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The Paradox of Rock

18 May 2013, 17:49

This foolish game, oh it's still the same
The notes go dancin' off in the air
And don't you believe it's true, the music is all for you
It's really all we've got to share
Cause rockin' and rollin', it's only howlin' at the moon
It's only howlin' at the moon

Kansas: Magnum Opus

 A while ago I wrote of the glories (past tense) of rock music and bemoaned the lack of anything new and worthwhile. That just goes to prove that I’m an old fossil, which is worse than a dinosaur. Dinosaurs at least listen to rock, or eat rocks. I forget which.

Nevertheless, I decided to expand upon my previous little moan with another observation, which goes something like this: most of the good stuff (not all) being played today, is being played by guys in their forties to fifties.

Rock is unique amongst all forms of music in that it feeds the soul of the beast while stroking the spirit of the tender-hearted: on the one hand inciting violence and, on the other giving voice to poetry that would have inspired Wordsworth and Shelly.

Rock is a paradox of the most sublime kind.

I'm woven in a fantasy, I can't believe the things I see
The path that I have chosen now has led me to a wall
And with each passing day I feel a little
more like something dear was lost
It rises now before me, a dark and silent barrier between,
All I am, and all that I would ever want be
It's just a travesty, towering, marking
off the boundaries my spirit would erase

To pass beyond is what I seek, I fear that I may be too weak
And those are few who've seen it through to glimpse the other side,
The promised land is waiting like a maiden that is soon to be a bride
The moment is a masterpiece, the weight of indecision's in the air
It's standing there, the symbol and the sum of all that's me
It's just a travesty, towering, blocking out the light and blinding me
I want to see

Gold and diamonds cast a spell, it's not for me I know it well
The riches that I seek are waiting on the other side
There's more that I can measure in the treasure of the love that I can find
And though it's always been with me, I must tear down the Wall and let it be
All I am, and all that I was ever meant to be, in harmony
Shining true and smiling back at all who wait to cross

Kansas: The Wall

Contrast that with:-

Everywhere I hear the sound of marching, charging feet, boy
Cause summers here and the time is right for fighting in the street, boy
But what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock n roll band
Cause in sleepy London town
There's just no place for a street fighting man

Hey! think the time is right for a palace revolution
But where I live the game to play is compromise solution
Well, then what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock n roll band
Cause in sleepy London town
There's no place for a street fighting man

Hey! said my name is called disturbance
Ill shout and scream, I'll kill the king, I'll rail at all his servants
Well, what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock n roll band
Cause in sleepy London town
There's no place for a street fighting man

The Rolling Stones: Street Fighting Man

Same genre, utterly different feel and sentiment. These are amongst the many things that make rock unique. But it’s frightening to think that a band like Primus has been around for over twenty years. If you haven’t heard them yet, do yourself a favour and check them out. Stunning musicianship along with clever song-writing and lyrics, with more than a dash of humour, mostly of the cutting kind.

Les Claypool is rightly regarded as one of the best bassists ever and virtually redefined the role of the bass guitar in rock. They are also totally original, which is surprising when you think they’re a Seattle band and were regarded as one of the grunge bands of the time.

Someone pretty new (five or so years) is Unitopia, a Prog Rock band from Australia. Not as original as Primus (but then, who is?), they are superb musicians with clever lyrics and superb songs. Their song about The Beatles is the best tribute song I’ve ever heard.

The most original new-new band I’ve heard in many a year, is Steam Powered Giraffe. I think you can only find them on YouTube, but do yourself a favour and catch them. They seem silly, but there’s a depth to their music which is not immediately apparent. Also, their harmonies are up there with Crosby Still and Nash, which is saying a lot. They write a ballad about people burning to death! How creepy is that?

I believe what it comes down to is this: rock music originated with R&B, which is an offshoot of jazz, which was already ridden with characters, both savoury and un. No-one had ever thought to play off the beat until Ginger Baker did it in the sixties.

No-one had ever thought to make bass guitar an instrument in its own right, not just waiting for a solo in order to be heard, but playing in the ‘box’, using the notes within the chord structure to create a supporting melody. Add to that the growling of the Hammond B3 and screaming lead guitars and you have sounds as diverse as Renaissance, folk-rock with a strong classical undertone, to Megadeth, aggressive, hard-driving metal.

Still the same genre.

If you can name a musical genre, you’ll find a rock connection, from blues to jazz to classical to country to folk: rock has it all and then more. Rock has also developed some utterly original sounds with bands such as King Crimson and Gong, Spock’s Beard and The Flower Kings, The Tangent and Gov’t Mule and one thread unites them all.

What could a middle-aged black man from 1958 have in common with a young white South African who wasn’t even born when Chuck Berry literally invented rock ‘n’ roll? Yet Dave Matthews typifies rock as much as Chuck Berry did. Rebel to conservative middle of the road kid, they all belong. And it’s because of the sheer magic of rock music that such diversity can exist in harmony. No pun intended.

From Christian rock through to the darkest of satanic metal, one thing remains: the love of the genre. There is no musical form which so arouse the passions, both for and against, as rock. It unites and divides simultaneously.

What a marvel!

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