written by the Judge
Guidelines to writing a great article. 1.) Research thoroughly. 2.) Redraft substantially and ask for editing advice before publishing it. 3.) Don’t leave writing the article to the night before it has to be posted. 4.) Don’t drink while writing (duh). 5.) If you really have to drink, then at least don’t drink Budweiser. 6.) Don’t swear in the article.
7.) Don’t let your personal bias enter the discussion. Having said that, let’s talk about rock and roll.
The only reason I’m writing about this topic is that I recently noticed the connection (or the particular rift) between rock and poetry. It all goes back to this truth universally acknowledged that rock is dead (or dying, or whatever). I mean, of course it’s been dying since 1959, but now it seems like it might be dying in a more prosaic sense – the rivers of money are drying up. There’s no more of it in the business. Buying music is passé. Heck, it’s an insult: you’re so white that you buy rap music.
|This helps when you're writing|
In fact, just about the only time the orbit of my life intersects with that of Planet Rock is when someone on Facebook links me to an article on the topic – and they are all the same. It’s always someone taking up a tone that Aeschylus wouldn’t have the nerve to include in his plays, informing us that there is no money (or no popularity, grit, enthusiasm, etc. – because there is no money) in rock and roll anymore. I mean, not only don't people buy albums anymore – not only aren't the stars shovelling in the millions – but aspiring rockers can barely cover the expenses for gas money after the tours, and the Monday after the show they have to go back to work! You know, just like normal people! What kind of a rock star is that??
I’d probably be a bit more sensitive if I weren’t imbibing this goddamn Budweiser right now, but reading these kind of complaints, from the point of view of someone who works (ha ha) in the subculture of poetry, my reaction always goes kind of like this guy with the pink background:
(And I’m going to spare myself a full paragraph of self-indulgent examples here by assuming that, if you’re reading this article, you know exactly how much money even the most successful poets can hope to make, and what it means to reconcile that passion with your needs).
So to put this delicately – the doom & gloom from the music industry comes across to me as potentially legitimate and correct, yes, but at the same time completely hilarious. Not because I don’t believe that their (financial) bubble is actually imploding, but because from the position where I work – and where all my friends work – postulating an equation in which the quality of creative work has something to do with your ability to make a living out of it is a JOKE.
It led me to momentarily fantasise what things would be like if poets and rock stars could swap positions – not an unfamiliar exercise, because I suppose that (almost) anyone who ever dreamt of being a poet started out by visualising a guy / gal who has something (not everything, but something) in common with the roaming guitarist. There’s a reason Rimbaud as the original rock star (or prototype punk – he’s a flexible figure) never gets old. Aside from the brilliant poetry, I mean.
Some time ago I wrote an article in which I claimed that having more people in poetry could make it less subtle and intelligent. This was in response to the discontent expressed by poets (parallel to that of rockers) who point out that not enough people read poetry. Be careful what thou wishest for.
So maybe if rock really keeps dying the way that it purportedly is, it’s going to become smarter and more subtle. It could even make people like me interested.
|Probably more representative of youth music now|
This, however, is the point where the parallel collapses (in part because the Bud is really beginning to go to my head, and I’ve got to start wrapping up the arguments while they still look like arguments). There are many good reasons why rock and poetry will never trade positions. One, just off the top of my head, is that poetry is more ‘pure’ as an art. Rock and roll presupposes an involvement with (if not a commitment to) a certain lifestyle. Lester Bangs didn’t just write about the stuff, he lived it. He did the drugs. He got laid. He buried the bodies. Poetry isn’t cool like that. So many of our best poets are people with utterly boring CVs who conjure incredible worlds only out of their imaginations. There is no cultural script that you have to follow in order to ‘qualify’ as a poet.
Another reason is that poetry is, I think, much better positioned to confront the techno-cultural challenges of a changing world. Rock and roll isn’t losing out to fashion or taste – it’s being killed by globalisation and the internet. Besides, the poetry subculture has the advantage that its representatives DO NOT GIVE A FLYING FUCK about money. If there is, or has ever been, an artistic vocation that cares *less* than poets do about la plata, then I’ve never heard of it. So if anyone told a poet that someone had downloaded his / her book and distributed five-thousand copies of it totally for free, the reaction would be one of unadulterated joy. You got me five-thousand readers, for free?! Heck, we’d probably be encouraging piracy, if it could get more of our stuff out there.
Rock and roll – well, I don’t know if it’s really dead / dying. To be honest I don’t care that much, as I never really listened to it a great deal. I used to have a thing for Metallica and a couple of their offspring when I was sixteen, but I listen to them now and it’s amazing just how crushingly boring all of their songs have become to me. In terms of my personal interest, rock and roll hits an unfortunate middle point – it’s neither as easy as pop and electronica, nor as sophisticated as jazz and classical, meaning that the rewards of investing in it are going to be limited either way.
But even though I don’t know if it is dying, one thing I feel I can say with a certain confidence is that rock is old. I’ll be more precise – rock is no longer a cultural signifier that is associated with youth, and this has nothing to do with the fact that 90% of the major news stories about rockers out there concern some old fart who is releasing his 20th album or who died (I mean, even friggin’ Jack Black in School of Rock was thirty-four years old. That’s well past the age of college shenanigans, man). Even in the nineties, when I was less than ten years old and still reading trashy stuff like, y’know, Conan Doyle and Melville, there was this cultural dichotomy about classical music being for old people and rock ‘n’ roll being for the new generations. It wasn’t because of the relative ages of those who actually listened to it – no, it was the meta-narrative that supported rock and roll from its inception onwards. Now it is that same meta-narrative that has vanished from popular culture (despite still being trumpeted within the corrals of the rock subculture). When you see clichés and stereotypes representing contemporary teens, they’re seldom listening to / talking about rock music. The drugs are still there, of course, and so is the sex (as if…). But the closest thing to a product for young rockers that I recall is something as embarrassing as Freaky Friday, assuming that fantasy can be called rock at all, and that’s a remake of a 1976 film. The rest borders on parody: Guitar Hero is its own popular myth now, and the title itself is tongue-in-cheek.
Poetry doesn’t have an age. It’s always been the stuff that our forebears did, which may be why poetry books only really start selling something once the poet is dead. And that’s why poetry itself can never die.
And hey, maybe rock isn’t dead at all. Maybe it’s just evolved (or in-volved) from a mass phenomenon into a subculture. If that’s the case, then welcome to the club. I’ll buy you a drink with the sum profits of my first four books (whenever I publish them).