Hey, Hey, My, My; Rock N Roll Can Never Die

March 18, 2011

Rock ‘n Roll: The most brutal, ugly, desperate, vicious form of expression it has been my misfortune to hear.  -Frank Sinatra

Rock and roll music, if you like it, if you feel it, you can’t help but move to it. That’s what happens to me. I can’t help it.  -Elvis Presley

We all know the iconic image of James Dean in Rebel without a Cause, a poignant study of American teenage angst and rebellion in the 1950s. According to historian, James Gilbert, the reason why many Americans were “puzzled and distressed by the activities of post-war teenagers” was caused by much the same issues that teenagers face today. Because of growing prosperity and growing technology in the early 50s, Americans began to be able to see certain aspects of their culture as a unified phenomenon. More and more teenagers were able to attend high schools and they were able to become socialized more readily. Mass media exposed the problems of juvenile delinquency as a national problem; however, the media also gave teenagers a chance to know what was hip nationwide. Teenagers began to separate themselves from adult culture and adopted new fashions, new slang, and a new music called rock-n-roll.

Many adults began to fear that this new subculture might be antagonistic towards the accepted mores of proper American society. Gilbert states that many believed “the very creative energy that welled up in rock and roll, new words, fashions, and customs threatened the stability of American society. To some degree they were right. Teenagers, by erecting barriers of fashions and custom around adolescence, had walled off a secret and potentially antagonistic area of American culture. No doubt for some that was the intent” (15). But many were most likely simply wishing to express independence from their parents, a healthy desire for teenagers since they will soon become adults on their own. What teens need is healthy guidance and flexible boundaries from stable parents and other adults they can trust. In the typical post-war response of paranoia, fear of a generation of juvenile delinquents caused an uproar and many authorities tried to stomp out this new culture. This of course only fueled rebellion against the restrictions and we eventually got the 60s “revolution.” Unfortunately, now that that generation has grown up, it seems like they’ve removed any and all boundaries from their kids and we’ve got a new generation of kids thinking that they can act on any impulse they want and don’t consider the consequence for themselves or anyone else.

Those who reacted against rock-n-roll the most were squares with no soul in them, dig? The first in line were the racists, who are right about rock-n-roll being formed out of black music. Early rock really was just a bunch of white boys ripping off blues and soul music and not doing it as well, but it turned out the result was not so bad. As Muddy Waters puts it: “The Blues Had A Baby, And They Named It Rock-n-Roll.” The problem is, since these various “Citizen’s Councils” that campaigned against rock music were racist they considered that a bad thing. Really, if anyone should have been upset, it should have been the black musicians whose creative property was constantly being ripped off.

There were also crybabies like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. and other established musicians. They complained that rock-n-roll wasn’t as high a quality of music as what they produced. It has to be admitted that in general, rock isn’t as intricate an art form as many genres of music, but Keith Richards has proved to us all that groove is more important than skill: it’s the beat that moves the feet. But the real reasons these guys were complaining was that they were losing the spotlight and losing money. Frankie proved this when he kissed up to Elvis and did a show with him to get back in the public eye.

Finally, there was the self-righteous religious folk who had no understanding of how much of a ministry opportunity they were missing by not embracing this wonderful new style of music. They complained that rock-n-roll went straight to the heart and emotions of the youth and it did. But instead of allowing parish members to develop music that would praise God and go straight to the heart of America’s youth, they shunned it and ultimately shunned their youth, pushing out those who enjoyed rock. As Christian rocker, Larry Norman, says, they let the devil have all the good music. I am not saying all rock-n-roll is therefore evil, I am saying that for 40 years since this anti-rock campaign, almost all the music that came out of the Church stunk really bad. What would these perfect parishoners have done had they learned that most of their precious hymns where originally written to tune of popular drinking songs that their great grandparents enjoyed? But now we’re finally starting to get some really good grooves in our worship and contemporary music…

Teenage rebellion usually flows from two extremes: too much oppression with no outlet for self-expression, or too much freedom and relativism without a caring authority to lead and guide teens safely into adulthood. Rock-n-roll was born in a time when uniformity was encouraged and self expression was often denied, now it seems those who should be in authority roll over and defer to their children’s wishes out of a fear of damaging their self-esteem, but the truth is they are leaving them stranded in a sea of hopelessness and apathy only to be blown and tossed about by the wind of endless doctrines with no compass to lead and guide them, teens today have no way to interpret the stars. Music is not the cause of any rebellion; it is simply the expression of those searching for some kind of meaning. It would be well for parents and the Church to take heed and listen, and then respond with the proper wisdom and guidance. 

Peter L Richardson
8/12/2004

Gilbert, James. A Cycle of Outrage: America’s Reaction to the Juvenile Delinquent in the 1950s.Oxford University Press: Oxford, 1986.

“Rock n Roll is Here To Stay”
-Sha Na Na

Rock ‘n roll is here to stay, it will never die
It was meant to be that way, though I don’t know why
I don’t care what people say, rock ‘n roll is here to stay
(We don’t care what people say, rock ‘n roll is here to stay)
Rock ‘n roll will always be our ticket to the end
It will go down in history, just you wait, my friend
Rock ‘n roll will always be, it’ll go down in history
(Rock ‘n roll will always be, it’ll go down in history)
So come on, everybody rock, everybody rock,
everybody rock, everybody rock
Everybody rock
Now everybody rock ‘n roll, everybody rock ‘n roll,
everybody rock ‘n roll
Everybody rock ‘n roll, everybody rock ‘n roll
Rock ‘n roll will always be our ticket to the end
It will go down in history, just you wait, my friend
Rock ‘n roll will always be, it’ll go down in history
If you don’t like rock ‘n roll, think what you’ve been missin’
But if you like to bop and stroll, come on down and listen
Let’s all start to have a ball, everybody rock ‘n roll
Ah, oh baby, ah, oh baby, ah,
oh baby, ah, oh baby, rock!

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