|Issue 9 - December 1972|
|The Joints Not Jumping - Its Gone Out|
thought we knew where we were with our music; it all looked so straightforward:
love was here to stay, the centre of world government would soon move
to Woodstock, NY State. In short, Rock had come of age. Then we turned
our backs for a moment, and when we looked again there was just a pile
Remember the Masked Marauders? Rumour had it that they were an epoch-making get-together of Jagger, Lennon, Dylan, plus whoever else you happened to dig. That was when Rock had an established superstructure and the wish-fulfilment of seeing them all together was occasionally satisfied by the great festivals.
Now take your stereo headphones off and tell me where you are. The joint's not jumping, it's gone out. Donny Osmond is gargling his way to superstardom. Have you started to confuse your tranny's musical heritage with the latest issues? Perhaps the record is jumping in the groove, and you're not sure whether it's jumping forwards or backwards. Or, with endless revolutions per minute, simply staying still.
Naturally enough, some people have been trying to make sense of it all. Charlie Gillett's book, 'The Sound of the City', and the growing body of serious appraisals (e.g. the Studio Vista Rockbooks, and Scaduto's excellent biography of Dylan) have turned yesterday'' fan-mags into thesis material. Together with well-chosen re-issues on LP of singles from what has become the classic age of Rock n' Roll, these writings have given us a fairly good perspective on the mid-50s explosion and its immediate descendants.
Not only have they unearthed many of the musical developments and sources, but the social angle - Rock as a rebel music, bastard child of affluence and alienation - has ceased to be the exclusive province of earnest outsiders.
Moreover, we no longer have to suffer comparisons with the Beatles and Schubert. Rock is sufficient to itself. This is very much the point of view of Nik Cohn, who argues (in WopBopaLooBopLopBamBoom) that Sgt Pepper and his camp followers struck at the live core of Rock by appealing to 'Art' and suchlike. Born in Tin Pan Alley, raised in Grease Lane, Rock spent a couple of years in Pseud's Corner before winding up of no fixed abode. Cohn, along with the American Pie-men, would like to send it back home.
Yet the closer Nik Cohn and Charlie Gillett get to present times the more their judgements seem to falter. In a sense this is scarcely surprising; without the perspective of time much of present-day trends will be elusive.
Gillett's partial failure also stems from a too narrow concentration on the surface material - record companies, individual careers and cross-influences, too often from the point of view solely of the musicians - without posing the more fundamental questions: what is Rock? Is it hostile or neutral or in sympathy with our society? How does it compare with other forms of entertainment (e.g. football) and does it play a different role to that of longer established cultural forms?
The fundamental appeals of Rock - flash, excitement, sex and glitter, on a spectrum which ranges from arrogant power and violence to undigested sentimentality - we've never really lost them and their effect can still be as fresh as when they were shod in blue suede.
The original success of Rock was that it articulated the fantasies of a generation, supplied them with a myth and provided a non-literate communal escape in the midst of the most literate and individualist of societies. Thousands of individuals who weren't too certain of themselves, or of how they fitted into their little slot in the social system, could see themselves in relation to their music, and were only too happy to pay and idolise someone who could do this for them. The unlettered stutter of the Who 't-t-talking 'bout my g-g-generation' is a perfect example.
Rock has never had a direction. It's just that the myth has been remoulded a million times to fit the holes it is designed to plug.
So what happened to the Woodstock Nation? It seems now that having something meaningful to say was nothing more than the desire to say something meaningful, and this turned out, like, well, really too much man, far out and beautiful - in fact, about as coherent as this. It may have felt real at the time, but it looks about as solid now as the Eve of Destruction and similar protest songs of a few years previously. Touching, but nothing more than a wish-dream.
Some people took it seriously - thought they could turn society's reflection back against society. I think we're going to need a lot more than that. We put the superstars up there to ease our minds. We can't expect them to do much more for us.