May 21, 2004



Jennifer Lena:

"Hornby allows this thing called “rock” (which is sometimes replaced by this other thing called “pop” because sometimes—all the time?—they’re redundant) to retain an essential core and corpus, despite the fact that he wants us to see how much change has gone on—from the mostly good rock of his youth (or late twenties—are they the same?) to the mostly “angry, weird, perverse, melancholy and world-weary” rock of today.

He’s got the “change” and “stasis” balls in the air because he can get us to accept that rock music reflects the essential qualities of youth: “energy,…wistful yearning,…inexplicable exhilaration,…sporadic sense of invincibility,…[and] hope that stings like chlorine.”

I can’t decide: is this Hornby’s life experience, or the one “Rolling Stone” told him he had? Moreover, even if this imagined emotional adolescence is experienced by some people, is it as universal as he suggests? (For that matter, has rock ever meant one thing to all people? Did the music of the “late 60’s and early 70’s” or the music of the “90s”?)

Moreover, even if there is/was a clique (of, I imagine, white suburban boys) who have this experience and rock music “articulated these feelings,” it is a dull student of popular culture who projects that association into the present. Rock music is not, and hasn’t been for some years, the genre of teen fans.

The RIAA reports that over the last ten years (and the trend is stronger over the last 30 years) rock music’s market share has shrunk from 35.1% in 1994 to 25.2% in 2003. Pop music’s not faring much better (despite the re-classification of much “R&B/Urban” and “Rap/Hip-Hop” into it’s ranks), dropping 1.4% during that same period. In contrast, rap sales have risen 5.4%. Moreover, over the last 30 years, rock music consumers skew significantly older—meaning, rock music consumers are older than they ever have been before.

So, rock music can’t do what Hornby wants because now-rock—or, really—now-pop is a different animal, and servicing a different public. To the extent that rock music sold itself as fuel for dis-comforting comfort, well, he really should like the “high-minded cult-rock” he buys, and thinks is great (because a lot of it gets bought by ex-pat rockers).

Hornby gives a new-ish solution to the old question: what happened to good ol’ rock-n-roll? He proscribes a middle-passage between high and low art. Strangely, this middle passage is “committed and authentic and intelligent, but that sets out to include, rather than exclude.” Well, if we’re comfortable universalizing the suburban male experience, why not? Let’s have it. The world needs to give Springsteen and James Taylor and Clapton more Grammys. But I insist—this does not require nerve, unless you’re talking about the nerve to make a copy of a copy of a copy. (Nor is it, I might add, committed, authentic, intelligent or universalizing, but I doubt I could convince him of that.)

Speaking of which, on this “digested/regurgitated” issue: Am I the only one who wonders if Hornby could derive the source for even 25% of the samples Public Enemy used in one song—let’s say “Night of the Living Baseheads?” If he can do that, I’ll concede this digestion point. Otherwise, he’s guilty of the sin of omission."

Posted by Sasha at May 21, 2004 06:47 PM | TrackBack