chapter  6
8 Pages

ROCK IS DEAD: LONG LIVE ROCK

Insistence on its own morbidity is rock & roll’s “strange necessity”: rock seemingly must believe itself dead if it is to continue to be what it has always been. Early rock & roll, later just “rock,” defined itself primarily as “not pop”: not Peggy Lee, not Mel Torme, not, despite his best efforts to the contrary, Pat Boone (his sublime late-career album In a Metal Mood notwithstanding). Having successfully, forcefully distinguished itself from its popular-music predecessors, however, as it entered its second generation, rock & roll faced something of a structural problem: What music do we rebel against now? One answer-an extremely unfortunate and destructive one, I believe-is that rock purists have come to insist on distinguishing “rock & roll” from all other popular musics that might reasonably be considered part of the rock formation, whether that music be called disco, techno, alt-country, or hip-hop. Lawrence Grossberg describes this as a kind of structural imperative:

As Andrew Ross has pointed out, these exclusions often bear traces of both racism and homophobia;2 “rock & roll,” then, rather than the kind of ecumenical umbrella term for the wide variety of youth musics for which I have argued in my preface, has in some quarters become just another term for “music I like” or, even more callow, “music, the liking of which makes me unique.” “I want to be different,” John S. Hall of King Missile sings on “It’s Saturday,” “I want to be just like all the different people.”