BOOK REVIEW: Rock and Roll (Examining Pop Culture)

Rock and Roll (Examining Pop Culture)

Rock and Roll appears to be designed for students of the pop culture classes that are offered on so many college campuses. The historical sections of the book, which addresses the development of the rock music style, are good, however when the book attempts to be an “issues debated” tome with dueling authors, it falters.

One problem with debating something as fluid as popular music is that it instantly dates itself. Rock and Roll was published in 2002, and many of its collected essays are far older. Students looking for up-to-date information on pop culture issues would best look to the Internet or magazines; this stuff is already ancient history.

Take for example Timothy White’s joyless essay comparing two very different concert events—Woodstock ’99 and a 1973 Carole King performance. In attempting to show the violence and misogyny prevalent in modern (late ‘90s) rock, he discusses the many assaults that happened on the concert grounds. (None such violence took place at the Carole King show.) Cleary a better comparison would have been the Altamont concert of 1969. The types of music and the fans Carole King and Limp Bizkit attract can’t even be compared. Perhaps if riots broke out at Lilith Fair, White’s comparison would have been apt.

U.S. Senator Sam Brownback, who came to national prominence when he ran in the 2008 Republican Presidential primaries on the “batsh*t-crazy” platform, has an essay here, unusually enough. He attempts to please both the socially conservative and libertarian wings of his party by arguing that unsavory rock lyrics should be condemned but not censored.

Not trying for any sort of balance is Stuart Goldman’s prejudiced, fundamentalist rant “The Vulgar Values of Rock.” The 1989 screed is a (relatively) modern example of the 1950s anti-rock crusades discussed in Trent Hill’s previous essay, “Early Fears About Rock Music.” Only here it’s not fear of the black community as much as fear of the gay community. Goldman makes predictably offensive statements that artists who are gay or appear to be so are indoctrinating children, blah, blah, blah. (Hilariously, the writer doesn’t pick up on singer George Michael’s sexual orientation, only identifying him as a “stubble-faced hunk” who makes raunchy videos. Hmmm.) He makes many other broad- ended swipes at music, appearing at one point to have combed record stores searching out the most disgusting band names he could find, whether or not they ever achieved any sort of popularity. Like many political extremists, Goldman veers away from mainstream theory into paranoid conspiracy. It seems that popular music is a pusher of the “New World Order.” With apparent sincerity, the author unleashes howlers like “’We Are the World,’ whose lyrics were written by Michael Jackson, was the most direct testimony to the pantheist-globalist basis of rock.” And of course, the cowering, disenfranchised victims known as the Republican Party are helpless against the spandex-clad menace. Goldman bemoans the rock world’s relentless “Attacks on Conservatism” in one section. He makes no mention of rock celebrities who have openly identified as Republicans, such as Ted Nugent and Johnny Ramone. These artists have no doubt produced lyrics that would offend Mr. Goldman. Maybe they get a free pass because they stumped for conservative causes?

Now that the first generation to sock-hop to rock are senior citizens, the flower-power Baby Boomers are retiring, and the teenagers who head-banged to 80’s hair metal are now middle-aged working stiffs, one has to wonder if musical doomsday preachers such as Goldman are still sticking to their guns. What I find most hilarious of all is that this guy was supposedly once a music critic for the Los Angeles Times. And that lasted, what, two columns?

On the other side of the coin, rock fans will adore Frank Zappa’s fantastic entry on behalf of freedom of speech in rock music.

As perhaps the ultimate illustration on why popular culture debate books might just be a bad idea, let’s stop to pity poor embarrassed Beau Brashares, whose mistake of Dewey-defeats-Truman-esque proportions is preserved for all eternity: “The Internet will not have a Significant Impact on Rock Music.”

(review originally appeared at

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Click Here
    Oct 27, 2011 @ 12:45:37

    Very cool, I’m a huge music fan.


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