Well, it’s gotta come – that feeling of…of…
Let me say, first of all, ‘rock’ ain’t rock and roll. R n r is originally blackspeak for sex – you know, the orthodox heterosexual kind when a man and woman get it together and they rock and they roll and they get the feeling real good.
Whereas Rock is a kind of philosophy of freedom which dates back to the French Encylopedists but probably finds its most recent and clearest ratiocination in the writings of Soren Kirkegaard (b. Denmark, 1813-55).
You’ve just got to look at this guy to know he would have been the ultimate rock star, with his big dreamy eyes, pouty lips and masses of quiffed-up hair. Really, he makes someone like Mick Jagger even in his prime look positively ursine. What’s more, after being reviled by the media, he died young! That boy was born to rock. But not to roll. Early doors, he gave up on love – and the love of his life – owing to a crisis of faith. The Copenhagen philosopher contained sheer inner angst no popstar of the last seventy years could possibly match – not even Elvis ‘The King’ Presley, in all honesty.
Referring to his beloved, the Danish heart-throb wrote in secret, ‘Everywhere, in the face of every girl, I see features of your beauty’ (Journals & Papers of Søren Kierkegaard, 11 August 1838), which could very well have been the inspiration behind Bell & Creed’s ‘You Are Everything’ (Avro, 13 May 1971) as performed by the Stylistics. ‘Today I saw somebody, Who looked just like you, She walked like you do, I thought it was you.’
As the daddy of modern existentialism and rock philosophy, Kirkegaard concerned himself greatly with ideas of ‘authenticity’. By this, he mostly meant being the person you can be (not necessarily ‘the best’ you – just the real you). Later, this translated into applying your energies to a cause you would be prepared either to live for entirely, or indeed die for. An oddly oxymoronic notion, I’ll grant.
Coming across a band, performer or music, you are looking for just this ‘authenticity’. Which means? Well, do they have sincerity in what they are playing or saying? Do they believe it? Or are they just approximating something they think they ought to be conveying? A thought. An attitude.
That’s the thing. It doesn’t matter if they can’t play their instruments like virtuosos, look like gods, hit all the high notes or wear the proper gear.
Do they mean it?
Do they convey it authentically?
Or is the act a sham? An ‘act’, in fact.
The problem here concerns rock n roll. On rock, we ought to be be on safer ground.
For a start, we know r n r is all about sex; so an r n r performer who does not convey this basic requirement is failing. That’s straightforward enough. Their performance is not authentic. They can of course save the whole issue by forgetting the roll and bringing forth something out of the ‘rock’ component, and if they do this then all is not lost. This, then, essentially means attitude. If they are not making you think about sex, then what are they making you think about? Of course, the passive partner in the entertainment – the observer, listener – may only want to lose all sense of feeling, so that a few hits of some chemicals followed by a series of head-banging chords, a soaring chorus or a carefully orchestrated dance routine is all that is required (maybe even without the chemicals, in some cases). To be fair, no authenticity at all is being required here, since what is being sought is pure knock-out escapism. But, if we are going to allow ourselves to rather grandly draw principles developed by first-rate thinkers of whatever century or nation into our calculus, then sheer entertainment is not what we are talking about. Remember, we are talking about life and death – about something to live for, something to die for – about being who you proclaim to be. Your very inner being projected to the outside.
‘Who Are You?’ as Peter Townshend asked.
Now, the other thing about authenticity is that the label attached to it may be altered.
Rock is about freedom. It is all about freedom. Nothing else. The first stirrings of freedom are that you are able to do and have thoughts not designated by somebody else. Your thinking is your own thinking, your actions similarly your own. That’s the first thing. That’s the initial element of rock – that it creates independence (however fleeting). If exposure to a rock performance of some kind doesn’t induce liberation in its audience then it has signally failed. End of. That is why simply being entertained and merely forgetting your everyday life for a short period does not count as freedom. That is just nullity. Freedom requires action of some kind, even if that action only refers to brainwaves.
Which pretty much brings us on to the point of this blog. Watching the old-timers who started out with an idea of liberating their audience, at least in part, you are always left with the impression of watching a bunch of guys going through the motions, no matter how much they or their audience are apparently enjoying themselves, and not unnaturally after all these years. You shouldn’t really expect a whole lot that’s new. Although, it would be great if that still occurred. Simply going over the same ground over and over again is not really particularly satisfying to those who really do constantly seek liberation. You can be lulled. You can be annulled. But you cannot have it all. You cannot be free and safe at the same time. Not here.