Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Hello There, Ladies & Gentlemen, Hello There, Ladies And Gents, Are You Ready To Rock? Are You Ready Or Not?

Being my first true update since the end of April, there's a bunch to catch up on.

For a start, a simple Internet cable found in Daniel's closet means I'm writing this from my new apartment over on Henderson and Atwater. It's a cozy little place, though I am still awaiting some proper furniture. Until then, just like last summer, yours truly is sleeping on a love seat.

The blues class is phenomenal. I can't describe how cool it is to be hearing all these old songs that truly are the roots of rock and roll (and not, as Rolling Stone proclaimed a couple years back, Elvis Presley doing "That's All Right, Mama."), while the Jimi Hendrix class is the greatest possible introduction to an artist whose works I had never paid much mind to in the first 21 year of my life. In all fairness, I DO remember my dad having Axis: Bold As Love on vinyl, if just for its striking cover:

Bound to leave an impression, yes?

There's a buzzword that's been hovering around musical magazines since the early 1980's that I feel compelled to discuss with you all. The word has had a resurgence since Kelefa Sanneh wrote a scathing, almost embittered article in the New York Times.

The word is rockism. According to Wikipedia, rockism "can be defined in more than one way, and it would be difficult to recognize one absolute meaning. While there are many vague interpretations of it, rockism is essentially believed to treat rock as normative. From a rockist view, rock is the standard state of popular music."

Wikipedia goes on to say that "Rockism is a primitivist ideology; a subtext of rockism is that, at one time in history, they "got music right", and that all subsequent innovations have compromised this purity. (This golden age is often placed sometime during the 1960s or 1970s.) Critics of rockism assert that this vaunted "golden age" of pure, authentic music is a myth, and that popular music never was entirely free of the interference of commercialism, marketing and commodification."

Now, if the definition really was limited to what is described above, a "rockist" would be grossly misinformed. It's true that popular music has NEVER been a medium bereft of checks and balances, the only exception of a group with free reign being The Beatles. Even then, the press in the UK pondered if the Fab Four had broken up during the stretch between their final concert in August 1966 and their release of "Penny Lane"/"Strawberry Fields" in February 1967. (And why not? Except for Revolver in 1966, the boys had always delivered two albums a year in the UK, even more after the merciless butchering by Capitol Records in the USA, yielding a dozen albums between 1963 and 1966 compared to a mere seven in the UK.)

Even Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix, despite their bold innovations, had to answer to a higher power such as managers or producers. It was only after the so-called "Golden Age" that Zappa created Barking Pumpkin Records and built his home studio in 1981. After this he began to exhibit total creative control over his work, bound by no contracts or schedules. The end result was a hodgepodge of albums ranging from the sublime (You Are What You Is, Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch) to the head-scratchingly bizarre (Thing-Fish, Francesco Zappa) to works not accessible to the general public (Jazz From Hell) to an album so crappy it is downright detritus (The Man From Utopia).

Given the definition provided by Wikipedia, rockists think there is no new good music out there and that there hasn't been such a thing since 1979. This means that rockists don't consider The Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, Black Flag, The Minutemen, Husker Du, Depeche Mode, Guns & Roses, Living Colour, The Stone Roses, Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, The Misfits, HIM, Iron Maiden, White Zombie, (early) Green Day, The Hives, The Strokes, The Vines, or The White Stripes to be essential to any record collection. So in other words, rockism is a movement fronted by guys in the 45 to 60 age bracket, men who would rather rock out to Styx or Grand Funk Railroad than pick up Icky Thump or Never Mind.

In other words, this is the face of rockism:

Too bad it doesn't simply end there. Sanneh's editorial is one brimming with piss, vinegar, bile, and pablum, aimed directly at...well...just about every rock fan from any walk of life:
"A rockist isn't just someone who loves rock 'n' roll, who goes on and on about Bruce Springsteen, who champions ragged-voiced singer-songwriters no one has ever heard of. A rockist is someone who reduces rock 'n' roll to a caricature, then uses that caricature as a weapon. Rockism means idolizing the authentic old legend (or underground hero) while mocking the latest pop star; lionizing punk while barely tolerating disco; loving the live show and hating the music video; extolling the growling performer while hating the lip-syncher."

He goes on to challenge that rockism is both racist and sexist in that it champions white men as the creative force behind rock and roll. I'll be the first to say that Sanneh's above paragraph brings immediately to mind the staff at Rolling Stone, barring David Fricke. As I mentioned earlier, Rolling Stone proclaimed arrogantly that "That's All Right, Mama" was the first rock and roll record, released in 1954. Funny enough, the big hoopla over this was not the fact that my least favorite magazine was off by DECADES, but that other critics felt "Rock Around The Clock" by Bill Haley & His Comets - released the same year - would have been a more fitting choice.

Granted, from a populist point of view, "That's All Right, Mama" may very well have been white America's first glimpse into rock and roll. But that was 1956. Arthur Crudup's original version came out months before. Before that even there was "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats (a pseudonym for The Kings Of Rhythm, fronted by future wife-beating piece of shit Ike Turner) in 1951. That was my guess until I started listening to these old blues recordings, and in some circles, that guess would be a definitive answer. At least the answer isn't white. Still, it goes back further. Trixie Smith's 1922 hit "My Baby Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)" has those two key words, some three decades before Alan Freed "invented" the phrase, not to mention the sexual pervasiveness inherent in rock and roll. Boogie-woogie pianist Clarence "Pinetop" Smith (no relation) is also a contender, with his self titled "Pinetop's Boogie-Woogie" coming out in 1929.

One would think that with my factual knowledge and appreciation of early blues, jazz, and country recordings, and knowing damn well that rock & roll wasn't a white boy's game until 1954, that I would be in the clear of being branded a rockist.

This is not the case. Why? Because I'm not into modern pop music. Reading Sanneh's article, not appreciating pop singers like Ashlee Simpson and Usher makes me a rockist. Once more, this is a group which he has already dubbed as being full of white supremacist misogynistic Springsteen fans. Any of you who know me should know I'm not racist, sexist, or a fan of "The Boss."

I'll be honest: I hate modern pop music. But I'll be the first to tell you I admire the work put into it, and the pop singers who actually sing (I'm looking at you, Ashlee Simpson, and other "singers" whose voices are tweezed in post-production via Pro Tools!) have a great deal of talent. I can say the same for disco, modern country, and gangsta rap. It's stupid to deny these are the end results of the creative process. They aren't just whipped up by a magic wand out of thin air. What I don't like is that it's manufactured, mathematically tested, and more often than not it's about the pop star and not their music. I can't name a single R. Kelly song off the top of my head, but I do know he allegedly took a whiz on an underage fan.

His music doesn't appeal to me, but that's pretty damn funny.

This raises an interesting question, though: if I can admire the work put into music I don't like, but I still don't like it, am I a rockist?

Moreover, there's rock bands/artists I despise. Let me count the ways! (U2, Steely Dan, post Mick Taylor Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Boston, Styx, Foreigner, Journey, Yes, Genesis, ELP, Bob Dylan...) On top of that, there are select songs and artists that are considered modern pop that I dig. "Bombs Over Baghdad" might be the greatest thing to happen to hip-hop music since the turntable. (Oh, wait, Sanneh thinks Outkast's popularity is because of their rock and roll tendencies...when in fact they are more funk, R & B, and hip-hop.) Goldfrapp is also a stand-out, with elegantly produced dance songs sung by a gorgeous female vocalist. And to be honest, Britney Spears' "Toxic" is a bitchin' track all-around...though I like Local H's cover better.

I contend that this word only exists to start fights. It's a way for fans who are content listening to Top 40 hits to lob an overloaded word at those who would just as soon put their balls to the wall and crank it to eleven. Most importantly, though, it is an IGNORANT word. It is just as generalizing and close-minded as its (alleged) targets (allegedly) are.


In other news, my job at Hot Topic is...just all right. For a seemingly hip and "with it" store, there's a lot of rigidity in customer service and shop maintenance. Thankfully, my bandmate Nicole told me the IU Telefund is hiring, where I would be making more money (plus commission) for calling alumni and hitting them up for donations. And they can work me 4 days a week, guaranteed. Understandably, since my objective is to earn the most money with the least effort (or the least strain on my back, legs, and feet), I'm sure you know the logical course of action if they hire me.

The new band has a name finally! We've settled on Rumweed, which is kind of funny since I'm not a stoner and not much of a drinker. Everyone else in the band? Eh...that doesn't diminish their playing capabilities. We're still ironing out the original tunes, then we'll start kicking around some covers...and in time, hopefully, we'll have some gigs in town.

Till next time, I remain...

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