Sunday, June 26, 2011
To make a long story short: rock music is not supposed to be academic. Academics are generally considered to be staid conformists by the general public, and the rock cognoscenti. They aren’t sexualized and they certainly don’t use drugs. However, if, on the one hand, rock music is to reinvent itself, it is also old enough to have a rich history. Someone has to preserve the best of what’s passed. Why shouldn’t academia be a valid preservative outlet for rock and other popular music? Rock people who dismiss academia as boring and sterile have generally spent little time there. The prejudice against academia in rock is based on ignorance. However, class will quickly raise its head as an issue, on many levels— because a cadre of academic mandarins, of the middle or upper classes, deciding what lasts and what doesn’t must be abhorrent to a body of musicians and performers largely drawn from the working classes; and because a class migration upwards for listeners of this form of music may or may not be likely. What if, for rock music, the choice is between this and oblivion? Is academia a fate worse than death?
The major repository for obsolescent art-forms is generally academia; and the fact that the old order of the music business is largely obsolescent brings general obsolescence into view. The working classes generally don’t have means to preserve things at high levels; but, after the Beatles, rock music has few precise class affiliations. It is worth noting that the “mandarin” status of academics results from intellectual achievement, rather than from material wealth; academics don’t get paid that much. Successful rock musicians, no matter what class they spring from, tend to make one-hundred times more. But an argument can be made that rock musicians and academics (a surprising number of whom are, in fact, rock fans) should begin to form bonds, some way or other. Trained intellectuals can appreciate rock music on higher levels than average listeners can; if only a small body of rock music offers high levels, form/content wise, to begin with, it can only be perpetuated by those who know how to teach it. Rock music pedagogy doesn’t have to be tepid or pedantic; it can demonstrate the evolution of a popular art-form into a “post-popular art-form.”
How much does rock music deserve cultural recognition? Because a good number of intellectuals are intrigued by rock music (and honorary degrees are often awarded to rock stars), and because middle-class fandom of rock music is now de rigueur, rock is by no means an exclusively working class phenomenon. It does cut across class lines. It is also worth noting that successful rock music from the 60s and 70s has remained far more popular than movies, television shows, and light literature from these periods; kids today, who wouldn’t know Klute or Rosemary’s Baby (though they might know the Brady Bunch), know the Beatles and the Stones. Where higher art-forms are concerned, a forty-five year life-span is moderate; for popular art-forms, its’ phenomenal. That life-span, established by 60s rock, augers well for some kind of preservation to be apropos. Like it or not, there will have to be some mediators. If, as I’ve argued, rock critics aren’t adequate, the nod will most likely have to go to academics. If a new corpus is built, there will be no way to make everyone happy— some will want more punk, or less British Invasion music, or a more heavy emphasis on this or that period or sub-genre. Rock has enough range to produce a multicultural corpus, and one that appeases feminists, queer studies scholars. There are few cultural alliances that rock hasn’t made at some point. Except, of course, with academic culture. Academia has, heretofore, preferred movies over rock music; but if that changes, rock musicians will have to adjust to academic presences and influences.