Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll

by Mark English

The phrase “sex, drugs and rock and roll” came up on this site recently. People seemed to be generally in favor, as I recall. It’s just a jokey mantra, I know, but nonetheless it could be seen to express a certain view of the world. And to the extent that it does encapsulate a view of life, I have to say that from a personal point of view I am ambivalent about it. It’s not my mantra, certainly.

Arguably, as rock has become mainstream, the values and attitudes associated with the broader culture of rock and roll have also gained widespread acceptance, changing societies and cultures in subtle or not so subtle ways. My focus here is mainly on music however.

Some kinds of rock I relate to, at least to some extent – certain songs and so on – but overall I’m not fond of the genre. I tend to see it as a somewhat regrettable cultural contingency. And the more I hear it, the less I like it. Somehow it just doesn’t express my kind of personality.

We all have our pet hates. I recently heard someone (a photographer) say that the thing that really drives him mad is the artificial clicking sound made by cell-phone cameras. You can’t escape the clicking of digital cameras and (in my experience) you can’t escape rock and roll and the newer forms of music which derive in some sense from it. It comes at you from buskers, from outdoor and rooftop bars, from hidden speakers in coffee shops, supermarkets and malls, from parties you might attend or even parties you don’t attend.

My interest in 20th century popular music is driven in part by the perspective it provides on broader cultural and social changes. And quite dramatic changes have occurred, especially over the last seven or eight decades. One of the “foolish things” that “remind me of you” in the 1930s song (by Eric Maschwitz and Jack Strachey) is a “tinkling piano in the next apartment”. This is certainly not the world I am living in, and I suspect it’s not the world you’re living in either.

But rather than do a rant (others are better at it), let me just make a few brief observations relating to music and cultural history.

First of all, rock and roll is very much – unlike sex and drugs – a cultural contingency. Music per se may not be, but rock and roll – or any particular style of music – is. So, in a sense, any particular style needn’t have existed. According to the view I am suggesting, if (hypothetically) you wound back the clock a few hundred years and started again from there, political and cultural history would take a different course from the one we know. [1] The traitor’s plot that was in fact discovered may not have been discovered, the assassin’s bullet that in our world hit its target and precipitated the Great War might have just grazed the Archduke’s shoulder, and so on.

In a little-known movie, set in London a couple of decades after World War 2, the city was depicted as dark and conservative, the fashions, mores, and strangely even the technology, suggestive of an earlier time. The reason? The Axis powers had won the war. Unsurprisingly, there was no rock and roll (in England or Europe at any rate) – but even I would have to concede that the price paid for its absence might have been rather too high in this case.

If you grow up with a certain kind of music you can’t help but be tuned into it to some extent: that’s just the way our brains work. Individual differences and the specific context (e.g. church, home or peer group) in which we hear the music also matter and help determine what we like and what different types of music signify for us.

I grew up with a strange mixture of music: marching bands; snatches of Delius and Vaughan Williams on the radio, but also pop music and rock; church organs and hymns. My mother had an aversion to rock and roll and my father’s cultural world (he was considerably older than my mother) was so alien to rock that I don’t think he even noticed its existence. Two aunts also played prominent roles: one was almost hip; the other (my father’s sister) used to do silly dances and sing “Come into the garden, Maud, For the black bat, night, has flown…” (words by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, music by some forgotten Victorian); and an expurgated – risqué rather than crude – version of “Barnacle Bill the Sailor.”  In the face of all this, rock and roll didn’t stand out particularly – or, if it did, it didn’t stand out in a good way. As I grew up, I always felt a tension between the popular music of the time – particularly rock – and the more traditional forms to which I was attached.

This may be a contentious view, but I see rock music as being unlike most previous varieties of popular music (including jazz and swing) in that it is at a deep level incompatible with mainstream Western musical traditions. I am aware that many rock musicians were classically trained and that there have been all sorts of attempts to blend elements of rock and classical music. Sometimes these attempts succeeded, but I still feel that there is an inevitable and fatal tension between the two traditions. There are countless examples of the seamless merging of jazz and classical; not so many in relation classical and rock because the rock element (to my ears anyway) inevitably overwhelms and undermines the classical – or at least the “traditional classical” – element.

To me it is an endearing feature of traditional French musical culture that it was particularly resistant on this front. Rock and roll was quite alien to it. In fact the first French rock and roll songs were actually parodies written by Boris Vian, who despised the form. By and large, early French rock and roll was extremely derivative – and often closer to pop than rock.

Johnny Hallyday was – supposedly – the “French Elvis.” He was a giant star at home but little known outside the francophone world. He married Sylvie Vartan who was identified with the yé-yé movement. (Get it? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Beatles.) It was pop, not rock. She did a French version of “The Loco-Motion.” Her greatest hit was the yé-yé song, “La plus belle pour aller danser,” written by the French crooner and actor, Charles Aznavour and his longtime collaborator Georges Garvarentz. Rock and roll it is not.

The general process of the individual’s early exposure to music works not unlike early exposure to particular foods (which is said to powerfully influence food preferences for life). It reminds me also of the way goslings fixate on and follow whatever moving thing they first see upon hatching. The ethologist and writer Konrad Lorenz was mother goose to a batch of them: they used to follow him around. In somewhat similar fashion, the music we hear at vital stages imprints indelibly on our brains and is granted privileged access to our emotional centers.

The point is, this says very little about the music itself but a lot about our early environment. People often don’t get this simple truth: that what they grew up listening to and liking will likely sound very ho-hum (or worse) to anyone whose musical background was different.

An interesting twist on this relates to the conscious use of music as a repellent. I’ve heard of various cases but only witnessed one myself. The city in which I live has a very large number of people camping on the sidewalks and sleeping in doorways, etc. One popular night-time sitting and sleeping location was at the entrance of the central city branch of a major bank, close to the ATMs. Not good for business. So they piped Italian opera through their speakers. It had the desired effect.

Clearly, many of the factors that lead us to be attracted – or not – to certain musical forms are quite extrinsic to the music itself: sociological rather than musical. It depends on one’s upbringing whether certain music is, say, cool and sexy – or repulsive. (Opera is sexy for some.)

The English writer Philip Larkin was famously described (by Eric Homberger) as “the saddest heart in the post-war supermarket.”  Larkin played up to this image, remarking that deprivation for him was what daffodils were for Wordsworth. He loved jazz and wrote about it and readily admitted that, for him, above all jazz meant sex. Rock inherited that cool and sexy image.

Of course, in the past other musical forms would have played a similar role to that played by jazz and rock in the 20th century. There were always popular dances and risqué songs – even in the supposed depths of the priest-ridden Middle Ages.

“Sex, drugs and rock and roll” is just a modern version of the old expression “wine, women and song.” Alcohol or other drugs and certain kinds of music certainly can be a potent combination, and are often associated with sex. Rock, especially when coupled with illicit drugs, adds another element: that of rebellion; of a conscious rejection of tradition.

A flyer I got in my mailbox the other day offers free admission to a nightclub. “Who are you with?” it asks. “Team Riot or Team Filth?” Beats me. (2) I think I’ll pass on this one.

NOTES

  1. How different I cannot say: as time passed the differences would become greater – though they would necessarily be constrained by the basic facts of human biology.
  2. Apparently there are two spaces with different sounds: the Riot Room is upstairs, the Filth Room is the basement. The music styles are given as deep house, party tunes, commercial, RnB, techno, bounce, minimal, hardstyle and psytrance.

49 Comments »

  1. > Johnny Hallyday was – supposedly – the “French Elvis.”

    And he isn’t even French. His real name is Jean-Philippe Smet. His father Léon Smet was Belgian, his mother Huguette Clerc French. Jean-Philippe was born in Paris, though.

    You mention France, but Italy did its own thing with rock too. And did it sometimes superbly. Just listen to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiUn8RwpcfY.
    Zucchero blowing Paul Young out of the water, vocally.

    Or this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRDZjj7-tOk.

    Like

  2. Another beautiful example, rock with a Belgian twist: André Brasseur and his multi-sound organ!

    Great rockin’ rhythm, if you ask me.
    I love it when cultures mix. Serge Gainsbourg did a few great things with reggae rhythms too (with Sly and Robbie). It’s reggae, but it’s so French you have to hear it to believe it.

    Like

  3. When listening to French, Belgian, Italian rock I’m often reminded of Barthes and his “punctum” – ‘that accident which pricks, bruises me.’
    French, Belgian, Italian etc. rock is almost always *wrong* somewhere, not really rock, but precisely because it’s wrong it *works*.

    Like

  4. Mark,
    Thoughtful and thought-provoking piece, as usual from you.

    There seems some ambivalence and ambiguity to your article here. The first half of it crescendos with the controversial suggestion that rock is antithetical to the western musical tradition; but by the end you seem to saying that it is yet another occurrence of certain folk music forms, only adding “a conscious rejection of tradition.” You’re also trying to balance two problematic issues – how any music is learned generally, and the historic contingency of any particular form of music – which are clearly entangled but which relationship becomes itself problematic if mobilized as commentary on any particular form of music. I think most people remain bound to the music that first left a lasting impact on them – but what is the nature of that impact? I think you gave a good sketch of your own experience. However, it’s not necessarily generalizable. I didn’t listen to anything but classical and traditional folk until I was 17. Then my young math teacher insisted the class listen to Tull’s Aqualung (which had just come out), and something just hooked me. I suppose this partly due to the fact that a rather socially isolated young man was enjoying a group experience in a positive setting; but, after all, that had never happened at church, no matter how hard I tried.

    Because of the historic configurations that brought rock into being and at last led to its domination of popular musics (at least until the digital era, which began to reveal, just by the way, its exhaustion into endless re-iterations), rock is problematic in ways not applicable to musics that came before it. For one thing its existence depends on electricity and a certain technology; also, its transmittal relies on recordings the clarity of which was impossible before the late ’50s. On the consumer’s side, rock provided enjoyment to a generation of adolescents who enjoyed the greatest excess wealth (for their age-group) in human history, while openly appealing, in part, to their sexual yearnings (which parents had always insisted didn’t/shouldn’t exist). And it did this partly because it was the production of musicians who were themselves adolescent. Frank Sinatra, one of the finest white Jazz singers of his generation, was 50 years old in 1965; no wonder the young people of that era thought of him as an old man – he was.

    There are both good reasons and bad reasons for rejecting tradition. Tradition gives us our legacy, our sense of historical belonging. On the other hand, it can stifle creativity and innovation, our sense of possession of the future.

    However there are reasons for rejecting tradition that, in the culture of modernity, are inevitable – indeed, form a part of our cultural tradition. Shelly’s first radical writings (in prose) were written when he was 19 – the year he married Harriet (then 16), whom he would abandon in 3 years, to elope with the 16 year old Wollstonecraft-Godwin daughter, Mary. 8 years and many pages of rebellious poetry and prose later, he went a-sailing into a storm, and drowned. They built him a pyre on the beach; Byron wept.

    Now that’s rock and roll!

    —–
    “Music, when soft voices die,
    Vibrates in the memory— ….
    -Shelly

    Like

  5. The best thing about this is that it invites readers to share their own musical backgrounds. Because you aren’t making any sort of argument or case, but rather describing a sensibility and where it comes from and in what ways it guides ones activity, it provides a wonderful opportunity for the best kind of conversation. In a way, it almost feels like your response to my “Middle Aged Punk” essay, and I’m hoping that some of our other contributors will follow up on your piece with their own personal music histories and tastes.

    In fact, it’s gotten my own creative juices going, and I feel essays coming on Metal and yes, your favorite, Hip Hop. Might do one on Post Punk too, which currently is my favorite genre.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Mark,

    I enjoyed the essay in part because our experience with is so very different.

    I have always loved music and have gone though many listening phases. Initially I am embarrassed to admit some of the music I liked when I first started listening. Very mellow soft rock like Bread and Carpenters. Quickly that bored me and I got into classic rock. Then after doing some reading I discovered Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Elvis, Gerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison……I was hooked. I then spread out across all kinds of rock, blues, singer songwriters. For quite awhile my favorites were Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and Springsteen. I listened to some harder stuff too, liked the Clash, I really liked Graham Parker & Elvis Costello. I even explored some country and grew to love Emmy Lou Harris. I like Lucinda Williams quite a bit.

    Eventually I discovered Jazz, and that has been my favorite Genre for at least 20 years since my early thirties. I have a decent classical collection as well (the usual Bethoven, Bach, I like Vivaldi really like Sibelius). Yet when I run I like to run vocal swinging jazz like Mark Murphy, some Kurt Elling, I really like to run to swinging Sinatra numbers.

    So for me music has about been about discovering new stuff (usually going backwards in time to do so). I really enjoy being able to hear something I couldn’t hear before. Like when Charley Parker clicked in for me after initially not getting him.

    I understand falling back to what initially hooked you on music and I sometimes do that to, but for me the greatest joys seem to come from new discoveries.

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  7. One of the things that struck me as somewhat weak, however, is that we are never really told what it is about Rock that you dislike so much, and when you do mention specific things, they don’t seem like good candidates. There is the point regarding rebellion against tradition, but unless one is told why exactly that need be a bad thing, it doesn’t explain much. There is also the point regarding the discontinuity you perceive in Rock, vis a vis classical music, but again, unless one was given some account of why this is bad, it doesn’t explain your negative perception. It is also strange, given that there are any number of people — myself included — who have no difficulty whatsoever enjoying *both* Rock *and* classical music. You mention Vaughan Williams, of whom I am a tremendous fan — and own a good 20 CD’s of his music — and staying within the English tradition, I would add Herbert Howells as another favorite.

    We talked privately about your allegations regarding continental Europe’s resistance to Rock — which, in the essay, you limited solely to France — and I was extremely skeptical and remain so. Certainly such a claim would be hard to sustain with respect to Germany, which, in the 70’s, served up bands that would be foundational to entire subsequent genres — I am thinking, specifically, of krautrock, as well as the electronica of bands like Kraftwerk and the effect that they had on everything from post-punk to New Wave to even Hip Hop (one of the pioneers of Hip-Hop, Afrika Bambaattaa, explicitly cites Kraftwerk as an influence). But even France supplied significant — and contrary to what you indicate, highly original — bands in the 60’s and 70’s, like Magma and Gong.

    So, while I cannot dispute your values — as they are subjective — I can dispute the facts to which you appeal in expressing them. Perhaps, however, these are not the reasons for your dislike of Rock music, but rather something else? In an earlier iteration there was a lot more on sex, and I got the sense that a certain prudishness or chasteness might be be involved, but as you dropped most of that here, with the exception of the little bit at the end, I’m not sure about that either.

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  8. > “We talked privately about your allegations regarding continental Europe’s resistance to Rock — which, in the essay, you limited solely to France — and I was extremely skeptical and remain so.”

    Well, you’re right to be skeptical, but extremely skeptical is perhaps a bit too much.
    If you drive your car from, say, Amsterdam to Paris and then to the south of France and Italy, there are noticeable changes, and yes, less rock on the car stereo. One of the great joys of a holiday in Italy in the 1980s and 1990s was that you were immersed in a popular music culture that was totally un-anglo-saxon.
    Or to give another example: in 2013 the French accordionist André Verchuren died. He sold more than 70 million (!) records in his lifetime but he was almost unknown outside of France (and, perhaps, some areas in Belgium).

    BTW: You forgot Can in your list of German bands of the 1960s and 1970s. Not really a connoisseur, are you? 🙂

    Like

  9. couvent2104

    Thanks for your contributions on this. What you say certainly chimes with my (limited) experience and perceptions.

    “French, Belgian, Italian etc. rock is almost always *wrong* somewhere, not really rock, but precisely because it’s wrong it *works*.”

    Well, the first part I agree with! That “multi-sound” organ, for instance.

    You referenced an accordionist – very French (and Italian). There’s a lot to say also about Serge Gainsbourg. For example that song he wrote for France Gall, ‘Poupée de cire, poupée de son’, was – interesting…

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  10. Gong is one of the great psychedelic jam bands. I don’t see what’s “wrong” with them or in what sense they aren’t “rock.”

    Part of the problem here is that Rock is never defined or even characterized. At one point, you even seem to contrast Rock with Pop, as if Rock can’t be Pop.

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  11. ejwinner, thanks.

    “There seems some ambivalence and ambiguity to your article here.”

    I hope so.

    “The first half of it crescendos with the controversial suggestion that rock is antithetical to the western musical tradition; but by the end you seem to saying that it is yet another occurrence of certain folk music forms, only adding “a conscious rejection of tradition.” ”

    I’m not backing away from that “controversial suggestion”: the conscious rejection of tradition is a factor, but the music itself has always struck me as being just so far from the old classical tradition that we might as well say that the continuity is broken. “Antithetical” seems like a good Hegelian word and not inappropriate.

    “You’re also trying to balance two problematic issues – how any music is learned generally, and the historic contingency of any particular form of music – which are clearly entangled but which relationship becomes itself problematic if mobilized as commentary on any particular form of music. I think most people remain bound to the music that first left a lasting impact on them – but what is the nature of that impact? I think you gave a good sketch of your own experience. However, it’s not necessarily generalizable.”

    Temperament/personality type comes into it as well as environmental influences.

    “Because of the historic configurations that brought rock into being and at last led to its domination of popular musics (at least until the digital era, which began to reveal, just by the way, its exhaustion into endless re-iterations), rock is problematic in ways not applicable to musics that came before it. For one thing its existence depends on electricity and a certain technology; also, its transmittal relies on recordings the clarity of which was impossible before the late ’50s.”

    It is different in lots of ways.

    “On the consumer’s side, rock provided enjoyment to a generation of adolescents who enjoyed the greatest excess wealth (for their age-group) in human history, while openly appealing, in part, to their sexual yearnings (which parents had always insisted didn’t/shouldn’t exist).”

    What? Where is this coming from? Sex was *always* there – and acknowledged I would have thought. It didn’t need rock.

    “… it was the production of musicians who were themselves adolescent.”

    I suppose the difference is the division of labor: pre-rock and roll, the singers were often very young but there were professional song writers, professional musicians, etc. who weren’t. The music was created (and published) separately. It existed in its own right, apart from particular performers. People like Johnny Mercer reinvented themselves for a number of generations, but this tradition was gradually sidelined and died. Many of those old songs survive and are reinterpreted, but that tradition of songwriting is as dead as the classical symphony.

    “There are both good reasons and bad reasons for rejecting tradition. Tradition gives us our legacy, our sense of historical belonging. On the other hand, it can stifle creativity and innovation, our sense of possession of the future.”

    There’s far too much talk about ‘creativity’ in my opinion. Sure, most of us need to express ourselves in certain ways in order to feel good or feel ‘fulfilled’ but those Romantic myths you allude to have screwed up too many lives as far as I am concerned. I’ve seen it time and time again. I was even a victim myself at one stage. I was once a big fan of his but I’ve come to believe that P.B. Shelley had it all wrong.

    “However there are reasons for rejecting tradition that, in the culture of modernity, are inevitable – indeed, form a part of our cultural tradition.”

    Rejecting tradition is part of our tradition – I see this. But once the rejecting has been going on for a certain length of time, there simply isn’t much left to reject.

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  12. I am so fascinated by the development of rock and its history in my own country, that initially I did not think of its impact in other countries. In fact, rock has had a liberating influence in many countries, especially in Eastern Europe and Asia.

    The shining example of this is rock’s impact in the former Czechoslovakia. During the doomed ‘Prague Spring’ of 1968, a band formed around shared interest in American underground rock, primarily that of Frank Zappa and of the Velvet Underground, the Plastic People of the Universe. Harassed by the police through-out the next two decades, the band was once arrested en masse, leading to the formation of a defense fund, which in turn led to the formation of a dissident party, known as Charter 77, whose founding members included future Czech president Václav Havel. Charter 77 was the main organizing force behind the events of November 1989, which saw the end of the Communist regime there. Havel continued to speak warmly of the Plastic People, and of the influence of the Velvet Underground long after the November revolution. “called the ‘Velvet Revolution’, partly because it was peaceful – the clenched fist wearing the velvet glove- but also because the band that unwittingly lit the fuse, the Plastic People, were heavily influenced by the Velvet Underground.” – Ed Vulliamy, “1989 1nd all that: Plastic People of the Universe and the Velvet Revolution;” the Guardian UK, 2009 ( https://www.theguardian.com/music/2009/sep/06/plastic-people-velvet-revolution-1989 )

    As both a big fan of the Velvet Underground, and committed anti-totalitarian, I never think back on this moment without getting dewy eyed, without thinking that some things just came together right in that time and place, and that American Rock had been a part of it (whatever the problems of its history here in the US).

    But here are the Plastic People, circa 1968, playing a song by the Velvet Underground (and notice the groovy dancing! Far-out, man!):

    Liked by 1 person

  13. “Gong is one of the great psychedelic jam bands. I don’t see what’s “wrong” with them or in what sense they aren’t “rock.” ”

    But was it French? It may have had some French members but it was founded by Melbourne-born Christopher David Allen and his partner Gilli Smyth (who was English). They were only in Paris at that time because Allen had been refused re-entry to the UK (where he had been active as a musician) because of visa problems.

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  14. Some amazing continental European Rock, from past to present:

    Gong (France), “Master Builder”

    Solaris (Hungary), “Martian Chronicles”

    Can (Germany), “Vernal Equinox”

    Amon Duul II (Germany), “Surrounded by Stars”

    Air (France), “Mer du Japon”

    And for a continent that allegedly is “resistant” to Rock music, they have an awful lot of huge Rock festivals. I bet Rock AM Ring draws a larger audience in one festival than a year’s worth of symphony audiences.

    Like

  15. Mark,
    “‘while openly appealing, in part, to their sexual yearnings (which parents had always insisted didn’t/shouldn’t exist).’
    What? Where is this coming from? Sex was *always* there – and acknowledged I would have thought. It didn’t need rock.”

    Apparently you’re unfamiliar with American culture (outside of NYC and LA) in the 1950s. Why do you think Elvis’ hips got banned from TV? Yeah, in the US the Victorian neutered ideal of ‘innocent youth’ remained a common myth ’till the early 60s – I suppose one might say that few actually believed in it , but everyone was supposed to. Did it need rock to be debunked? No, but rock was a cultural catalyst (in this as well as in many other areas of experience)..

    (BTW, I note that the youtube source reveals I misdated the Plastic People clip, my bad.)

    Like

  16. seth

    You certainly have wider tastes than me but some of the names you mention I relate to also. (I am also a bit embarrassed about some things I liked (or thought I liked!) when I was a teenager.)

    “So for me music has been about discovering new stuff (usually going backwards in time to do so). I really enjoy being able to hear something I couldn’t hear before.”

    This I can relate to to some extent, but we are different in that I have a lower tolerance for things I don’t initially like. I ask myself: why suffer on the off chance that I might suddenly get it? There’s still lots of stuff I would instantly like out there which I haven’t heard. So I look for that. In other words, for me it’s not about self-education or self-improvement or exploring new forms, it’s just about enjoyment. (Whereas exploring new forms is part of the pleasure for you, I expect.)

    Like

  17. Dan

    “In a way, it almost feels like your response to my “Middle Aged Punk” essay, and I’m hoping that some of our other contributors will follow up on your piece with their own personal music histories and tastes.”

    Your essay was in the back of my mind.

    “In fact, it’s gotten my own creative juices going, and I feel essays coming on Metal and yes, your favorite, Hip Hop. Might do one on Post Punk too, which currently is my favorite genre.”

    I suggest you wait a day or two. The urge may pass. 🙂

    “One of the things that struck me as somewhat weak, however, is that we are never really told what it is about Rock that you dislike so much…”

    I have the feeling you want to dig deeper into my psyche than I am willing to go. Or do you see something political there perhaps? I have been trying to sidestep the political angle but with Winner around you just can’t do it. 🙂

    “… and when you do mention specific things, they don’t seem like good candidates. There is the point regarding rebellion against tradition, but unless one is told why exactly that need be a bad thing, it doesn’t explain much.”

    It *needn’t* be a bad thing. Then again, it needn’t be a good thing.

    “There is also the point regarding the discontinuity you perceive in Rock, vis a vis classical music, but again, unless one was given some account of why this is bad, it doesn’t explain your negative perception.”

    Discontinuity is bad if you identify with what went before.

    “It is also strange, given that there are any number of people — myself included — who have no difficulty whatsoever enjoying *both* Rock *and* classical music.”

    Yes, this is interesting. I always feel a sense of tension between the forms. Cognitive dissonance. You seem to be challenging me on this – as if I am ‘wrong’. But I am just reporting what I feel.

    “We talked privately about your allegations regarding continental Europe’s resistance to Rock — which, in the essay, you limited solely to France — and I was extremely skeptical and remain so. Certainly such a claim would be hard to sustain with respect to Germany, which, in the 70’s, served up bands that would be foundational to entire subsequent genres — I am thinking, specifically, of krautrock, as well as the electronica of bands like Kraftwerk and the effect that they had on everything from post-punk to New Wave to even Hip Hop (one of the pioneers of Hip-Hop, Afrika Bambaattaa, explicitly cites Kraftwerk as an influence). But even France supplied significant — and contrary to what you indicate, highly original — bands in the 60’s and 70’s, like Magma and Gong.”

    I’m sticking to my guns on this. I never mentioned Germany specifically: my point was about French culture and I *think* it can be broadened to include at least some other European musical cultures. Magma is an interesting phenomenon, but note that Vander used a constructed language (with a Germanic/Slavic flavor) rather than French. This just underscores my point really. As does the fact that the founders of Gong were Australian and English.

    “… Perhaps, however, these are not the reasons for your dislike of Rock music, but rather something else?…”

    You are alluding, I think, to the broader culture of rock (sex, drugs, etc.). I readily admit to having both contrarian and conservative tendencies. I also tend to like peace and quiet. Not into drugs. Alcohol just makes me feel bad. Sex I’m quite positive about however.

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  18. Hi Mark (and all), It’s hard for me to agree that musical tastes are contingent, though obviously most people will have more experiences and so associations with music that is popular during the time period they are alive (especially growing up) unless they really work at it.

    I’m not a audiophile, from a family that was generally the same. Much of what I heard played at home (if anything) was Judy Collins, John Denver, and Anne Murray. So I didn’t have much exposure to any music scene until I was 16 or 17. Like EJ, Jethro Tull’s Aqualung was one of the first full rock albums that caught my attention, followed by several Pink Floyd albums. It was only in college where I had a roommate who was an extreme audiophile that I got any real exposure and sense of “what I like”. Since then I have found I like music from basically all time periods, though not all genres.

    My most liked styles are baroque, blues, classic rock and some prog rock. My least liked are pop-country, jazz, and modern religious music. But as discussed in the punk rock thread, I listen to punk and if not my “most liked” style many punk songs are heavily influential and important to me. That would also be true for things like hip-hop, heavy metal, and some country-rock. I guess I should add pop, but it is hard for me to get a handle on what separates pop from rock (especially these days).

    Despite being totally detached from the rock scene during most of my youth, I was attracted to the “sex, drugs and rock’n’roll” vibe once I did start listening. That’s probably because rock spoke to a sense of freedom, or at least exploration, more explicitly than other genres. While my only drug was alcohol, I explored it pretty well and sex was definitely my fave of the three. If I bring up the supreme triumvirate nowadays, it is mainly to summon a general sense of freedom and exploration. As it turns out sex and drugs have largely gone back into the social stigmatized category, even if rock is commonplace, so the phrase still works.

    My girlfriend is even odder. Her fave music is baroque, some classical, and death metal (the kind where people grumble all their lines). I have the hardest time getting her to listen to anything else. Most rock she hates. And yet… she’s a musician. She plays violin, including in a band, though that is a very regional kind of folk music (polish touristic). I’m not sure if she’d put that as a favorite genre of hers but she does like it, and obviously she is very attached to the music she made within it. I’m not sure how to connect her to any musical influences or cultural themes.

    Perhaps we are the exceptions that prove a rule?

    On your not listening to songs more than once before deciding if you like them… I’ve found I have to give most songs more than one listen to figure out whether I like them. The newness of any song, plus the chance mood I might be in that conflicts with its tone, almost always works against my liking a song straightaway. One time it took three runs through an album I first thought was a waste to find out a really really liked it. Then again… Who’s Next I loved on first listen and is still one of my favorites.

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  19. Hi Dan, thanks for the links. Gong and Can remind me of Goblin mixed with King Crimson. Goblin was an Italian band from the 70s that got famous doing scores for movies. Here’s a link to one of their songs…

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  20. “Resistance” is too strong, I think.
    What I wanted to say is that there existed strong local popular music cultures in Italy and France that were for a long time far more dominant than rock (and perhaps they still are in Italy). For Mark, this observation may have been some sort of value judgement, but it isn’t for me.

    And I stand by my remark about Barthes. Just listen to André Brasseur and then to Booker T. & the MG’s; Green Onions, Time is Tight. All three from roughly the same period, there’s that organ etc. Listen carefully to the rhythm guitar on the Brasseur record. I can’t describe it, but there’s definitely something wrong with it. It’s almost a parody of a rock rhythm to my ears. But exactly because it’s so weird and self-concious, it’s great.

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  21. I would say for the music that has lasting appeal for me it takes me at least 3 listens to the album or song before I really begin to appreciate it in any depth. Usually 5 before I feel like I am fully appreciating it. Often for me, the more immediate my resonance is with a piece the less lasting is pleasure I get from it.

    This isn’t always true and it’s not something I can predict. For example, I’m a Stan Getz fan yet despite high critical praise and many listens I never found his album with strings ‘Focus’ to my liking. So I do admit to some rigidity in personal taste, but I think our tastes can be much more fluid than we might think if we are really interested in broadening them. I certainly understand not wanting to work at something that is perceived as a pleasure outlet, I am just relating that for me a little work often opens up lasting pleasures I wouldn’t have otherwise experienced.

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  22. I have several different theories about music.
    The first theory says that there’s good music and bad music.
    It’s not a very interesting theory.
    But my second theory says that there’s good good music, bad good music, bad bad music and good bad music.
    I like my second theory.
    Good good music – an example is Shaft (Isaac Hayes).
    Bad bad music – tons of examples among Eurotrash disco.
    But the most interesting categories are bad good music and good bad music.
    The Doors is the best example of bad good music. Many of its songs have every property of a good song: variation, imagination, a good melody, a nice groove, you name it. I can’t say anything negative about The Doors. But I simply can’t stand that band. I don’t know why. The Eagles is another example. Now that I think about it: my collection is full of good music that turned out to be bad good music.
    Good bad music is very interesting too, because you don’t understand what’s happening. You’re very aware that you shouldn’t like it – but it’s irresistible. Your intellect and your taste are powerless. It does something that only music can do.

    An example of good bad music is this. A superb song about ice cream.

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  23. > I’m trying — and failing — to wrap my mind around the idea of a person hating the Doors and liking this nightmare of a pop song that you posted.

    I’m not good at explaining things. I can only give examples. Right now, I’m listening to the Requiem Missa Mi-Mi (Ockeghem) by the Hilliard Ensemble, and I perfectly understand why somebody thinks The Doors is great and Banana Split is a nightmare of a pop song (the original is from someone called Lio. There’s a video on YouTube. Make sure there’s nobody else in the room when you’re watching it. The late 1970s were different times).

    I don’t want to say that the appreciation of music is subjective. That’s banal and trivial. But I think that Marks analysis is, implicitly or explicitly, on the level of my first theory: there’s good and bad music. It’s the cerebral level, the level we analyze and rationalize in all its subjectivity: taste, education, local culture, background, the link with rebellion, commercialization, youth culture, sex etc. On that level, I find Banana Split a nightmare. It’s bad music.

    But by its very nature there’s something in music that transcends any description or analysis in my first theory. I’m not talking about that trivial moment when you realize that what’s bad according to your taste might be good according to somebody else. I’m talking about that moment when you realize that YOU find a song that you despise, irresistible. It’s the moment you discover there’s something like good bad music. Banana Split might be an extreme example – I didn’t post it by accident – but I personally think that somebody who has never discovered good bad music, is not a music lover. He or she loves good music, but not music.

    OK. Now this. Avoid conversations about The Doors when I’m around. Don’t get me started on The Doors. Just don’t do it.

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  24. Hi EJ, I forgot to say that was interesting info about VU’s connection to Czechoslovakia. I had no idea. And I like VU a lot.

    ……….

    Hi Couvent, I’m going to second Dan’s confusion at disliking the Doors and somehow liking that Banana Split thing. Was it a mistaken link? If you meant the Banana Splits I might have, sort of, understood.

    (Should note I think the Eagles are good too… though never sure if they fall under rock or country-rock)

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  25. couvent

    “‘Resistance’ is too strong, I think.
    What I wanted to say is that there existed strong local popular music cultures in Italy and France that were for a long time far more dominant than rock (and perhaps they still are in Italy). For Mark, this observation may have been some sort of value judgement, but it isn’t for me.”

    I admit that value judgments are involved in what I am saying. I value regional cultural (and linguistic) diversity and think that the world is a poorer, less interesting place if everywhere you go you get a more and more similar cultural mix. This is what’s happening. It’s a pity, I think, but I fully realize that you can’t turn the clock back. (The process has always occurred, of course: certain cultures overriding others. But never before has a dominant culture (or cultural mix) been so successful on a global scale.)

    And then there are value judgments about music. These are more contentious. I’ve stated my musical preferences in general terms but I’m certainly not going to push them. Part of the problem is that most of us (me included!) are convinced that our own powers of ‘aesthetic judgment’ are unusually acute. (I would want to make a distinction – though not an absolute one – between connoisseurship within a particular tradition and broader judgments and reactions.)

    Something like your good good, good bad, etc. categories may be needed. Or just an acknowledgement that some forms of music that we recognize as complex and interesting may just not appeal to us. Likewise, some obviously bad music might break through our (inevitably flimsy) intellectual defenses from time to time.

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  26. dbholmes

    Not sure how you are understanding ‘contingent’. I am using it in two ways I think: there is a sense in which particular cultural elements are contingent on the accidents of history over the longer term (and so in a sense are not ‘necessary’); and in relation to individuals, what we like is contingent on genetic and environmental influences. Part of this involves personality type: e.g. how open one is to new experiences, how easily one is bored, etc..

    You talk about your particular history and then your friend’s… “Her fave music is baroque, some classical, and death metal (the kind where people grumble all their lines). I have the hardest time getting her to listen to anything else. Most rock she hates. And yet… she’s a musician. She plays violin, including in a band, though that is a very regional kind of folk music (polish touristic). I’m not sure if she’d put that as a favorite genre of hers but she does like it, and obviously she is very attached to the music she made within it. I’m not sure how to connect her to any musical influences or cultural themes.”

    I’m not sure my claims would clash with anything you report about you or your friend’s musical tastes. I think my musical personality would probably match hers more closely than yours in terms of openness (or non-openness), and maybe also in terms of an attachment to European musical traditions. I would be interested in how she relates death metal to these more traditional forms. Is there a tension, a sense of cognitive dissonance or do they live in altogether different places in her brain?

    I suspect the latter is more common (as with Dan?). This is my suggested explanation: people like me focus their judgments on the category ‘music’ whereas others (more realistically perhaps) focus their judgments on subordinate categories which they conceptualize as almost independent from one another.

    The main language processing regions of the brain are in the left hemisphere but my understanding is that, though we all use parts of the right hemisphere – ‘musical’ regions – for speaking, for speakers of tone languages (like Mandarin) these musical regions are incorporated into the grammatical core (because tonal elements are phonologically significant). *In other words, the brain doesn’t care much about the music/nonmusic distinction.* Maybe death metal isn’t music for your friend in the way her other music is music. Maybe it’s ‘therapy’ or something like that for her.

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  27. I enjoy reading your work, Mark. Thanks for posting this.

    Why people like or dislike certain types of music is an interesting psychological question.

    Some suggestions by Mark: “Temperament/personality type comes into it as well as environmental influences.”
    Mark on rock music: “Somehow it just doesn’t express my kind of personality.”
    Daniel: “One of the things that struck me as somewhat weak, however, is that we are never really told what it is about Rock that you dislike so much, and when you do mention specific things, they don’t seem like good candidates.”

    Musical taste is a tough question to get specific about, but I would love to hear more specific thoughts on the matter. I also enjoy the old “Is the music of Pierre Boulez better than the music of The Backstreet Boys?” question.

    Part of the reason Boulez has been my favorite composer the last few years is the complexity of his music. The music of great classical and contemporary composers shares certain qualities besides complexity, like richness of expression, beauty, profundity, etc. What attracts me to these qualities in music attracts me to philosophy, though usually without the beauty part. It’s tough getting specific about one’s own taste in music, let alone an entire social group’s taste. What made hip hop music one of the most popular forms of music in the world today? Sure, sex and rebellion is part of it, but there’s a lot more I would like to learn about.

    Mark: “I have the feeling you want to dig deeper into my psyche than I am willing to go.”

    I have enjoyed reading the expressions of your psyche, keep up the good writing Mark!

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  28. dbholmes

    Just thought I’d mention my reaction to the Goblin piece you posted. I’m not aware of having heard it (or them) before and I don’t think I’ve seen any of the films they wrote soundtracks for, but I’m quite comfortable with this piece: it even sounds familiar. If I haven’t heard it, I’ve heard a lot of stuff like it. It certainly doesn’t elicit a *negative* reaction. Nor does a lot of more standard rock music but I’m very picky and have never been able to find a satisfactory label or labels which bring together the songs I like.

    I gravitate to keyboard music, especially solo keyboard (e.g. J. S. Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, and his English Suites, French Suites, Goldberg Variations etc. Also – speaking of Italian music – Domenico Scarlatti.)

    I think my familiarity with organ music creates a special link with much pop and rock in which various kinds of organ played such a prominent role.

    Many film scores I love also. Few can stand alone, however. (And why should they?)

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  29. Franz

    Thanks very much.

    “Musical taste is a tough question to get specific about, but I would love to hear more specific thoughts on the matter. I also enjoy the old “Is the music of Pierre Boulez better than the music of The Backstreet Boys?” question.”

    My recent reply to dbholmes will give you a clearer idea of what I like. I haven’t really come to terms with avant garde classical. Most of it I don’t like. May have another look at Boulez. On the “better than” question, are apples better than potatoes? As I suggested in a previous comment (to dbholmes) I think part of the problem is that we have this category “music”. Maybe it’s better not to make judgments at this level.

    “Part of the reason Boulez has been my favorite composer the last few years is the complexity of his music.”

    Yes complexity tends to make things interesting, and interesting for longer. But, in artistic contexts, *simplicity* can also be appealing.

    “The music of great classical and contemporary composers shares certain qualities besides complexity, like richness of expression, beauty, profundity, etc.”

    I have a bit of trouble here. ‘Beauty’ seems to beg the question. And profundity. What is it? There is always an implicit aesthetic philosophy (and even metaphysic?) behind our use of these words, I suspect. I often have trouble with the way the term ‘profundity’ is applied.

    “What attracts me to these qualities in music attracts me to philosophy, though usually without the beauty part.”

    Yes indeed! Though sometimes there is beauty in clarity and directness.

    “It’s tough getting specific about one’s own taste in music, let alone an entire social group’s taste. What made hip hop music one of the most popular forms of music in the world today? Sure, sex and rebellion is part of it, but there’s a lot more I would like to learn about.”

    My curiosity has certain limits. 🙂

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  30. One of the things I love about music is that I don’t have to ‘learn about it’ to cultivate a capacity to thoroughly enjoy it. Sure, there is a lot of heady theory involved in some of the forms of music I enjoy. If I knew the theory my enjoyment might take on a different character, but on the other hand it seems to me that sometimes people have trouble trouble letting go of the abstaction ( & that is what I think a theory is ) to experience a performance on it’s own terms which for a musical performance can be termless. I don’t feel the need to understand the pleasure I get from my ongoing listening process with a theory.

    If I were to try in a term to classify what makes me like or dislike a musical performance I would probably say it’s authenticity. Does it feel like I’m experiencing a performance on the surface or does it allow me to experience something beyond the structure of the notes or the posturing of the performer/s. If I could easily put the experience it into words it wouldn’t be the type of experience I most enjoy.

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  31. “I have a bit of trouble here. ‘Beauty’ seems to beg the question. And profundity. What is it? There is always an implicit aesthetic philosophy (and even metaphysic?) behind our use of these words, I suspect. I often have trouble with the way the term ‘profundity’ is applied.”
    I agree with you, Mark. I knew I was writing sloppily here and glad you called me out on it. Again, why people like certain types of music is a very tricky question. But these are the qualities that come to my mind when trying to describe what I hear in great composers like Boulez: complexity, beauty, power, depth of expression. What attracts us to beauty? I guess there are biological, evolutionary, psychological, sociological, etc., partial explanations here. What is profundity in music? Richness of expression, running though the emotional gamut, sophisticated variations on themes (guess that’s complexity as well). Simplicity is often a beautiful quality of art, I just prefer my music to be complex or I get bored easily, even if something sounds pleasant initially.

    “This I can relate to to some extent, but we are different in that I have a lower tolerance for things I don’t initially like. I ask myself: why suffer on the off chance that I might suddenly get it?”
    “May have another look at Boulez”

    In that case, I suggest you don’t have another listen to Boulez. The music of most composers I love didn’t sound good the first few listens. I personally find music that’s challenging at first to be more rewarding after every listen (though this isn’t always the case). Catchy music often sounds nice at first then gets dull after every listen. I understand not everybody has the patience to go through the process of enjoying works of genius. Maybe this is analogous to someone picking up a philosophy book who hasn’t been exposed to it and after not “getting it” or “liking it” at first, concluding that they don’t like philosophy. “Like” is a strong word, “understand” or “appreciate” or “getting it” might be more apt here than concluding “I don’t like Boulez” after listening to five minutes of Répons.

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  32. Seth

    “I don’t feel the need to understand the pleasure I get from my ongoing listening process with a theory… If I could easily put the experience of it into words it wouldn’t be the type of experience I most enjoy.”

    I have been discussing these things with a friend who is more musically knowledgeable than I am and he was making a similar point.

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  33. Franz (and others)

    I think we are coming at this from slightly different angles. I am acutely aware that there is a vast body of unexplored (by me) musical territory out there, much of which would be potentially rewarding to follow up on.

    “Catchy music often sounds nice at first then gets dull after every listen.”

    I agree entirely. I’m not interested in catchy music but rather in music a) which is not obviously rubbishy or simplistic and b) which I at least half-appreciate already. After all, I’m not a complete novice, having had exposure to a wide range of musical styles (and in some cases quite heavy exposure).

    We will never get a broad consensus on what is good in music generally and even devotees of particular categories of music (however they might be defined) will disagree about particular pieces or artists.

    “I understand not everybody has the patience to go through the process of enjoying works of genius. Maybe this is analogous to someone picking up a philosophy book who hasn’t been exposed to it and after not “getting it” or “liking it” at first, concluding that they don’t like philosophy. “Like” is a strong word, “understand” or “appreciate” or “getting it” might be more apt here than concluding “I don’t like Boulez” after listening to five minutes of Répons.”

    With respect to myself, I would probably have a long way to go to appreciate Boulez. His teacher Messiaen would, I think, be more accessible to me. That’s where I would start anyway.

    The analogy with philosophy is interesting. I’m a bit wary of it for the very reason you mentioned in a previous comment: the beauty angle. Music operates on a different level from discursive writing. Like any art form, it may be intellectually demanding but its point and purpose is something quite other than intellectual understanding.

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  34. Hi Mark, sorry for the late reply. I got a bad head cold for the holidays 🙂

    I asked my gf about the differences between liking Baroque vs Metal. She didn’t think either played a different role (psychological or whatever). It’s all music. For death metal it is simply that she really likes the heavy rumbling sounds.

    I’d agree that musical styles are historically contingent. My main “problem” was with whether tastes were, especially when thought along the lines of imprinting, which to me means pretty heavy regulated (a specific time period of life). I have no problems thinking it is contingent on one’s predispositions (set by biology) and to some extent cultural influences. But I still think there is room for novelty and openness to something new. Just as I’ve also gone through periods of disliking (or at least no longer desiring) certain music.

    I don’t know much about how the brain processes music. I think Oliver Sacks was studying that in the last period of his life. It could be interesting to know how it relates to language (especially when comparing languages that are/are not tone dependent).

    We both like keyboard and string instruments. Harpsichord is preferable to piano and organ, though we both go to organ concerts at the famous Grote Kerk of Haarlem (just steps from our house). Bach is of course a favorite.

    If you liked that piece by Goblin I’d recommend trying more. The soundtrack to Suspiria is great as is the movie (if you like horror movies). During periods when I am writing (fiction) I tend to like soundtracks. Goblin and John Carpenter are very nice for that.

    Do you have an opinion on King Crimson? I learned about it as progressive/alternative, but after the stuff Dan linked to I’m wondering if it is simply mainland “European”.

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  35. dbholmes

    “I asked my gf about the differences between liking Baroque vs Metal. She didn’t think either played a different role (psychological or whatever). It’s all music. For death metal it is simply that she really likes the heavy rumbling sounds.”

    Damn! According to the view I have been forming she is supposed either to be putting these forms essentially in two quite different cerebral ‘boxes’ (rather than in a box labeled ‘music’); or she is supposed to feel – as I do – some sort of uneasiness or cognitive dissonance or friction between the two forms. On the face of it, her report disconfirms my theory. But my first reaction is to wonder whether perhaps they *are* stored quite separately but she – and we generally – don’t realize this and just *think* we think in terms of the standard linguistic categories like ‘music’. Alternatively maybe she does feel *a degree of* cognitive dissonance but you didn’t ask the right questions to get her to say so. 🙂

    “I’d agree that musical styles are historically contingent. My main “problem” was with whether tastes were, especially when thought along the lines of imprinting, which to me means pretty heavy regulated (a specific time period of life). I have no problems thinking it is contingent on one’s predispositions (set by biology) and to some extent cultural influences. But I still think there is room for novelty and openness to something new. Just as I’ve also gone through periods of disliking (or at least no longer desiring) certain music.”

    I didn’t mean to suggest that being exposed to musical input actually involved some kind of automatic imprinting as in the case of the geese. I put that in as a sort of rhetorical thing – to make people think maybe, just maybe, my liking for the style of music I grew up with (especially in adolescence) is not what I think it is.

    The food example (being a human example) is more directly applicable. We often deliberately cultivate what we term ‘acquired tastes’. There is freedom here.

    “I don’t know much about how the brain processes music. I think Oliver Sacks was studying that in the last period of his life. It could be interesting to know how it relates to language (especially when comparing languages that are/are not tone dependent).”

    I might look into this further.

    “Do you have an opinion on King Crimson? I learned about it as progressive/alternative, but after the stuff Dan linked to I’m wondering if it is simply mainland “European”.”

    What I know of King Crimson (admittedly very little) I find a bit pretentious and weak somehow. Robert Fripp was the main man. From Wikipedia: “At age 21, going back home from college [I think this was night school and he was doing A levels: not sure he actually went to university] late at night, Fripp tuned in to Radio Luxemburg where he heard the last moments of “A Day in the Life”. “Galvanized” by the experience, he went on to listen to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Béla Bartók’s string quartets, Antonín Dvořák’s New World Symphony, Are You Experienced and John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. Many years later, Fripp would recall that “although all the dialects are different, the voice was the same… I knew I couldn’t say no.”

    What a muddle!

    “If you liked that piece by Goblin I’d recommend trying more. The soundtrack to Suspiria is great as is the movie (if you like horror movies).”

    This sounds more promising. Thanks.

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  36. I’m sorry, Mark, but the whole “cognitive dissonance” thing is just a lot of nonsense. The fact that *you* find rock music “discontinuous with the Western music tradition” doesn’t mean others do. As a matter of fact, *many* rock musicians were influenced by classical music. Many were classically trained. An entire sub-genre of rock was devoted to their fusion. (I.e. Progressive Rock) Metal artists were especially influenced, and you can hear it in many of the dual-guitar harmonies that you’ll find in bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. There is even a sub-genre of metal referred to sometimes as “Baroque and roll.” That’s an awful lot of people suffering from “cognitive dissonance.”

    As for King Crimson, it is one of the most interesting, original bands in the history of rock and roll, and Fripp is a musical genius. Isn’t it interesting that I find nothing about the quoted passage a “muddle” at all? Perhaps it is *you* who might be muddled, rather than Fripp. 🙂

    This is not weak.

    This is not pretentious.

    And these were filmed at the *end* of a decades long career. If we had the video technology we have now back in the 70’s … oh, the amazing things you’d see and hear!

    And yes, Dwayne, King Crimson is firmly in the progressive rock camp. Indeed, “In the Court of the Crimson King” is widely thought of as the first, proper progressive rock album. Jimi Hendrix, after seeing it perform live, is reported as having called them “the best band in the world.”

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  37. Hi Mark, I’m definitely ok with an acquired tastes concept. Sometimes liking something takes some work. I often find that I like (and dislike) movies for reasons that people with less experience with movies have no concept of. And it seems this may be true when talking to people who have invested much more time in music, or wine, or food.

    I’m not sure of the cognitive dissonance thing, though I will agree that just because something is processed differently (or in different brain areas) doesn’t mean we would feel or notice such a thing.

    On King Crimson, they are very experimental and so I could agree that some works might come off pretentious or weak to any given person. There are some albums I didn’t like (“Lark’s Tongue in Aspic” comes to mind) . But that variation also means it is unlikely to hold for everything they’ve done.

    …………….

    Hi Dan, ohhhh Starless is definitely one of my favorite KC songs. I was surprised how good the concert version was… and a guy playing a ratchet thingy instead of some tape sound effects… nice.

    My favorite albums are “In the Court of the Crimson King”, “Islands”, and “Red”. On listening to Court I knew there was definitely something different going on. Though as I mentioned to Mark above sometimes experiments did not work for me, Lark’s Tongue seemed pretentious.

    “Jimi Hendrix, after seeing it perform live, is reported as having called them “the best band in the world.””

    I’d never heard that. Had he lived longer it would have been interesting if they’d have hooked up during one of the incarnations of King Crimson.

    I read that Kurt Cobain was influenced by them too.

    A band that reaches across generations of artists like that can’t be too weak.

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  38. Dan

    Your latest comment deals with two (as I see them) quite separate issues: the question of the relative compatibility of the classical tradition with rock and roll; and aesthetic judgments about particular artists.

    On the first point, I am more open to alternative perspectives than you seem to give me credit for. I was deliberately sending myself up in my latest reply to dbholmes (e.g. the bit about pushing to get the “right” answer).

    The main point I want to make is that there are genuinely interesting issues to discuss about how we categorize and conceptualize music (as well as how we judge it). These are open questions as far as I am concerned.

    “… as a matter of fact, *many* rock musicians were influenced by classical music. Many were classically trained.”

    And I said so in the essay!

    “As for King Crimson, it is one of the most interesting, original bands in the history of rock and roll, and Fripp is a musical genius.”

    This is moving into the area of aesthetic judgments. There are so many different styles out there. An old friend and housemate of mine (who had attended a cathedral school in the north of England and had been a chorister) hated standard American rock with the dominant guitars and so on and used to play a whole lot of Elvis Costello and Kid Creole and the Coconuts. (I listened to a bit of the latter to remind myself. Latin rhythms, very light. ‘Stool Pigeon’ seemed good.)

    On King Crimson, the psychedelic angle generally doesn’t appeal to me. Some of the lyrics put me off also (e.g. their song Moonchild). Another band that seems a bit like this are the Moody Blues. Nights in White Satin sounds okay to me, musically speaking, although a bit – overwrought? And there was an Ultravox song that impressed me once, but a lot of the time when I heard things and maybe liked them I didn’t know who the artists were. I like a couple of ELO songs. They were classically trained, but what they did in the three (?) songs I like seems to me to be basically rock with cellos and other strings coming in and giving a kind of rich texture to the music. (I think they dropped the cellos eventually.)

    I’m not all that keen on the pieces you put up, though I like some of the jazzy bits. I acknowledge that King Crimson were innovative and influential but you seem to want to go further (in calling Fripp a genius and so on).

    We all have our own personal tastes and favorites. What’s wrong with that?

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  39. Mark: There is nothing wrong with people liking different music, but the expressions you use to express your dislike often cross over into quasi-objective territory. Regardless of what you feel let’ say, about Black Sabbath, to describe them as “weak” would simply be wrong. And “pretentious” is cheap criticism — one could apply that term to almost anything. It is nothing more than a kind of sneer. In short, while aesthetic judgments are subjective, they are not completely subjective. There are, at least, any number of things to which certain aesthetic concepts *cannot* apply. (See Frank Sibley’s, “Aesthetic Concepts” for exactly how this all works out.)

    https://theelectricagora.com/2015/12/08/this-weeks-special-frank-sibleys-aesthetic-concepts/

    “Muddle” as applied to Robert Fripp’s thinking is also rather much. Whatever I may think of him, he has forgotten more about music than I will ever know, and my inclination with respect to such figures is always one of implicit respect, whether I like the music or not.

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  40. Dwayne: It is in the nature of experimental music that some of the experiments won’t work. What you say of Crimson is also true of, say, Zappa. However, it seems to me that to hold this against the experimenter is to disincentivize experimentation in music, which we should never do.

    The Lark’s Tongue Period, which includes Lark’s Tongue in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, and Red, is Crimson’s most fertile period. One thing you have to understand is that the “songs” on these albums are actually captures of extended jams and really are only properly experienced live. A song like “Fractured” is only a shadow of itself on record. If you pick up the 4 cd box set, “The Great Deceiver,” which consists of nothing but live shows from this period, with many versions of he same “song” you’ll truly realize how brilliant this period was.

    On a slightly different note, I am a big fan of Killing Joke, and the founder, Jaz Coleman, beyond fronting KJ, also writes classical music and conducts symphony orchestras. In an interview with him on one of the DVD’s I own, he talked about how much more difficult live rock performances are to classical ones, in part because the performers play in real time, as opposed to behind the beat, as led by the conductor. It’s a pretty fascinating discussion. I’ve always thought that many of the greatest classical composers, if the were around today, would be rock musicians.

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  41. Daniel: “I’ve always thought that many of the greatest classical composers, if the were around today, would be rock musicians.”

    By “classical” do you mean Baroque (1600-1750), Classical (1750-1820), and Romantic (1804-1910) composers? Would early Modernist composers like Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg be rock musicians today in this fantasy?

    Pretty cool interview here: Michel Foucault, Pierre Boulez, rock music mentioned!

    https://excerpter.wordpress.com/2005/12/24/michel-foucault-pierre-boulez-contemporary-music-and-the-public/

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