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History of Rock and Roll

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Essay title: History of Rock and Roll

The premise of this work is that rock 'n' roll matters, and that it means what it says. It seems that rock 'n' roll music has seldom been given its due as an art form, that it is somehow relegated to a category of less "mature" or "serious" artistic pursuits by the media and the intellectual community. Some critics use the generic term "Pop" to refer to any popular music, including all contemporary rock musicians, as if the fact of rock 'n' roll's immense commercial success implies that it cannot really be taken seriously alongside, say, classical music, or even Jazz. Beyond artistic circles, rock 'n' roll is usually given even less credibility; the ideas and feelings and beliefs expressed and reflected in rock songs tend to be dismissed by non-fans, by the Establishment as a whole, as quaintly naive at best, childish and irrelevant at worst.

What's even more disturbing is that these attitudes often seem to be held by fans of rock music themselves. We may still listen to the radio stations, dance and sing along to the old favorites or the new hits, but when we gather in serious intellectual or political forums, to share our views on the great issues and ideas of the day, we leave rock 'n' roll behind, back in the closet where old baseball gloves and Barbie dolls gather dust. Especially for the Baby Boom generation, which grew up on rock 'n' roll, and certainly took it seriously in youth, this desertion, or embarrassment, or hesitation, or whatever it is, casts a sad pall over approaching middle age: sure, in our youth we believed in all those great ideals, but that was when we were young and carefree; now we've got responsibilities, and well, it's just not so simple as all that.

In defiance of this trend, and in view of the apparent retreats from idealism that have permeated the past decade or two, this book celebrates rock 'n' roll as a legitimate art form, and more, as a strong current in American and world culture, which contains a central and coherent ideology, as viable as any other ideology competing for primacy on the world intellectual stage. I present these themes as justification, and excuse, for examining rock 'n' roll music, history, personalities, and ideas from the standpoint of the unifying ideas and trends that have remained with rock from the beginning.

Rock 'n' roll can be described in such cohesive terms only if it is more than just a popular consumer entertainment medium: it must be a self-contained "movement," which adherents choose to "join," and by so choosing accept its terms. In turn, rock 'n' roll can only be a movement if all of its widely disparate strains and offshoots are in some way connected to a common, unifying origin. This is in fact true; every rock musician today, from Alabama to Australia, from Sinйad O'Connor to Axl Rose, can trace his or her roots directly to a single moment in history, the springboard of all rock music and culture, the explosive events of the mid-1950s that first introduced the idea of rock 'n' roll to the world. It is the themes and artistic styles of that very special, very brief time, that spawned the movement, and that subsequent artists, from Dylan and the Beatles through Midnight Oil and Public Enemy, have merely refined and redefined. The 1950s were comparatively safe and innocent, and rock 'n' roll established a foundation for the ideals that youth could pursue in such an environment. When issues of race relations, war, sexuality, drugs, ecology, and world hunger arose in later years, rock 'n' roll was forced, like every other ideology, to respond to them. That many of these concerns were of central importance to the kids reared on and reveling in rock 'n' roll as a lifestyle only heightens the significance of their common response, as expressed in and through the music.

What we of the rock generations lack, then, is not a belief system, or a serious foundation for political, social, and creative expression, but simply a willingness to accept that what we have is good enough. Believers in Socialism or Conservatism or Buddhism have no more coherent, sophisticated, or relevant conceptual system of how humans should interact, should respond to common problems and needs, and should understand their place in the universe. It's just that there are a lot more solemn, tedious books written about those ideologies, and their promoters don't typically gross $15-million on a world tour. So this book tries to be slightly more of the solemn variety, although not tedious, and certainly entertaining, in the tradition of the genre, despite its serious intent. It traces the sources of rock 'n' roll's meaning, the paths which that meaning has taken over time and

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