And now book publishing is choking on it, as rock enters its “memoir” phase.
(Page 3 of 3)
THERE IS A COMMON IDEOLOGICAL UNDERCURRENT running through all these books, a kind of necessary corollary to the generic RM narrative that I outlined earlier: Rock, Hagar et al. would like us to believe, is a tough game, a Chinese meritocracy that admits only the most adept mandarins into the upper echelons of its scholar-gentry. In the words of AC/DC’s Angus Young (himself conspicuously absent from the list of RM authors), “It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll.” Except as a kind of auto-justification for rock excess (lurid accounts of which are both the chief matter and doubtless the main selling point of these books), this is very hard to take seriously. For one thing, when one takes a long view of the matter, it becomes difficult to judge rock talent in any meaningful way. Between the 4/4 tempo and snare-driven beat (not rhythm) fleshed out by simple instrumentation and throwaway lyrics (“Yeah, she’s straight / Just won’t wait”) of the “first” rock song, “Rocket 88,” and the abrupt time signature shifts, Mellotron noodling, and pseudo-mysticism (“Nothing is real”) of the “best” rock song, “Strawberry Fields Forever,” there is far less musical progress on display than between two successive symphonies by a minor 19th-century composer. To say that rock itself, considered in light of the Western classical tradition, is a fundamentally unsophisticated musical form is like saying that Boucher’s portrait of Marie-Louise O’Murphy is slightly better than a stick figure drawing of a naked woman. A course in rock theory will (one hopes anyway) never be offered at Juilliard, not because conservatories are bastions of cultural atavism but because it would be over after a week of lectures.
Of course, the RM authors (many of whom rarely discuss music with much depth in their autobiographies) know all of this, at least at some level. The Angus Young thesis is contradicted by their own testimony, which they have given without realizing that, by admitting they owe their success mainly to chance, expert marketing, or the black arts rather than to their own talent or industry, they are pulling the magic carpet out from under their own autobiographical enterprise. After all, if it’s not so much a long way to the top as it is an instantaneous rise attributable to either the whims of record company executives or the passing fancies of a credulous rock-consuming public, what boots it?
Here is the great joke of the RMs, and, in an extended sense, the great joke of rock itself: A bunch of people who got rich paying lip service to a set of disingenuous values are now getting even richer writing about how they were indeed mostly just paying lip service to those values, all the while earning adulatory reviews from our increasingly obsequious Baby Boomer media. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” indeed! As if rock’s total victory over our airwaves, turntables, car stereos, ethernet cables, and iPods were not enough, it has now successfully insinuated itself into deckle-edged pages as well.
I’m not trying to be a snob. An honest list of the records sitting on my shelf right now would include dozens of rock albums, including more than a handful of items by some of the idols whose memoirs I’ve just panned. But I put on albums like Some Girls on what I think are suitable occasions: while playing poker or peeling garlic cloves or polishing glasses. When I sit down to listen—really listen, while doing nothing apart from maybe smoking or drinking a cup of coffee—it’s Purcell or Stravinsky I want to hear. To attempt to pound out a book review or execute a lane change while listening to Dido and Aeneas is ridiculous the same way that putting a Matisse in one’s bathroom is ridiculous. One brings John Le Carré rather than Jane Austen to the airport. So by all means listen to rock music: with your X1’s Bose system, with your smartphone and earbuds on your walk or jog to work, feel free to let the Led out, roll with the Stones, or get all the Kinks out of your system. The rest doesn’t have to be silence. But please don’t take any of it seriously, and, whatever you do, for heaven’s sake, don’t buy any of these books—expect maybe Keith Richards’.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?