Frank Kogan (koganbot) wrote,
Frank Kogan

  • Music:

I wanna see the sun blotted out from the sky

A couple of posts last month by Sabina that I bookmarked and am only returning to now, hoping that she'll return to them as well:

Here's a thought, by the way

One effect of growing up with parents who didn't get rock

The question that leaps into my mind is why haven't Sabina's immigrant parents taken to rock? As she says, "access" isn't the only issue. Words like "generation" and "culture" don't work as explanations here: they're the very concepts that need explaining. Of course, I don't have a good explanation for why my (nonimmigrant) parents didn't take to rock (they being a generation older than Sabina's), and why most of their friends didn't either.

The Yardbirds, 1965

Did people such as Sabina's parents, in that first post-Mao generation, read, say, Hamlet, and Faulkner? I wouldn't be surprised if they did. I ask because I remember fantasizing making a film about a high school drama club, 1968, the real lives of the students as they were confronting everything from the specter of the draft to their own confused and fraught love lives; meanwhile, they're acting in a production of Hamlet, from which we see scenes. This fantasy didn't develop much further, except that the Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man" plays near the start (the need for action but no idea what to do), and "Paint It, Black" a little later on, as the various protagonists in the play and in life refuse to reconcile.

The Rolling Stones, 1966

Was reading Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!, a second run-through, for college, and whenever I picked up the book I'd put the Velvet Underground's "Sister Ray" on the record player, over and over, my sound of Quentin Compson trying to break out but turning in on himself in loathing.

The Velvet Underground, 1968

My point is that here are a couple of the many ways into hard rock, if someone wants to take them. But then, I can imagine my parents appreciating Hamlet, but I can't imagine them being him. And I can see the similarities between Mick Jagger's schematic wrong-end-of-the-telescope analyses of male-female relationships with my dad's hard-headed, persistent political analyses. But I can't imagine my dad wanting to blot the sun out of the sky, even in pretend. And my relationship with my parents wasn't good enough for me to ever explain to them where my dad might have some Jagger inside.

Modern equalitarian societies, however, whether democratic or authoritarian in their political forms, always base themselves on the claim that they are making life happier; the avowed function of the modern state, at least in its ultimate terms, is not only to regulate social relations, but also to determine the quality and the possibilities of human life in general. Happiness thus becomes the chief political issue — in a sense, the only political issue — and for that reason it can never be treated as an issue at all. If an American or a Russian is unhappy, it implies a certain reprobation of his society, and therefore, by a logic of which we can all recognize the necessity, it becomes an obligation of citizenship to be cheerful; if the authorities find it necessary, the citizen may even be compelled to make a public display of his cheerfulness on important occasions, just as he may be conscripted into the army in time of war.
--Robert Warshow, "The Gangster As Tragic Hero," 1948
Such optimism is the cradle for hard rock nihilism, for "Desolation Row" and "Heroin," for a sense that the very language of happiness and progress is corrupt, that the very feelings are suspect. Why wouldn't at least some Chinese intellectuals under Mao have felt the exact same way, if not even more virulently? What's the explanation for, after Mao, a three-decades time lag before a later generation is "ready" to understand hard rock and punk rock and its progeny? I'd think their parents would understand better.

But then, how you're treated in your family may make more of a difference in your temperament and your taste than how you're treated by the government. Anyway, I never thought that my fellow fans of Dylan and the Stones heard them in the way that I did, and I believed that if those fans had really understood them they'd have liked those acts less. But acts that go big mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. And there's so much in a record: you can like things in it that other people don't notice, meanwhile they're liking it for things that pass you by.

By the way, I'm guessing, though I don't know, that there was no such delay in Boney M and what I'm loosely calling Italodisco sweeping into post-Mao China — by "Italodisco" I mean the basic '80s international dance pop sound that I could find in San Francisco's Chinatown on three-for-a-dollar bootleg compilation cassettes out of Hong Kong and Singapore, including North American acts such as Lime and Tapps and Click and The Flirts.

Lime, 1981
Tags: alienation, rolling stones, velvet underground
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