dried up and jazz moved north to KC, Chicago, St Louis, and NY. Tame points out that when people first heard jazz, they were horrified, couldn't make sense of the "noise". There is an inclination, Tame says, for us to think of this reaction as being that of a bunch of uptight fogies, but, he avers, this reaction was a natural and quite well-balanced one. The fact that we can now listen to jazz without being innately repelled is a matter of our being inured to it, our inner senses having been deadened over time. Same goes for rock, another child of voodoo music. And the impact of this proxy voodoo music on society in the late 20th, early 21st C? Take a look around, says Tame.

So how much weight to give to Tame's theory? Well, as the lefties love to claim rock music for their own, and as "rebelliousness" is the flag they're always flying - and as an elemental rebelliousness is the key to the provenance of rock, ie., voodoo music - maybe we should give some consideration to Tame's theory.

I mean: Take a look around.

Gagdad Bob said...


I believe there's something to that theory. I realized it as early as high school, when I could see that most of the kids related to music in an entirely different--one might say subhuman-- way than I did.

People will say that it's hypocritical to listen to rock music and say that it's bad for others, but it's no different than saying that some people can handle drugs and/or alcohol, while others clearly cannot. it is very powerful and some people shouldn't go near it--for example, people with what Sri Aurobindo called a very strong vital but a weak psychic being. But I imagine that most rock music is produced and consumed by just such people.

As for jazz, he may be right about certain forms of swing, but I'm not so sure about bop and post bop, which are as harmonically complex as classical. Plus the time signatures are very complex.

Which reminds me of something the drummer of King Crimson once said. He said he enjoyed being a member because it was the only band in which you could play in 17/16 time and still stay in a decent hotel.

Steve said...

Hey Bob,

This is a fantastic blog.

There is one huge event that brought rock together with the moonbat left, which I am more than a little surprised that you failed to mention; namely Bob Dylan going electric.

I really don't know what Bob Dylan's political views are on anything, as he is not the same type of sanctimonious jerk that Michael Stipe or say... Bono is. However Dylan's music was a direct descendant of the American Folk music of the Woddy Guthrie type of leftist protest singers of the 30's.

While a great deal of Dylan's audience at the time hated his shift from acoustic folk to electric rock, it was not long before the lefties realized where the winds of change were blowing, and simply went with the flow.

Another reason might be the types of people who are inclined to become pop or rock stars these days. Most of them are not musicians who become famous because of their talent, they are people who want to become famous, and they use music as a means to that end. These are very self-absorbed individuals, and thus likely to be adherants to leftist thinking. Of course once they become famous, and everyone around them reinforces their belief that they are extremely important individuals, we end up with deep thinkers like Natalie Manes contributing to the political landscape.

Will said...

Bob, I had the same reaction to rock when I was a kid. In the better stuff, I always seem to find something horizon-expanding, something promising, a heroism, even. My reactions weren't all that different to the ones I got when listening to a soaring Beethoven piece - they had the same power and lift.

And to be honest, I never really felt the music to be that much of a sexual turn-on per se as the Rolling Stone mag reviews assured me I should be feeling. There was something about the better material that seemed sublimating.

Also, I always felt the better melodies deserved better lyrics, something more heroic, something really lyrical, in other words, not just the usual trickle of juvenilia that came with the package.

You're right - many react to rock in a "subhuman" way. This I saw during the first Stones concert I attended. The rush toward the stage by teen girls was mob-frenzy like and they were hardly fazed by the brutality of the security guards who attempted to repel them. It was disturbing.

Agreed about certain forms of jazz transcending the "backbeat" base. I've long thought that, due to the genius of people like Ellington, and the influence of Western classical music, jazz is a "work in progress" and will attain to a truly transcendental, spiritual art form.

Neocondominimum said...

Jeez. Between Van's insights into what it's REALLY like as a rock star and Lisa's razor insight into the one-line modality of today's pop songs, you folks make it hard to keep my self respect! And I thought I was just doing my job as an artist!
OK, I'll add a daily dose of Rush and Sri LemmeBendOne and see if I can't start hating the opposition like you enlightened beans. Anyone got an opening at the mosque?

Lisa said...

Don't worry Neocondominium, after you join your mosque, music will be banned. Ask the Somalians how they like radio stations without music
(of course I have to add reference or you'd never believe the muzzies would do something unenlightened!) I gather from your post that you are a "musician" who writes "deep" pop songs. Try producing an argument next time that refutes ideas that you are obviously having problems with rather than singling out names of people who post and essentially calling them stupid in your snarky way, asshat!

Although, I do agree, most of my insights are razor sharp, and apparently, "OOPS, I did it again!" Is that sharp enough for you?

gary said...

R.E.M. is a great band.(well, the first six cd's are great)

But I tune them out when they start talking about politics. It's hard to listen to them when they speak on the evils of capitalism/usa while at the same time trying to make a buck as capitalists.

Back in 1985 I saw them and M.Stipe in between songs began to talk about how evil Ragan was and someone in the crowd yelled "Play a song!". He looked as if he was going to cry...

Van said...

Neocondominium said..."REALLY like to be a Rock Star", nah, couple close calls, but we never made it above twinkling bulb status. And Congrats if you did make it, well done.

However, I was speaking more about the mere Rocker working their way up, which I do (did) know about, and I have known a couple who made it to star status (no I don't hang out with them, and they probably don't remember me... even though our band beat their band in a battle of the bands! They stole our fame!!!....ahem, sorry).

Well said Lisa, very sharp! My electric razor died in the car this morning leaving me a bit scruffy, but I just rubbed my chin up to the monitor, very carefully, and now I'm smoooooth!

Jacob C. said...

Ellington and Coltrane and Brubeck and Monk were so far ahead of their time that we STILL haven't caught up.

I know it's a tired theme, but I blame MTV for the decline of music and popular culture over the past thirty years. Rock music was never entirely about meaningful lyrics or particularly beautiful sounds, but MTV proved conclusively that you needed neither as long as you were good-looking. Record execs would be finding good-sounding bands all over the place, but they wouldn't sign them because they wouldn't cut the MTV mustard - the only important thing was how good they looked in a video.

Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Frank Zappa, and most of the successful musicians of the sixties and seventies would NEVER have been signed today - they would be rejected for unfit appearance.

I'm stumbling over words here, but I hope you get my point - since 1981, rock music has been more about fashion and appearance than about actual talent or 'heart.' And it has only gotten worse - I am convinced that gangsta rap is an emanation of Satan himself, tactically designed to drive anyone who actually likes music to give up their belief in God.

Michael Andreyakovich said...

Let me sum up:

Ellington and Coltrane and Brubeck and Monk were so far ahead of their time that we STILL haven't caught up.

And thanks to MTV, we never will. Jazz is no longer in fashion; it's boring and un-telegenic.

sehoy said...

Amen, Gagdad Bob, on this post and many of your others. I read them to my husband and we have good discussions on them. Love your book too and the one it was paired with at Amazon: "Holistic Christianity." I'm almost ready to actually order "Meditations on the Tarot." Oi vey.

I was raised as trailer park trash, sort of, but my sons and I [and my husband who is not trailer park trash] love music. We instinctilvely love good stuff, but know nothing about music. Can anyone point us in a good direction? Books on music? Music we should check out?

I just put in an order for the David Tame book, so I'm serious about this.



Long Rider said...

I can't believe ya'll are missing the most obvious. Rock-n-Roll was started by the babyboomers, Generation ME. They picked up music that ticked off the status quo, the know, THE PARENTS. Now America was still holding on tight to it's racist roots. The best way to irritate the parents is to bring something black into the family. "AAAAAAAGH! Negro music!"

Any thinking conservative realizes that the left is all about a war against the status quo. That is how they define there worth, by the amt of change they want or can cause.

And you look at the evolution of rock and you can see the same desire, "How can we rebel?" From protest songs, to punk, to metal, to gothic, to hip-hop, it's all on how each younger generation can shock the older generation.

I've come to realize that music can no longer mortify the 'rents. My 18 y/o listens to some hardcore rock that is awesome. So how can the youth make their mark? Just look to Empty V, the N, and Fuse and they will tell you.

Are you ready???


I know that I may sound like a gay-basher, and may in fact be banned after only my 2nd or third post. If you just force yourself to watch an afternoon of either channel and you will see I'm right.

It's perfect too. The music doesn't irritate any more, interracial stuff doesn't irritate any more. But homosexuallity...Bullseye! "Whoa, look at the veins in yer dad's neck!"

I predict the next generation will embrace Islam!!! You can't get much more counterculture than that!

I'm actually not much of an audiophile, and I'm sure not musician. So my observations are a little different that most of ya'lls.