17 October 2007

Rhythm Method

"Many indie bands seemed to be having complex reactions
of their own to musical miscegenation. The indie genre
emerged in the early eighties . . . and originally incorporated
black sources, using them to produce a new music,
characterized by brevity and force, and released on
independent labels. . . . But by the mid-nineties black
influences had begun to recede, sometimes drastically, and
the term “indie rock” came implicitly to mean white rock."

This diagnosis from a recent essay "A Paler Shade of White" by Sasha Frere-Jones in The New Yorker sounds right to me. But is this simply an unfortunate by-product of technological change and social progress (and its dark side "political correctness"), as the author suggests? Perhaps the latter, but not in the way the author intimates. The essay ends like so:

"The uneasy, and sometimes inappropriate, borrowings and
imitations that set rock and roll in motion gave popular music
a heat and an intensity that can’t be duplicated today, and
the loss isn’t just musical; it’s also about risk. Rock and roll
was never a synonym for a polite handshake. If you’ve
forgotten where the term came from, look it up. There’s a
reason the lights were off."

Maybe the problem is that the sexual dimension to rock and roll to which the author refers so coyly here is out of bounds for social and political reasons. Remember that this is a country where glimpses of nipple send folks into paroxysms of anxiety and outrage. Try to play anything vaguely provocative on, say, a college radio station (forget now extinct 'independent' stations) these days. The Deans and the University Counsel have completely sanitized playlists. They are desperate to avoid legal exposure should someone, anyone, in the listening audience be "offended" and call the FCC. None of the hip-skaking, rhythm, insinuation, and so forth that Frere-Jones longs for are allowed. We live in an era where sexuality is repressed and politicians lay prostrate before to the most repressive inclinations in the population.



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