Monday, April 7, 2008

Sgt. Pepper: The Death of Rock'n'Roll

1967's Sgt. Pepper signifies the advent of the "rock intellectual" where rock is taken away from the people and given over to the elite "artistic institution". When rock becomes art, women are--as is always the case-- excluded. The "Early Beatles" are thus devalorized for speaking for and to largely women and girls, and fade into the background of the "Later Beatles" who are unwitting representatives of the male establishment.

In this moment, rock'n'roll ceases to be a rebellion.

*1/2: A Critique of Rock Criticism in North America
Kembrew McLeod
Popular Music, Vol. 20, No. 1. (Jane., 2001), pp. 47-60.

“Sergeant Pepper was released at a time when the “ideology of rock” was being codified by a new generation of writers who were legitimating “their” music in terms of an aesthetic tradition into which they had been educated’, Negus (1996 p. 154) writes, ‘Crucial to the meditation of Sergeant Pepper were the opinions of a new occupational group, the professional rock journalists.’ (Negus 1996, pp. 154-5)”

“For most rock critics, then…the issue in the end isn’t so much representing music to the public…as creating a knowing community, orchestrating a collusion between selected musicians and an equally select part of the public—select in its superiority of the ordinary undiscriminating pop consumer” (Simon Frith, 50)


In his article in Social Text (1984), Rock and the Politics of Memory, celebrated musicologist Simon Frith writes as a "typical rock critic" who often proclaim that after Sgt. Pepper, “pop had a new purpose: to make out of pleasure a politics of optimism, to turn passive consumption into an active culture” (60).

This is, of course, a gendered distinction, and a perfect example of how history is rewritten subtly with a masculine bias. Why, before Sgt. Pepper, it would be quite accurate to call Beatlemania a "culture", and after all, did the elite art connoisseurs not purchase-- consume-- Beatles records? Can we justifiably call Beatlemania "passive", and so-called thoughtful (read: quiet, observant) listenership "active"?

The use of adjectives and verbs here is fairly arbitrary and can easily be imagined in the reverse order, yet it somehow rings true given pre-established gender biases and stereotypes. The words "passive" and "consumption" out of context do indeed connote "feminine", do they not? So there we have it. Women are eternally passive consumers, men are eternally active "culturists" -- no critical thinking required! So let us sound the horns! Ring the bells! Strike up the orchestra for Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is the greatest rock album of all time!

And thus-- women are erased. Ta-Da!

Frith adds sarcastically, “it was obvious that “A Day in the Life” mattered more than “She Loves You,” addressed issues other than teenage fun. Rock, in other words, described a more ambitious music than pop” (60).

Yet, “…American Beatlemania further suggested that it was precisely its vast popular appeal that made rock and urgent, relevant, political medium” (65).

No comments: