Get off my lawn because Rock is Dead
I bought my first three records in 1977 and due to the genius of the medium, spent a lot of time pondering the album art. ‘Art’ is the correct term here, though the designs were intended to be mass-produced, to break the confines of institutional settings such as a museum or gallery. However, there is nothing about any proper work of art, such as a Picasso or Rembrandt, that would make it unsuitable to be reproduced in this way, as album art, nor is there anything about the nature of album art that demands that it conform to any of the formal, aesthetic, or theoretic demands of the art world, the museum, or the gallery. Specific album art can be said to be ‘bad’ or a failure of some sort, but it never really is- by virtue of existing it creates meaning about itself, and thus succeeds in its function of providing visual clues to the larger enterprise that is being presented. One of the albums I purchased (Fleetwood Mac) featured on its cover an enigmatic ensemble, a man with high boots and a cane nearly in silhouette drinking what might be a flute of champagne with a flourish. A man beside him noticeably impersonates a midget, while juggling a mysterious ball, (or the ball is hovering above him while he makes some strange gesture), the both of them framed by a door that is unfixed to any wall, but remains a portal nonetheless. Although I am about to offer an interpretation of what this might mean, the mysteriousness of the image (its cheesiness notwithstanding, and in harmony with the times), the deliberate evocation of mystery that it presented made it the perfect object of study while one listened to the songs as they played on one’s phonograph. It was a head-scratcher, as was all the best album art, but really, as I intend to argue, thus it was without nearly trying, though here and elsewhere are examples of trying very hard indeed. That is, any image associated with a rock band invites interpretive contemplation, regardless of what the image actually is, by its very nature of being attached to something larger than itself. Of course in the end everything is attached to everything and we do indeed find meaning by following these lines, but in this case I am referring to the very limited constellation in rock that is image/sound/lyric/performance and other sources of information that create meaning for the participants. The collapse of album art in its finest formats, the cardboard vinyl album cover, and the paper 7” sleeve, did not end rock music (and other popular genres that used them), but it destabilized it greatly. Bands still could, as always, write songs, sing and play them, and present many different types of performances and images, but the end result is somehow different, a scramble to find that fleeting, but stable, (stable as a thing in itself, though obviously not stable as a trend) mirage that is/was meaningful popular music.
This seems almost a silly claim. Album art, specifically as it existed as part of the product of vinyl production, was an undeniable joy of the experience of following the artists whose work became thus manifest, but is it an essential aspect in enjoying music? That was one way of doing things, and other ways preceded it, accompanied it, and others that could emerge will equal, perhaps one day surpass that peak. Dancing, for example, being an eternal example of a true way to approach music. The cracked and scratched jewel-case didn’t quite match the vinyl era of album presentation, no. And a scratched record is usually far more usable than a scratched cd, but these are trivial debates, because after all… it’s the music that counts, right? Well yes and no; yes there are plenty of trivial debates to get immersed in while on this subject, and yes, music is more essential to a music group than any specific form of packaging, but rock and other popular formats are about more than just music – there is always a constellation of information and meaning to be had, whatever the particulars- this constellation is essential to the final communication of any artist. To simply hear a song, say on the radio, and then never find out any other information about what it is, where it came from – this is the essence of an incomplete act. The music must be distinct, it must be pertinent, and to be pertinent it is essential that rock music go beyond just music to find its full expression. To fully express itself rock music must call on the powers of its true nature, and if this true nature were to be revealed we would see that rock music is in fact theater, and that all rock bands are in fact theater troupes.
Let’s go back to the image on Fleetwood Mac’s 10th album, their second eponymous album, often called by fans the white album. As I said above, the image seems self-consciously mysterious and is intended to be a head-scratcher, resistant to interpretation. Saying so however moves it down the road towards interpretation, but I believe it’s quite easy to push it further. The doorframe liberated from everyday use makes two things of itself, it as at once both a prop, and an abstract portal, that is to say, a theatrical stage device. The poses of the two figures are both dramatic, each a caricature, thus comic, and yet severe (a shortened man, a man in command) thus tragic. They span low and high, aristocratic and plebeian. The two men are in fact representations of the masks of drama and the whole image is an evocation of the theater in its most classic sense, the roots of which we will explore further. Which, being one album cover, doesn’t prove anything, but proof is not the issue – it fits, and there is more to look at, so let’s continue.
How is rock (and other forms of musical entertainment) theater? What is theater? Well, the question posed as such uses the word, ‘theater’, meaning a building. Not just any building of course but a building devoted to a certain use, and it is the intention where the meaning really lies, as a theater can be outdoors as well. Having a building is not really the point at all, but relevant in that having a space is what is needed, a space for a certain kind of action to take place. Action is an appropriate description, in that action, or doing, is the root word in Greek behind the word drama. The doers are the actors, and the action is a drama, and the drama is the performance that is viewed in a theater. The theater can be an actual building devoted to performance, or it could be an outside area. The area (inside or outside) could be furnished for performances, or it could be completely impromptu, provided the local conditions are amenable to a performance taking place. Adverse conditions outside could be an unfriendly beat cop, unwelcoming local merchants, hecklers of any stripe, or a hail storm- and any of these could be temporary and thus overcome, inside, the same could be said, that there are hazards and obstructions that could be overcome – what is really at stake is security (some kind of outer boundary, just as a dreamer must have a safe space for her body to sleep) and thus the resulting freedom to perform within (for the dreamer to dream, and the performance to be viewed). Now, in actuality safe, the performance must challenge that again, and put the audience on edge somehow. Assured, the audience sits in terror at what might take place, or is taking place. The world, being an incredibly open stage, invites us to be players. Play being another apt synonym for what takes place in the theater (plays).
And people play in bands and these bands play in theaters and in auditoriums, and in amphitheaters, and in garages as well, but always on a stage, well not always, but when there is no actual stage one is approximated somehow, by placing the band in a viewable position, or by crowding around them. But does this make rock the same as Death of a Salesman? Clearly if they are both forms of theater they are different forms, but there has always been room for different forms of theater.
Rock makes its home in the theater but is playing rock music akin to acting? Yes it is, it’s really inescapable. One cannot mount the stage to play and credibly deny that one is making a theatrical performance. Many have understood this principle and taken it to its logical outcome and yet there have been efforts at many times to deny this and instead promote an ethos of authenticity. Well I hate to break it to the earnest but it’s not necessary to wear a feather boa, or Shakespeare pumpkin pantaloons to be a performer. Wearing your work clothes, or your street clothes on the stage results in a performance of working class values, or of street cred, or whatever other form of authenticity one is touting. Some go the other way, and wear their theatrical clothes in everyday life – like the ‘every day is Halloween’ crowd. Many a rocker gets lost in these roles and never quite know whether they are on the stage, or on their way to the post office or supermarket and so wear their pajamas at either. And despite the brain fart that may or may not have taken place, I am not saying that these resulting performances are illogical, (or flawed) or in any way necessarily ridiculous, no, they are natural. I am merely pointing out that appearance has become part of the drama, and that all aspects of presentation are a performance that must be taken as theater. I myself have many favorites (bands or even genres) that have played and presented themselves as plain-dressed, and I think their choices worked. But let’s not insist that Bryan Ferry (whose father was a farm laborer) wear Dickies overalls, or wish that Alice Cooper (whose album, Love it to Death is a perfect example of a way of writing rock as theater) had not worn eye make-up. In some ways this plain-clothes guideline in rock is just a puritan indulgence by white guys who are also too dignified to dance. And it never escapes being theater.
To be clear, I am not saying (though one could) that every person who is clothed is wearing a costume or is somehow making a statement by the clothes that they have chosen, but only that – once one mounts a stage – such choices are naturally read by the viewers. As is the choice to be unclothed or partially clothed. And viewing, whether it be viewing cardboard album art, or a live performance, or an MTV video clip, is an essential aspect of the theater of rock.
Rock perhaps is not visual to the blind, and let’s also consider the act of listening to music in the dark. Although I’ve never spoken to a blind person about music, neither a person blind from birth, nor someone who has seen, and then lost their sight, I’ve put on headphones in bed, or simply had a song in mind, powerfully performing itself. I’m sure someone can tell me whether this is the same for all of us, that an inner vision takes over, which can be abstract or distinct (and is more so, either way, the more drugs one takes). Is it a stretch to say that with music, the blind (or those with their eyes closed) see? Let us ask Blind Lemon Jefferson, Ray Charles, and Stevie Wonder. (And why are there no blind white rockers?)
When a rocker mounts the stage, and is viewed, he or she is playing a role. This is why any serious critic of rock must acknowledge David Bowie as one of the avowed masters of rock, whose distance from and yet complete embodiment of the personae he created completely fulfilled the potential within the form. But not everyone has to be David Bowie to do something that matters (within rock). The stage is wide open for a range of expression that our description should not limit.
And rock must not allow itself to become too self-important, it goes against the whole point of it somehow. This principle is part of the struggle of why rock cannot fully accept that it is theater. Theater is something that can be seen as being pretentious, like Poetry (as it is regarded in America all too often – see discussion below), and must be torn down, whereas theater is in fact a mass form of entertainment (let’s not forget vaudeville) that arose out of rural festivals that celebrated wine, a goat-god, and featured parades of penis statues, among other things. We can’t describe it completely because it all occurred at the horizon of civilization and even then arose out of a purposefully mysterious setting, what we call the mystery religions, but the outlines and visible aspects are well studied and known. Orpheus, Dionysus, Krishna, Shiva – these were the first rock stars.
And let’s just agree that rockers don’t really need to know about history, or understand theater, or really have a professed theory of anything to succeed in their craft. They just need some kind of sense that comes from within that drives them, as well as a connection to their times. But having zero sense of drama- that is definitely not a formula for rock.
But why bring this up? Because one day I looked around me and noticed that rock is dead. Pan is dead! I declared, the only god that ever died. Who knows, maybe epic tragic death is part of what makes rock. And probably, along with it, the potential for rebirth.
The first time that I witnessed rock die (but not the first time overall that it died) Punk killed it, thankfully many would say. Many of these killers of rock however were self-consciously rock revivalists, like the Ramones, who even dressed like Sha Na Na. When my cohort (a smaller set than my generation, to be sure) came of age and could freely associate beyond the structures of our childhood, we were fully steeped in rock but only drove the knife in deeper by giving ourselves up to music that seemed more punk than punk, a music that was barely music (which is another way of pointing out that this is all theater) but theater or not, rock and its sub-currents exist as social movements, or they are nothing.
Social movements are forces that either buttress social order or threaten to upend it – rock is caught in a crux where it begins as a natural, unruly force that then gets tamed and sacrificed, its spilt blood now useful as a consecration of the status quo. Think of how rock anthems are constantly being adopted by presidential campaigns, to the perennial complaint of the aged rockers who penned them.
Think of the baby boomers.
I was, like any true rock fan(atic), an adherent, a partisan, which meant that a performance by a band sacred to us was a call to arms, an alert for all hands to be on deck, and after hearing the word passed along by network, one must be there if at all possible. The music itself was at first (due to the ethos that had developed as a strand out of punk, and become hardcore punk) not intended to be beautiful, rather it was a chant of togetherness, and of repulsion to those who would be outside of it- it was a fight song, a would-be war song. But it was music, and eventually the desire that it be beautiful crept in (which at first seemed a validation- that we were right to be the way we were – as we possessed the beautiful, disguised though it was in the disapproval we wore as a mantle). This desire for, and realization of beauty, itself killed hardcore punk, an experimental avatar of rock theater destined to be short-lived, but crucial in its creation of networks of distribution and nodes of production. Faced with this- as we more and more accepted that we were part of rock, we could not help but to make a transmission of our culture into the wider environment (Nirvana et al and the dawn of post-punk which when conceived as mere product was marketed as ‘alternative music’). In fact this was not a process that started here and ended there but was part of a drama that had always taken place, each time a band formed, each time a song was written or rehearsed, and then became a thing in itself, something that others hummed to themselves, or sang aloud.
This private to public transmission was perhaps first set up by the mystery religions with their theater of initiation that transformed into the widespread public affairs that were the Tragedy competitions during the festivals of Dionysus oh so many years ago. But I don’t mean to harp on Greece – this example of theater, though it is integral to Western culture, out of which rock sprang, is just an example. Let us not forget Africa, the other true parent of rock, or Asia, or any other part of the world where rock, or any form of meaningful popular music (hip-hop e.g.) may spread to or come from. All human habitudes are brimming with drama and theatrical traditions.
I began a form of participation in this theater of hardcore when 14 or 15 and then more, when I could drive to the nearby cities (D.C. and Baltimore) and watched my private club (a floating roster of meeting halls) open its doors and swell with the hoi polloi, in fact, I was the hoi polloi, not an original club member at all, but an -nth wave gate crasher. The club (again, a loose association, an identity, an unfixed location) was composed of people like myself, it addressed itself directly to our sensibilities, welcomed us on stage (to scream lyrics, and then stage-dive), and had an ethos of minimal security other than the fighting that took place in the pits (more than 90% of the violence was theatrical, though occasionally it wasn’t). It was only natural that the disaffected youth of America, whose numbers go beyond any count that I can make, would take to it, and form the -nth ++ wave, the tsunami, only it didn’t sit quite right after it was over. In fact, hardcore never went big, but was the seed that split and grew from a sprout into something else. Was this a victory? For many it was.
The final inevitability that any subculture may be appropriated and thus neutered of its revolutionary potential – the notion that this can take place sets up a few questions about what this people’s music is, and how it may best be deployed, performed, or enjoyed. We’ve been speaking mostly about rock, (and then hardcore) but all of this is just as true for hip-hop, soul, pop, any popular genre, even of course any genre known in short-hand as ‘rock’. (glam, metal, punk, prog).
But what do we mean by ‘revolutionary’. It’s hard to limit this if we are planted within rock – as it is decided on by the participants. We can say that this begins as an exercise in imagination. Does it end there as well? Can rock finally be a revolutionary act in the political sense (where theory of revolution is much more codified), or is there an absolute demarcation between the world of rock and the world of politics?
Politics and the political realm are difficult to demarcate, people are bound to say things like ‘everything is political’ and just as likely to deny that anything in particular is. There are some areas that clearly are politics proper, such as a parliament, or the arena of diplomatic negotiations, but even within these there are activities that cross over larger categories, for example the performance of oratory, the realm both of the actor and the statesman (and who can tell the difference some would say). The aesthetics, the soaring language of a speech could win the day on an important vote, as could a well-designed and branded political campaign win an election. The arts thus play a crucial role in politics but the default understanding of rock is that it is against all this, or not a part of it, or something… Is rock in opposition to the political realm itself, or does it simply function as opposition politics, holding within it the aspiration to nurture a nascent golden age (or other imaginary world-that-is-not-this-world)?
The birth of the political within rock took place in the birth of (yes) theater. Before theater – there was the storyteller who told the lore of the group- all meaning was continuous from the past. Then our first modern setting arose and theater (the division of the storyteller into actors and chorus) stepped up to address the complexity (the complexity of democracy for example). Theater, as Greek Tragedy, discussed issues facing the populace, the rulers et al, riveting the audience and providing catharsis, the cleansing of emotions. The issues may have been disguised as the mythical past but they were felt as an immediate presence.
Rock, like theater, is a human affair, concerned with politics, concerned with love, hunger, death, concerned with any human concern, but like theater its action cannot be said to be practical. Actors, artists, rockers, all need to get paid, all need to eat, but their acts as artists are not practical, rather they are inherently abstract. A songwriter may be drenched with practical, political concerns but what comes of it? A song, a song drenched in whatever it is drenched in. Something an accountant, a lawyer, a politician does in reverse, taking abstract concepts such as numbers and laws and making them practical.
And yet this theatrical churning of all and any issue does cause agitation, that currency that amounts to a check the ruled can accumulate and unleash upon the rulers. The politician proper pricks up his ears when he hears the sound of agitation – be he king or freshman councilor. Whether this sound be signal or noise – of concern or trivial – can all be discovered by the well-tuned political ear.
Let’s look at agitation on boil – riots- this is a political realm wide open to adherents of the arts. Spectators riot, either in support of or against the work (see Black Flag and Igor Stravinsky for former and latter) the police can show up and riot (see Black Flag again; or the earlier Sunset Strip riots beginning in 1966. In So Cal bands and their fans have often been taken to be gangs by the police, an assessment not wide of the mark). Riots speak the language both of social upheaval and counter-repression (see Kent State). Such actual riots are rare, but the sensation that they will erupt is not – to a conservative, the mere appearance of a rock partisan is a riot (until the boomers took power at least). Behold the rocker, doing what? Raising a freak flag – what ho! An army arises behind the rocker – the rocker reads off a list of demands, articulates a political platform – how often does this actually happen? Maybe there was a time but even then, as now, the power was in the fact that it seemed to be happening (because it was theater) and not in any actual practical threat. Some say the psychedelic music scene ended the Vietnam War, though if you go back and look at the dates, the Summer of Love was in 1967, the Woodstock Music and Art Fair was in 1969, and the withdrawal from Saigon was in 1975. Although the debate over whether organized protest drove or effected this political decision cannot be resolved by asking whether 6 or 8 years is a long time, or a short time – (it’s a long time when bombs are dropping) -, it is clear that the combined theater of dissent, based on the foundation of the music scene, created a lot of drama – a LOT of Drama – according to its natural ability – its ability as an offshoot of the theater.
There is a lot of flag waving in rock, even allegiances to militias, at times. It is hardly unheard of e.g. the Crips/Bloods, IRA, FSLN, and LTTE all have been referenced and/or paid allegiance to by well-known performers. Also, consider the ‘Southern Man’ tiff between Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd (the band and their fans both being exemplars of Confederate battle flag rituals, and thankfully taken to task for it, at least on this occasion). Rockers are prone to political arguments, however, that could be said of anyone, of Everyman, but in the end they are not legislators, or law enforcement, or generals or politicians of any stripe (other than that of the cultural diplomat, e.g. Bono, with Václav Havel fulfilling some other kind of archetype) -unless they effectively retire themselves as rockers. Admittedly, this is a description of a world that is intertwined, and some may find it unnecessary or unconvincing to pull apart the threads, but let’s look at what is at stake. What do you want? To be political with your art or music, but without being theatrical? This is just not possible. Do you want instead to have theater and art that is not political – at all? Go ahead and try- that’s an entirely different discussion, as it would be to imagine the world of politics without any art, stripped bare. In the end probably none of these propositions are possible. Popular concerns, musical subjects, theatrical performances, and political actions are all in a perennial interaction with each other.
And let’s remember, there are large-scale politics and there are everyday politics and/or the politics of matters that may not be headline news but nonetheless are all-important. Rock has lost the ability to comment on large issues, so it redeems itself by patrolling the everyday, and providing a report, as if it were a poet. Rock lyrics are of course a form of poetry (as are song titles, album titles, band names – it’s all a poetic literature), that form necessitating they be but one component of a larger piece that matches the weight of a real poem, the total music and performance of a song being on par with a poem. The rocker can fulfill the figure of the poet quite easily; the strange hat or bold hair, the cape or cane or boots, and most importantly, the wild look in the eyes. Of course not every poet fulfills the profile of a brigand or pirate, nor does every rocker, but they are both required to make up for it in some way, or be irrelevant. To appear as a poet, rockers allow their theater troupe – the band – to fade into the background and their efforts then are presented as a singular voice. They become a unit of one, the solo artist, even though they can be unpacked by the astute ear and eye to be the ensemble that they actually are – it is all just a presentation, whereas a real poet actually is just one, and provides her own music and beat in the bargain. Even the rocker who stands alone on the stage in fact is not alone, and at least invites his arms (to play the guitar), and can then go a step or more further, and accompany himself on harmonica while singing, or tap his heel – he may appear to be a poet but he is not a true poet; rather he is a one-man band. Bob Dylan is exactly not a true poet – he is a rocker that produces material that serves the function of poetry, and is on par with it, and why not? This is a good thing.
Poetry is words that are organized in a way that the mind can draw from them some meaning – rock lyrics are often howled or mumbled and cannot be understood immediately. We stretch our minds to accommodate this – it’s all part of the fun (‘Excuse me while I kiss this guy’). Poetry uses music to create emphasis, and rock uses words to create music – music being inevitably more abstract than language. Music is a language, a language without words, and when words become unintelligible, they remain as sound.
Poets are said to be held in high regard (in many cultures) outside America whereas in America, until you arrive in a poetry scene or unless you just happen to travel in educated circles, poetry is mostly just (when it is thought of at all) considered to be reserved for effete faggots. And of course there are homosexual poets and poetry readers, some of the best poets are gay (Sappho, Oscar Wilde, James Merrill, and who knows how many others), the same could be said of rockers (Freddy Mercury, Rob Halford, Darby Crash, Morrissey, and so on, with the female sexual preference perspective being too complex to even address, a status that can go beyond static descriptions and instead be a spectrum of movement), but this epithet ‘faggot’ comes almost exclusively out of the mouths of adolescent males (and their uncles and coaches) who ironically tend to, and are in many cases, pledged to only keep the company of other males, whether they be hooligans or football players (or some hybrid). To them poetry is for faggots, a guy that has a girlfriend is a faggot, everything they don’t understand is faggotry, that is to say – all this only says something about the culture the accuser is defending, and not much about poetry – other than that it is threatening. Rockers again take their place as poets by brawling in the high school lunchroom with such bullies, because there are few of the other kind of poet to take the heat, and who would recognize one in any case.
But rock is dead, as I was saying, although it is evolving and growing. As an undead phenomenon. Some random observations: The School of Rock movement for kids undoubtedly yields moving performances and maybe hordes of actual artists will emerge from it down the line. Rock also is now delivering education and entertainment geared specifically to kids, by performing children’s music that is at the same time rock. This is happening on the show Yo Gabba Gabba (if you haven’t seen it – it seems specifically geared to couples who watched Pee-Wee’s playhouse, and never thought Paul Reubens committed an actual crime anyway- rather a faux-pas, and now suddenly find themselves raising kids and are seeking to enjoy the experience for all it’s worth). Also, a lot of children’s music is being produced out of solid hipster families, rockers taking an active role in raising their kids and seeking to unapologetically reproduce what they see as the best of their values. And moving on from children, rock has aged and aging rockers are still touring, and just playing and enjoying themselves, from the Feelies to some surprisingly non-extinct rock dinosaurs. But if you’re not a kid or a senior citizen it’s harder and harder to believe that anything is really happening in rock – the rather large exception being the people who perform and go to shows, largely confined to urban areas in the subcultural domain of rock clubs, or the smaller realm of the more guarded and mysterious underground warehouse parties (I’m speaking more of the noise and experimental scene than raves). These folks believe rock is alive (even if they call it by a more preferred name), or rather they understand that it is dying and has always been dying. This is just part of the drama of it all. When I say rock is dead I am not talking about you or your mates, or your granddad/mom, granddaughter/son, you guys are doing good work. Of course (a large) part of what I am saying is that I have just lost touch with everything. But it’s too easy to do, and when I do look around, it seems that nothing is happening that isn’t some splintered, isolated, community-based lodge-meeting (which – in itself, is not necessarily a bad thing – it can be everything if the spice and cooking is right, but it can be downright boring for those not seeking membership). Rock is in a phase of being ever more cryptic – in fear of being captured it speaks secret, natural languages, and has retreated into a thicket. At the same time it must market itself, brand itself, and perform all the functions that capitalism used to do for it. Rock has seized the means of rock production via the computer and all the robotic tasks that wonderful machine is capable of, and now become professionalized, and thus slick and uninteresting. Which is a drag for the local working class, who are reduced to following defunct jam bands, and for critics, who are too tired to get further than the turntable out of range of their couch or easy chair or stool (or rough bench even) when listening to music, but who can kill it every once in a while with the wax on the dance floor. After this rather transparent self-portrait (the critic with the phonograph, not the jam-band devotee) I have little else to say other than a few more observations:
It’s always nice to see a nearly forgotten or even unknown rock song come alive in full form in a film segment, as cinema (and disheartening when this is blundered e.g. the totally weak use of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man by Jon Favreau during the Iron Man film credits).
T.V., never shy of being sensational, should commit itself more (at least ONE show) to showcasing outré rock and hip-hop acts doing a truncated performance as an aside during a sit-com or other suitable format. I am thinking of how exciting it was to see Motörhead as well as the Damned and others on BBC2’s classic anarchic sit-com ‘The Young Ones’. Pro-tip to the producer reading this – the music doesn’t have to be this sure-fire classic, curate it more as a magazine of ‘what’s happening’ – people are always interested in that. Let me be clear – this has to showcase music that has a small, but devoted following. Don’t mess with successful acts as neither of you have time for each other and in any case would be sure to be tremendously boring. Remember, not-yet successful acts who have already proven themselves to their local followers are incredibly interesting, at least in a passing way, and a showcase can profit from the aggregate spectacle. This formula worked for American Bandstand, Soul Train, MTV, and many Late-Night TV shows like Saturday Night Live or David Letterman. Since the beginning, rockers have had countless cameos in sit-coms and movies but, with a few exceptions, these have all been scattered and irregular. It needs to be done more methodically, by having a quick band segment on every episode that the ensemble bops to.
The puerility of a show like American Idol could be relieved by merely focusing on good, original music, music not made by pliant absolute amateurs, but rather by practiced groups who have just outgrown their first petri dish. Instead of a show displaying the insidious effect of capitalism on people’s artistic impulses, just let it be a Battle of the Bands revue. The attempt to create music as commercial product may not be overcome by this suggestion (also, I don’t really watch T.V., but could always start), but having a visually dramatic competition open to new contestants is not a bad idea for reviving rock music – this is how drama was originally done.