Tuesday, December 05, 2006

On futility

Defining rock and roll is an exercise in futility. So let’s be futile.

The worst place to start is the music. Early rock and roll songs had three-chords, a danceable 4/4 drumbeat and songs that lasted two minutes fifty seconds. That doesn’t mean much today. Flip on any classic rock radio station’s “Top One Hundred Songs Countdown” to discover that an eight-minute acoustic English folk ballad that includes an epic guitar solo and ends with crotch-grabbing screamfest is considered the greatest rock and roll song of all-time. Surely an artistic genre that classifies The Monkees and Animal Collective under the same banner has got a severe case of schizophrenia. Shit, a rock and roll song doesn’t even need an electric guitar anymore.

You’ll also run into trouble if you start talking about rock and roll as a cultural movement. Sure you have your John Lennons and your Rage Against the Machines who thought they could change the world by moving from C to G, what about your Black Sabbaths and your Darknesses, whose ideas about invoking social change mainly involved taking drugs to make music to take drugs to? At some point in history, there were people who thought rock and roll music was going to change the world. And they were right. There didn’t used to be Who songs in car commercials.

Calling rock and roll a state of mind, as the lead singer of Stillwater did in Almost Famous, sounds cool, but then you have to consider the state of mind of the young male at the Metallica concert versus the state of mind of the young female at a Joni Mitchell gig.

Rock and roll’s original definition had something to do with sex, but anyone caught fucking to a Jethro Tull record should be arrested.

So maybe rock and roll is a personal thing, something you feel (or, if we go by Boston’s definition, it’s “More Than a Feeling”) where each person’s interpretation is given equal weight. But now we’re into relativism territory, and we know how the relativists are about their territory (they will bomb you if you enter it).

“Rock and roll defies definition, and that’s what makes it rock and roll,” says the punk rock and roller. The punk rocker has obviously never heard of Lester Bangs or Robert Christgau, Rolling Stone or Pitchforkmedia, or, more likely, he has heard of them and chooses to ignore them. But like any art form, rock and roll begs to be classified and consumed, defined and debunked.

Defining rock and roll is an exercise in futility. So fuck futility.

2 Comments:

Blogger M-C said...

you're getting busy on here. Another previously written?

7:07 PM  
Blogger Marco Ursi said...

I wrote this around the same time as the novel intro. It was a productive period.

9:43 AM  

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