Saturday, February 14, 2009

Book Review of: Instruments of Desire: The Electric Guitar and the Shaping of Musical Experience



Instruments of Desire: The Electric Guitar and the Shaping of Musical Experience
by Steve Waksman

Did rock ‘n roll represent the “pent up anger of the age, and loud rock ‘n roll thus became an acting out of that anger?” Music historians would have you believe that it was music that brought down racial barriers and changed American society. This may be a romanticized myth.

Rock, like other cultural forms, represented the fears and aspirations of its time. It did not cause them, it reflected them. It was two world wars and the advent of nuclear weapons which threatened life on earth that caused great numbers of people to question the old racial, gender and religious myths and mores of failed elites who had produced such devastating consequences in the lives of the people of the world. If rock ‘n roll had never emerged, some other cultural device would have been used to manifest the aspirations of the people.

Interestingly, it was that most conservative of all institutions, the military, that proved to be the exemplar for promoting social and racial equality in America. In 1948, President Truman signed an Executive Order integrating the military and mandating equality of treatment and opportunity. It became illegal, per military law, for a soldier to make a racist remark. Truman's Order extended to schools and neighborhoods as well as military units. In 1963, the Department of Defense made it the responsibility of every military commander to oppose discriminatory practices affecting his men and their dependents and to foster equal opportunity for them. The military needed black manpower during the Korean War and the Vietnam War, racial liberalization in the military followed. Similar troop level requirements led to the integration of women and gays into the military on terms of equality.

Which force was more powerful in acting as a catalyst for racial and gender change in American society, the amorphous message of rock (“turn on, tune in, drop out”) or the directed mandate of the military? A difficult question, but what is clear is that whatever the personal motivations of individual musicians, the music business itself, is just that, a business. Not a cause, but a business. Musicians like Muddy Waters were more interested in commercial success than some notion of racial “authenticity”. Chuck Berry pursued financial success by appealing to what white teenagers were focused on at the time, “school, love, and cars”. Col. Parker and RCA made Elvis “tone down” his act to reach wider cross-over audiences. Jimi Hendrix’s decided to play rock music as oppossed to a “blacker” style such as jazz, soul, or even straight electric blues.(Waksman,177) What music gets made and promoted for mass consumption is done for purley business reasons. Popular music and musicians are, first and foremost, the saleable commodity of the music industry.

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1 comment:

William said...

Last week, I got new electric guitar from Guitar Center...