an email exchange with ethnomusicologist chloe coventry about the republic of rock.
Sixties countercultural rock as a press-on decal, a cheap adhesive sticker in the shape of a peace sign, a fake tattoo. You can find it at the IASPM-US website, IASPM-US Interview Series: Michael J. Kramer, “The Republic of Rock: Music and Citizenship in the Sixties Counterculture.”
2 thoughts on “Interview at IASPM-US Blog”
please delete first one — i screwed it up and sub this one. thx
He’s back. Just a few things.
First re: your spotify list:
12. The Animals, “We Gotta Get Outta This Place”
MJK: a song about working class lovers, a British take on the Brill Building classic “Up on the Roof.”
“RB: “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” was written by those denizens of the Brill Building Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil
11. Jimi Hendrix, “All Along the Watchtower”
MJK: “Hendrix’s cover of this Bob Dylan composition took a cryptic whisper of a song and blasted off into the stratosphere.”
RB: I always found Hendrix’ version to be ironic as it represented the antithesis of what Dylan was trying to do with John Wesley Harding. Dylan is supposed to have said, “Turn that off” when he first heard Sgt. Pepper’s. He knew he neither could no did he want to compete with that so he pulled the plug on psychedelia and helped head us into Workingman’s Dead, American Beauty, Music From Big Pink, The Band, Sweetheart of the Rodeo (though I believe this was released shortly before JWH), Flying Burrito Brothers, the Byrds of Clarence White, etc.
Paul Nelson said of JWH in a contemporaneous review: “Dylan superimposes a vision of intellectual complexity onto the warm, inherent mysticism of Southern mountain music, rather like French directors who have taken American gangster movies and added to them layers of 20th-century philosophy. The effect is not unlike Jean-Paul Sartre playing the five-string banjo. The folk element gains Kafkaesque chimericality, and the philosophy a bedrock simplicity that leaves it all but invisible, and thus easy to assimilate.”
“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief
“There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth”
“No reason to get excited,” the thief, he kindly spoke
“There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late”
All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too
Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl
MJK: The lyrics are about a kind of imperial war of sorts too, told from the perspective of two “grunts” in the empire, unfortunate soldiers in the field, chatting, telling tales, shooting the breeze on the “bullshit band” (the unused radio frequencies that GIs would use as quasi-underground radio rock stations) as the elusive “enemy” lurks out in the darkness.
RB: I read the lyrics a bit differently and don’t really see any army, imperial or otherwise in this song, though I do feel its strong sense of dread but the source of that dread remains unclear. Much of the album involves a deeply felt reality of what was happening in and to America (war, division, loss of the archetypal king, death and more death, etc.) at that time (released December 1967).
Here’s Dylan’s likely inspiration for the watchtower:
Tower atop Skytop Cliff, from Eagle Cliff, Lake Mohonk Resort, New Paltz, New York
8. Sly and the Family Stone, “In Time”
MJK: “Featured as the climactic performer at Woodstock, Stone grappled with his own demons, but managed to show how those personal problems intersected with the larger challenges that hippies faced as they tried to make Woodstock Nation a reality, unsure if such a new configuration was possible or even a good idea.”
RB: Hendrix closed the festival.
I would have picked “Days That Used To Be” from Ragged Glory for Neil Young. But hey that’s me.
A few comments on the interview follow:
MJK: “I think there are certainly some important differences between the 1960s and now.”
RB: That is what you call an understatement. I believe, like Phil Ochs, however, when he said in 1973: “You know ever since John Kennedy was assassinated, this country has fallen apart.”
One needs to look into how policies changed and who benefited. (We know so much more now that we did then, thank god.) Therein lies the answer.
MJK: “What popular music can often do as it did with rock in the 1960s—and here I’m reminded of Barry Shank’s marvelous new book on “the political force of musical beauty” and countless other recent work by popular music studies scholars—is name the loneliness that neoliberalism insists (falsely!) must be the condition for participating in the contemporary world and, at the same time, amplify continual reminders, traces, and tracks that we exist in collective social formations.
RB: If, as a blurb for his book indicates, Barry Shank’s analysis of “a wide range of “beautiful music” within popular and avant-garde genres,” leads him to find “that when it fulfills the promise of combining sonic and lyrical differences into a cohesive whole, musical beauty has the power to reorganize the basis of social relations and produce communities that recognize meaningful difference, I have to believe he has little real understanding of the nature of that kind of beauty and what it represents.
RB: Understand that I live in a world where deconstructionism, post-modernism, neo-liberalism, and most other –isms don’t exist, I believe that John Cusack’s character (Rob) in High Fidelity nits the nail on the head on the matter of loneliness and rock.
Rob: What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?
MJK: “Picture it not as a stable sign, a permanent marker, a definitive gesture, but something more like a press-on decal, a cheap adhesive sticker in the shape of a peace sign, a fake tattoo. Those temporary things have a power too. They can make an imprint that lasts affectively and ideologically even if they get scratched off or fade away.”
RB: This may be true of Strawberry Alarm Clock and the Lemon Pipers but for musicians and poets like the Grateful Dead, Dylan, the Byrds, Neil Young, Buffalo Springfield, Jefferson Airplane, etc., it’s more like strapping yourself to a tree with roots.
Thought you might find the following interesting
double checked and Sweetheart came out after JWH