Rock and Roll, songs for the inside of an old cave within every individual, or the garden or dry well that one is made of, was first “novelty” sparked and pieced by youthful producers, commentators, distributors, and listeners.
That the novelty has taken on a traditional, and even classical, shape is perhaps the most mind-blowing thing about Rock n’ Roll. First came the avant-garde, and then came the norm. It might sound like the echo of a dissent, but it has a staged shape. “I listened to Billie Holiday a lot when I was young. And I found her moving. But I didn’t really appreciate how marvelous she was until later, when I was much older. Which means, I guess, that aging does have some compensations after all.” Haruki Murakami began an essay on Billie Holiday with the above quote. As great as it to feel compensated by aging for listening to music, listening young, before much of what most believe to be the obliged pragmatism that comes with preserving the town one lives in for example, is important and as beneficial.
Why? Youth has given us Rock and Roll.
We know that both its shape and primacy is the product of youth despite it being very unlike our architecture and urbanism (where is all of this music leading us to, kids) though it tastes like an old gastronomic norm by now, a waffle plate of waffles, bacon, eggs, and a colorful orange slice. The woman or man stands with an instrument in a room made to dance with others in, laying down rhythm, melody, and harmony as not an escape at this point but as life itself. Thom Yorke is good for that and so is Adia Victoria: to offer more living to the already living.
Creating and upholding a tradition is pretty serious stuff and that’s it’s all in the name of satisfying youth deserves a riff. The answer to why the avant-garde gets picked up is Say’s Law, Jean Baptiste Say’s law of economics (supply produces demand.) Once demand is there, then comes more supply. What are the demanders demanding in the end? That’s the real question isn’t it. What do the kids want?
The music has to then survive an entire landscape of musical genres that might be offering exactly what it does, especially rhythmically. Rock n’ Roll is now informed by Hip Hop and will forever be. The thing is that Rock n’ Roll is about the primacy and the possibilities of rhythm, and this includes sampling and the backbeat. Or else it dies. Youthful listening has allowed for Hip Hop but so as the American ethos of the 80’s and 90’d guided by social criticism and activism; Hip hop and Rock n’ Roll co-exist.
Rock should not be ashamed of taking from Hip Hop. Hip Hop came about because of Rock n’ Roll’s effect on culture (which came about because of Jazz.) Hip Hop and Rock n’ Roll have different notions of what a listener’s experience, one’s momentary oasis, should be like. Hip Hop’s lyrics however have never found their way to rock. Rock is of another tradition. Hip hop’s libertine avant-garde now a norm, artful but o so immoral (as per classic American morality rooted in Christianity), to which musicians like Kanye West belong, is unlike Rock’s libertinage. His later music, starting with his album 808’s And Heartbreak, full of rebellion but also hubris and materialism as if to forever give life to the fact that he is gifted. Libertinage in Rock and Roll is a whole different beast.
Rock and Roll, as it is shaped, has to choose wisely, however, what to add to its tradition. Kanye’s falsetto, often auto tune, singing rings a bell if you’ve listened to Prince and to Cher. It’s the idea that not normal singing, post normal singing, post human singing can reflect a situation and it’s pretty cool. In the society that harbors this American nation, Hip Hop falsetto singing is most certainly catastrophe singing. Catastrophes only impede expression (takes time to formulate and execute) when those who live it are told to jump ship. Stop, drop, and roll or even just the fire bell to get into line and leave the building are only executed in some situations. Some, if not most, catastrophes, are quite simply lived. What if Rock added falsetto similar to Kanye’s? Hubris that is the product of charging through disaster? It wouldn’t work as well.
Why would it have to choose wisely? Don’t the kids just want to party? No. It’s something specific in the end, a tradition of supply to meet a tradition of demand. Rock lyrics seem to exist into the same territory that past poetic romanticism, like Theophile Gautier’s poem “Tristesse” or “Sadness,” a poem that has, by the way, been put to music.
Avril est de retour.
La première des roses,
De ses lèvres mi-closes,
Rit au premier beau jour ;
La terre bienheureuse
S’ouvre et s’épanouit ;
Tout aime, tout jouit.
April has returned.
The first of the roses,
With its lips half closed
Laughs at the first beautiful day;
Our world is joyous
Opens and flourishes;
All love, all enjoys.
It is sort of implied that something like what’s going in Gautier’s poem is going in a rock song like Vampire Weekend’s “Mansard Roof.”
I see a mansard roof through the trees
I see a salty message written in the eaves
The ground beneath my feet
The hot garbage and concrete
And now the tops of buildings, I can see them too
Gautier’s poetry is both the inverse of science and war (without being pro-peace.) It is romance and play in order to seriously oppose society and co-exists with Romantic politics and Romantic philosophy that end up shaping the entirety of a society. It belongs to the general Romantic movement in Europe. What’s the point of rock and roll? What’s its place in society? Is it, like romantic poetry, open to a non-rational definition of the human being as a dreamer and a believer in unicorns, etc. Might rock and roll be music for a romantic promenade through legend and through myth mostly but also through social criticism and through anthem?
If I were to sing a song all about unicorns, flying horses, strong winds and stormy landscapes similar to romantic poetry: most would not feel shocked.
The kids heard living in Rock and Roll, and ever since, bands stand on stages performing personality and band while laying down rhythm, text, melody, and harmony. What’s the point of it in the end? To pack up and go home?
Has Rock n’ Roll in turn fueled new youth, a momentary oasis from the scientific aesthetics of architecture, urbanism, and other rational productions as per Western education, as it seems to have? It seems to be case. A new sanity along with its own notions of psychic misery and solace?
Has youth not developed the phenomenon enough? Youthful listening, and living, allowed for this essay. In this essay, I am can be an arbiter elegantiae, or supreme judge of taste, as Plutarch explains Petronius’s role in Emperor Nero’s court. Are the young wise? Of course.