3.2.05

furtherly to clarify

turns out I'm gonna do a whole thing about this Rockism dealio on Stylus maybe but here is my basic thesis:

GIVEN: That anyone, critic or non-critic, "intelligent" listener or "casual" listener, hipster or scenester or regular person, can listen to and like any music and any artist and any album and any song that he or she wants to.

RESOLVED: That it is only the REASON for the likage or dislikage that brings Rockism into play.

THESIS: That Rockism should be defined as follows: The act of appreciating any particular piece of music or musical genre based on extra-musical criteria. We shall call these criteria THE ROCK AESTHETIC.

THE ROCK AESTHETIC:

1a. There is such a thing called Rock, which is different from Rock and Roll.
1b. Rock is a noun but is more like a verb. If music rocks, it is Rock, even if it is not Rock and Roll. (i.e., Public Enemy, Bob Marley, etc.)
1c. Rock is a tradition. Therefore, musicians must know music history; it is okay to reference another song but one must not be derivative.
1d. Rock is about hard work. Therefore, acts must be able to prove their worth by playing their own instruments (and synthesizers are okay but not as good as organs or pianos), singing their own songs without pitch correction, and playing before live audiences.
1e. Rock is about sincerity. Sincerity is all: the burning desire to connect is the most important part of Rock. The signifier MUST BE the signified. The huddled masses yearn for the humble but special individuals placed amongst us who are filled with the spirit of Rock and therefore get to communicate with us.
1f. Humor is okay if it is sincere salt-of-the-earth-style humor, but it must seem sincere. If there is smarm, it must be cloaked in angry disdain (i.e., Mick Jagger). Sarcasm and/or silliness can be accepted as Rock after 20 years.
1g. Rock is about sex. (There is no conflict between 1f and 1g, it is okay and probably preferable to be both sincere and sexual.)
1h. Rock must incorporate rhythm. Rhythms must be subservient, however, to riffs and lyrics. Rhythm is a means to an end, and not the end itself. However, again, any song that seems primarily focused on dancing can be accepted as Rock after 20 years.
1i. In Rock, lyrics are important. This does not have to mean good, or meaningful, or comprehensible -- but important nonetheless. The sheer fact of several kick-ass Rock instrumentals ("Frankenstein," "Funeral for a Friend," etc.) is the exception that proves the rule.
new additions
1j. Rock is about spontaneity, especially if it is carefully planned. (See J.T.'s point in the comments section below.)
1k. Rock songs mimic Freitag's Pyramid, which is really just imitative of the sex act. That is why the guitar solo is the central trope of Rock. (It is also why most rock songs hover around four minutes today; earlier, pre-sexual awareness songs were more like 2:30.) If a solo is played and it is not on a guitar, the sound should somehow mimic the sound or feel of a guitar solo.
1l. Rock is best experienced on the ideal format for it: the vinyl album. This is mainly because there was more room for visual information (band photos, lyrics, credits, etc.) on albums; to worry about digital vs. analog in terms of sound quality is getting less and less Rock. The compact disc is acceptable due to convenience and increased length for bonus tracks.
end of new additions 2/4

2a. Rock is the standard to which all music should aspire.
2b. The quality of music can be adequately judged by how closely it resembles or partakes in the qualities of Rock.
2c. Therefore, Rock has an established canon, which is not fixed.
2d. Rock is always searching for its next addition.
2e. Every act is pining to become part of the canon, even if they don't know it, or seem to disdain the notion. This is the natural order.

3a. Artists are people with benefits.
3b. Each artist has a story to tell, and tells it in the course of his or her career.
3c. The ongoing story is lyrical, musical, and biographical. We care.
3d. It is acceptable and in fact preferable for an artist to give us details of his or her private life, as long as it does not take too much effort.
3e. For this reason, "albums" should be considered albums of an artist's life at that moment in time, with individual songs functioning as components.
3f. There are three models for albums:
3f1: Short story collections (most common: each song is its own story, one can infer the authorial point of view)
3f2: Poetry collections (rarer: each song is a poem, hard to infer the authorial p.o.v. because of avant-gardism and/or cryptic content and expression)
3f3: Novels (very rare: rock operas and/or linked stories)
3g. Although albums are the preferred form, no album can go without having at least one song that can be played on the radio. Said song must fit in the context of the album AND in the context of what can be popular in the landscape.
3h. The radio sucks these days.
3i. In fact, all of modern music sucks these days. Things were better before.

4a. Selling out is a bad thing.
4b. Selling out consists of alienating old fanbase by changing music in order to court new fanbase.
4c. Audiences can tell the difference between selling out and sincere art.
4d. Audiences care.

Okay, that's enough for now. Give me some feedback on this list, or else don't. It's not very Rock to ask for feedback.

8 comments:

blackmail is my life said...

feedback is a core component of rock, right? just ask the beatles. or jim derogatis.

Yasir said...

With regards to the importance of lyrics, how would bands like Mogwai fit in? And these days if a song is not played on Clear Channel, sorry, the radio then it's no bad thing. Radio in the US sucks not because of the music available but because of the monopoly position of Clear Channel. There is no risk taking; another fundemental element of rock surely?

John C. said...

matt, i'm glad you're writing about this. one thing i like about your notes is that they emphasize that rockism isn't about a sound as much as an extra-musical valuation -- and yet you also explain why rockism is called "rock"-ism (that these values are derived from a rock community). this is crucial, i think, because otherwise you do end up with a lot of people saying, well, why not just call it close-mindedness?

also: i don't know if those notes are structured the way they are because they're just notes, but i like the idea of developing a rubric of rockism: something that is a bit more detailed that k. sanneh's (otherwise laudable) nyt piece.

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