Ever since rock music began, there have been those out to destroy it. The history of rock n’ roll is littered with examples of so-called concerned parents, scared authorities, fire-breathing preachers and other self-appointed guardians of what the hell you can do with your life lining up to tell us that this is the devil’s music, that it rots the brain, that it undermines the fabric of decent society.
Those days have pretty much gone. To the extent that people get worked up about popular music’s dire influence, the worries have been transferred to rap and hip-hop. Former bad boys of the genre, like Mick Jagger, have been knighted. More recent versions have been co-opted in other ways, with, for instance, Noel Gallagher now doing Adidas ads. As veteran music journalist David Hepworth said on his Twitter feed after seeing the ad, “oh, my aching sides.” The issue has literally been relegated to museum status: if you visit the Rock n’ Roll Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, you can watch their video exhibition of footage of the history of protests against music, everything from Americans in the 60s smashing Beatles’ LPs, to ministers complaining about the way Elvis wiggled his hips, to Tipper Gore’s hilarious (and successful) appearances before Congress demanding warning labels on albums in regard to lyric content.
If you took my advice and watched the recent ABC screening of the BBC program Seven Ages of Rock, you might’ve picked up a passing comment in (from memory) episode four : “Kurt Cobain was the last rock star.” I think that’s probably right. Cobain not only embodied the sort of existential threat that rock stars of the past managed to convey, but his music also cut through to a significant audience of yoof so that it could credibly be claimed that he had influence. What’s more, I think he was also one of the few of a younger generation of musicians who would’ve got the tick of authenticity from the 60s generation, people of my age who tend think they are final arbiters of such matters.
So what better way to show the decline of rock-as-threat than the clip below? The generation of adults who lived in fear of music’s malign influence on their little darlings should be thrilled to note that it was not ultimately the banning or the warning labelling or the threats of eternal damnation or the LP smashing that pulled rock music’s sting but pure and simple co-optation. All the guardians of decency had to do was unleash the likes of Paul Anka on the back catalogue of the Stones or the Who or Black Sabbath and the gig would’ve been up.
Can you imagine anything less threatening than this (from 2006)?