Rock And Roll Killed Itself

Howie Klein has written an piece describing Joe Lieberman's attempts to kill rock and roll. I don't doubt it. Lieberman supports a war that's killing Iraqis and Americans for no reason. Why wouldn't he hesitate to "off" a form of music?  It seemed at the time that the "big beat" had withstood the onslaught.

Too bad then that, in the end, rock and roll killed itself.

Or, to put it more accurately, the "invisible hand" strangled rock and roll.

The "invisible hand" was Adam Smith's phrase for the force that drives individuals in a capitalist economy to serve larger economic interests, whether intentionally or not.  Wrote Smith, "... he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention."

In other words, rock and roll killed itself ... for money.  There was so much of it floating around that, like smack to a junkie, it was intoxicating and ultimately lethal.

It's hard to pinpoint the exact hour of its death, but it had to be somewhere between the rise of Hootie and the Blowfish, the mass marketing of "Ramones" t-shirts, and the use of Nick Drake's "Pink Moon" on that Volkswagen ad.

Howie's article crystallized the thoughts that had been floating around my head since I watched Performance again last week, after David Ehrenstein and I had a conversation about director Donald Cammell. It's hard to remember, children, but there was a time when the Rolling Stones actually mattered - culturally, socially, even politically.

Not to get all Camille Paglia about it, but they were even ... transgressive. Mick, in character as the gangster from a hallucinogenic nightmare, sang "Memo From Turner" in that film.  With Ry Cooder's burning slide guitar replacing Keith and the fallen angel Brian, the song had a powerful impact in its day, with the gangster's ethnic slurs ("you drowned that Jew in Rampton as he washed his sleeveless shirt") interwoven with Burroughs-esque sexual imagery ("babies eat their mothers' meat from tubes of Plasticon").

And now? The only performance that makes it ... that really makes it all the way ... is the one that achieves a cross-promotional tie-in between the Stones' Ameriquest ad and Ameriquest's sponsorship of their recent tour.

 That would be the same Ameriquest that was forced to return $325 million to its customers in overcharges, as prosecutors made special note of its predatory practices against low-income homeowners.  Specifically, Ameriquest encouraged poor people to over-extend themselves for mortgages they couldn't afford. Here's an example:

Maryland resident Mona Hutchinson, 43, said she and her husband, Irving, 55, lived in a D.C. row house with their four children when they were approached by an Ameriquest loan officer who told them they were at risk of foreclosure. They had fallen two months behind on their mortgage because Hutchinson, a bus driver, had gotten ill following a miscarriage, and her husband had been working fewer days at his construction job because of cold weather. The man was so nice, they invited him for dinner, and he refinanced their home. He reported their income was $50,000 a year, even though they made only $22,000 a year, so they would qualify, Hutchinson said in an interview.

Soon their mortgage payments rocketed from $427 a month to more than $900, with an adjustable-rate mortgage that gyrated from month to month. They went into bankruptcy and then foreclosure. They were sued by Ameriquest, which wanted to take possession of the home. The  Hutchinsons' marriage broke up under the stress and they have separated.

But then, "what can a poor boy do?" Too bad about all those customers, but that giant inflatable tongue doesn't pay for itself.

"Sir Mick," indeed.

There was a time the Stones were hardwired into the skulls of young guitar players and singers. Mick was their Left Brain and Keith was their Right. Mick was their Ego and Keith their Id (and Brian was their psyche during REM sleep). Now, those same guitar players have grown up and gotten high-paying jobs. Jagger and Richards? That must be their investment firm.

Oh, sure, some rockers still try. John Lydon rejected inclusion into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on behalf of the Sex Pistols. Good on ya, lads. The Hall of Fame is the symbol of the self-immolating tuxedo-flaunting vulgarity rock music has become. (Listen to Mojo Nixon's "Rock and Roll Hall of Lame" for further details.) 

Master John tries, and bravely, to keep the punk ethos alive in his hand-scrawled and studiously ungrammatical note:

"Next to the SEX PISTOLS rock and roll and that hall of fame is a piss stain. Your museum. Urine in wine. Were not coming. Were not your monkey and so what? Fame at $25,000 if we paid for a table, or $15,000 to squeak up in the gallery, goes to a non-profit organisation selling us a load of old famous. Congratulations. If you voted for us, hope you noted your reasons. Your anonymous as judges, but your still music industry people. Were not coming. Your not paying attention. Outside the sh*t-stem is a real SEX PISTOL"

 But really, John, there's not much point in trying. In a time when the Vice President tells a Senator to "go fuck himself" in the halls of Congress and the First Lady tells jokes about jerking off a horse, what can a rock and roller do to shock people anymore?

Mick Jagger went to the London School of Economics. I was supposed to take classes there, too, but the day I arrived I saw a line of William Blake's poetry scrawled across a wall: "The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction." Instead of completing my classes I went to see a girlfriend in Sweden. 

Back in my Berkeley days a local band called the Rubinoos had a song called "Rock and Roll Is Dead (And We Don't Care)." It was an outlandish thought at the time. But as Blake wrote, "What's now proved was once only imagined."

In the last act of its Byronic youth, rock and roll destroyed itself. Next time you watch the opulent 'pop stars' celebrate themselves at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, remember: they're feasting on its corpse.

A Night Light