[This appeared as a comment on the Guardian CIF page. The link below is to the original article]
The very ubiquity of pop/rock has made it mediocre and its mediocrity has made it ubiquitous, eh? But, I think it goes a bit deeper than that. I know it is hard to explain to my teenage daughters what made the Sex Pistols seem so dangerous at the time, but more importantly, why that feeling of danger, rebelliousness, daring, was such an empty illusion. And why I hope I won’t get fooled again by the empty and hollow rock mythology that holds out dreams of freedom, promise and whatever adventure comes my way, but instead gives a slavish, mindless conformity just as deadening as those thumping disco beats I once so despised. For I used to think that pop was just prole feed for the mindless disco dancing lemming hordes, while rock dared to speak a truth to those of us that dared take a glimpse of what lay beyond those doors of perception. I was wrong; there is no real difference between them, except the thinking that makes it so. Rock was sold to us as something more than just prole feed – ‘three chords and the truth’, but what we got was just a watered-down faux Romanticism, a blend of narcissistic preening and banal truisms masquerading as a streetwise wisdom.
For just as the Left is seen as somehow more real, more authentic, more ‘of the people’ than the Right, rock music is seen as authentic, ‘from the street’, anti-elitist and real. This is, of course why, despite being a natural Tory Tony Blair – The ‘rock ‘n’ roll Prime Minister [snigger] – chose to associate himself with the ‘more romantic’ left.
Moreover, as rock has become ubiquitous it has, through its original fans growing into positions of power and influence (like Blair above), become a kind of conventional wisdom and a kind of prism through which the complex world is twisted into an easily-digestible, but distorted, simplicity. Rock stars musings upon the state of the world, for example, are given an attention far beyond their worth. These inane platitudes are treated with deep respect and reverence, and poured over for a wisdom usually only previously found in the great philosophers and sages.
While at the other end of the rock spectrum, we have the ridiculous bland pantomime antics of heavy metal, rap and Goth et al. Is there anything more sad and puerile than the cartoonish antics of Marilyn Manson and the outrage manufactured around him? This demonstrates that the ‘music’ that is given as the raison d’etre of most artists and bands is, in a strange way, merely often incidental to the pose, the persona, that style matters far, far, more than substance. The T-shirt more important than the song.
I suppose the inevitable question about all this would be ‘Maybe so, but why does it matter? After all, it is only rock ‘n’ roll’. I suppose my answer would be is that by its very nature rock music is partial, insular and, ultimately, very conservative and it transmits that through itself. It can – vary rarely – offer the chance to transcend, which is what true art does, but it so often fails to even recognise the possibility of transcendence, let alone dare to reach for those heights.
I don’t suppose it matters all that much if all you want to do is sing along to something while driving down the road, or while doing the washing up. But, surely, as you grow older and – hopefully – wiser, you really ought to be looking to go deeper, further, leave mere entertainment to the adolescents and dive into the deeper, wonder-filled depths of true art.
And, finally, think on this. Maybe the reason why Tony Blair has been such a failure, and big disappointment to many, is that despite growing older and greyer in the job, he seems to have become no wiser. I do believe there is a connection here between his oft-quoted love of rock music and his inability to mature and acquire wisdom and thoughtfulness.