A few posts ago, I wrote a post called Things I don't believe in any longer, and I complained about the Democratic Party. I was going to write at least one other installment about Rock & Roll. I still listen to quite a bit of it, depending on how you define it (I really don't care what section the cd is in the store -- there's a place by my apartment where they break music into two categories: 'independent" and "establishment (released before 1990)." Oh, so The Residents are establishment and Britney Spears is independent, you smirking young mamones? -- anyway, I'm getting off the subject). Still, I don't see it, as a style of music, as really being more liberating or anti-authoritarian than any other. When I was an angry teenager growing up in the Reagan years, it seemed different. I bought my electric guitar and listened to the Who, and it seemed that the music had some kind of redemptive force. As Lou Reed sang, it could change your life:
Jenny said, when she was just five years oldOf course, Lou was singing partly tongue in cheek and partly recognizing the force popular music has had on youth since long before rock was invented: the liberation for the hormone-crazed, angry and confused that comes from dancing to that fine fine music. There's nothing really political about it. But forty years of pretentious rock critics and the marketing of a faux-rebellious attitude has made rock & roll what my friend Guillaume le Fou refers to as "one of the great all-time liberal myths." It is nothing more than a consumer product that allows people to pretend they are more rebellious than they actually are. Once again, I am not talking about any given song or performer, but rather about a concept: rebellious, anti-authoritarian rock & roll.
You know there's nothing happening at all
Every time she put on the radio
There was nothing going down at all
Not at all
One fine morning, she puts on a New York station
And she couldn't believe what she heard at all
She started dancing to that fine-fine-fine-fine music
Ooohhh, her life was saved by rock n' roll
Hey baby, rock n' roll
Despite all the amputation
You could dance to a rock n' roll station
And it was all right
It was all right
I say this as a prelude to an article about some very silly people that was in the Times today. A silly writer for the National Review put together a "top 50" list of songs he considers "conservative." Here's the article and here's the list. This is what John J. Miller, the silly writer, has to say about the project:
"Any claim that rock is fundamentally revolutionary is just kind of silly," he said. "It's so mainstream that it puts them" — liberals — "in the position of saying that at no time has there ever been a rock song that expressed a sentiment that conservatives can appreciate. And that's just silly. In fact here are 50 of them."
The Times of course got a counter-opinion from a silly liberal:
Asked to comment on the list, Dave Marsh, the longtime rock critic and avowed lefty, saw it as a desperate effort by the right to co-opt popular culture. "What happened was, my side won the culture war, in the sense that rock and related music is the dominant musical form, not only in the U.S. but around the world," he said. "Once you lose that battle, you lose the war, and then a different kind of battle begins: the battle over meaning."They are both silly because both of them miss the point. Rock is conservative, not because of any of the lyrics are or are not conservative, but because it is a perfectly marketed item that makes rich people richer, repeats the same forms it's been using for fifty years, often harkens back to a golden age of simpler and purer rock, and confirms rather than challenges simple senses of identity. I mean, really. I see 17-year-punks with mohawks, safety-pin jewelry, and tight red plaid pants. That's 1977 -- I'm too young to have worn that style in its heyday, and I'm turning 40 in two months.
Miller's lists of songs do contain some songs whose lyrics would probably not offend and might well please the most rancid reactionaries on the far-right wing of the Republican Party. Other choices show a certain amount of fantasy on his part. Some show the weird sense of definition of political stance that some conservatives have, for example, "Revolution," by the Beatles. Since John Lennon sings "But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow," Miller identifies it as conservative. Right, I guess liberal = Maoist. "Why didn't you vote for John Kerry?" "I was afraid of the Cultural Revolution."
One of his picks that annoyed me personally was the following:
Excuse me, dude, but I love Latin. Look at the title of my blog. I have a secret to tell you: I can be a person of faith who loves Latin and my politics are way, way to the left. Amabo te, tace stulte Miller. Potesne etiam hoc legere? Linguam et liturgiam latinam diligo, sed rationem tuam et partidem Rei Publicani parvi aestimo.
6. "Gloria," by U2.
Just because a rock song is about faith doesn't mean that it's conservative. But what about a rock song that's about faith and whose chorus is in Latin? That's beautifully reactionary: "Gloria / In te domine / Gloria / Exultate."
Enough of this -- I have to get to work.