Rockism and the Reduction of Rock n’ Roll

NY Times 2004 article link: Here

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.”

The mention of Rockism as reduction of rock n’ roll into a fictional caricature, and using that as a weapon is a profound idea. Because let’s be honest, we all despise critics at one point or another. I especially cannot stand the hipster standing in the back of a venue, arms crossed with a stern look of disapproval on his face as he sips on his $1 PBR. This is the harshest of critics, the “reject societal norms and everything else in society” pedestal that needs to be banned from attending the show at all.

Get off your soap box and go back home to listen to “Low” by Bowie and tweet about how it is the only important album in modern music.

meatloafThat guy sucks. But we have all been there, when we reject all that is mainstream for the sake of being a rebel who goes against the norm. Can’t we all just be confessional and real? How hard is it to admit your obsession with Meatloaf? I love Meatloaf and cheesy love ballads; and I have no shame in admitting that once in awhile Neil Diamond makes me swoon… so what?

My question is… why the need for weapons? What battle are we fighting here? And who are we fighting for or in the name of? Would Jim Morrison care about the contraction and expansion of rock n’ roll music enough to have an opinion about our current roster of rock n’ roll musicians? Maybe and maybe not.

We are too serious to listen to our intuition and we probably wouldn’t be able to take a rotting corpse seriously, not even Jim Morrison– who has risen from the dead to remind us rock n roll isn’t dead. We aren’t ready to actually cooperate in the resurrection of rock music nor are we open to its power and influence on society and how we manipulate that power every day just be listening.

I remember when every one defined selling out as this: making your money through selling music to car commercials. But so what? These people have to make money to make music to live so why shouldn’t they take an offer to get exposure, to eat and, most importantly, to go on tour. That is probably one of the most important aspects of musicianship: touring, and it is not cheap nor is it easy. Take it from me I have toured once in my lifetime and never again will I see beef jerky without weeping.

I particularly liked a part of the article that addresses people and their tendency to fall into contradiction:

“Like rock ‘n’ roll itself, rockism is full of contradictions: it could mean loving the Strokes (a scruffy guitar band!) or hating them (image-conscious poseurs!) or ignoring them entirely (since everyone knows that music isn’t as good as it used to be). But it almost certainly means disdaining not just Ms. Simpson but also Christina Aguilera and Usher and most of the rest of them, grousing about a pop landscape dominated by big-budget spectacles and high-concept photo shoots, reminiscing about a time when the charts were packed with people who had something to say, and meant it, even if that time never actually existed. If this sounds like you, then take a long look in the mirror: you might be a rockist.”

In the article they quoted a local critic on the SNL scandal of that year:  ‘Jim DeRogatis grudgingly praised Ms. Lavigne as “a teen-pop phenom that discerning adult rock fans can actually admire without feeling (too) guilty,” partly because Ms. Lavigne “plays a passable rhythm guitar” and “has a hand in writing” her songs.’

Is it awful that I am just going to say this next statement without fear of repercussion? Fair enough… Shut up, Jim, you speak your opinion far too much and I don’t care. Why can’t people—or adults as you classify them, like what they like regardless of whether a 19-year-old girl can wail on a rhythm guitar or not? And as unapologetic and ruthless as this reaction might seem, it is meant to ask a larger question, which is: who is allowed to evaluate and define skill or talent in musicianship and why? Do we not question critics like DeRo because he plays music? Do you have to play music to be a music critic? Furthermore do you have to play it well? What if you don’t play but you do study music and are more knowledgeable on the anatomy of a guitar than a guitarist-virtuoso is… who sets the standards then?

In the end this article is much like the “Hipster Handbook” which defines a handful of modern day people as certain types of hipster; in the book the author also inquires the reader about daily habits and suggests too that “you may very well be a hipster” if you find some overlapping qualities. Again I will ask, so what? How does that change anything about people and society? And how does rockism change rock n’ roll? I believe the only people that can shift and sway rock n’ roll are those who don’t believe in any existentialist theory or conform to any one subgenre or genre. I believe blending genres, picking up a fretted instrument and screaming dissonantly at an audience could easily be the next big thing in rock n’ roll… but beyond all of this foreshadowing one thing must be clear: that we can’t keep dwelling on the past, claiming that the current music trends are destroying rock n’ roll, like classic rock, man. Forget it, let it go, move on and take care of your vinyl… that way you can still be nostalgic and whimper over the good old days, but still make room for an open mind in modern day.

We can’t go back into the past and ask those musicians who made rock n’ roll what it is to come up with something new and innovative today that has not already been done in some form or fashion. So I say don’t be ashamed if you love The Fugs or hate them, just be proud that you care about music, because it existed long before language ever did and will exist far after we are all gone.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s