Term Paper: Rock and Roll Clearly Music

Pages: 12 (3827 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Music  ·  Buy This Paper

Rock and Roll

Clearly music is as an integral part of a society's history as a widespread phenomenon of everyday interactions and occurrences. It has existed as early as humans themselves. As Bennett Reimer (2000, p.25), music educator and philosopher, noted: "Whenever and wherever humans have existed, music has existed also." Thus music that becomes popular acts as a gauge of what is happening in society at that time. It reveals an illustrated picture of the attitudes, views and disposition of the present day, as much as does art or literature. Music offers insights and multiple perspectives in addition to its emotional influence as much or more than even written historical materials. As such, it is impossible to understand the reason why rock and roll not only was born in the 1950s, but took hold and actually shook the world without also understanding what was historically occurring at this same time. It is imperative, to understand all of history, to know how popular music, such as rock and roll, fit into the totality of what has taken place.

Rock and roll was not the first, nor will it be the last, popular form of music that arose in response to what was taking place in the social and political arena. As Grossberg (2008), states, any study of music including rock and roll must start with the identification of the context within which it is located and the identification of its relationships. The dominant features are nearly always understood as sociological variables, which although frequently locally significant, must continually confront their own exceptions. During the mid-1800s, as the West opened up to the newest settlers with the Homestead Act, and hopes soared high for land and gold, songs such as "Oh, California," "The Old Chisholm Trail," "Home on the Range" and "I've Been Working on the Railroad," became popular countrywide. The transition of the risque "Roaring Twenties," or the "Jazz Age," and its flappers, Dixieland and Charleston tunes, transitioned from the height of optimism to the brinks of despair less than a decade later. In the early 1930s, when the stock market crashed and millions died in the dust bowl plains, people sang "I've Got Five Dollars" and "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime." Politically, Woodie Guthrie, Molly Jackson, "Leadbelly," and Pete Seeger promoted the unions and, for the first time, made people equate folk music with supposed leftist and subversive leanings. Throughout the next decade, as the now-freed African-American slaves moved into the northern cities, they brought with them a new blues style and songs such as "My Captain" describing the hard working conditions and unemployment.

Over the decades, increasing numbers of people have become interested in listening to music, as the radio and TV has reached across the U.S. And then the world. Music indeed counts. There are also those scores of people who attend concerts, play their own musical instruments or buy millions of records. "For despite another of the claims often made about contemporary societies that their rationalities and utilitarian values have all but erased the spiritual, the emotional, in a word the distinctively human qualities of life, it is evident that the clamor for music not only survives but indeed is intensified in such societies" (Hatch & Millward, 1987, p. 16).

For some individuals, music is the peak way to express their emotion and creativity. For others, it is the positive or negative view of the Western cultural tradition. Music may represent support and encouragement of the societal and political norm or instead sound of protesting, rebelliousness or revolution. "What is common to each of these and other orientations is an undeniable belief in both the power and the importance of music in society" (Hatch & Millward, 1987).

Finnegan (1989) has suggested that people see music as a pathway, since it offers a basis for activities and relationships and a means to express personal and collective identities and value structures. It also gives these people a way to meaningfully structure their actions and activities, as demonstrated in how music is so closely integrated with holidays and life cycle special events. Music thus provides a way that groups of people, be they households or wider demographics such as teenagers view their home, city, nation or world. Music forms and reinforces territorial boundaries and interactions among people, with relationships, networks, groups and subcultures. It revolves around collective identities and statements of existing differences and similarities.

The arrival and development of rock and roll exemplifies this integration with the people and society. It is impossible to study this music form without seeing it in light of the historical context. Longhurst (1995) notes that "the development of rock and roll in the 1950s is often presented as a kind of liberation from the dullness of American and British life of the period" (1996, p. 115). Cohen (1997) explains that New York disc jockey Alan Freed first used the term "rock 'n roll" in 1954, a turbulent time in the country, for both the whites and particularly the blacks and the country's history of racism. This newly arrived music included African-American musical elements from the blues, gospel and rhythm and blues. The radios were increasingly playing more of this black-derived music at the same time as racial integration was being purposely or reluctantly followed among blacks and whites throughout different parts of the United States.

The blacks were not the only ones who were breaking the boundaries and seeking a new way of life. At the end of the World War II, teenagers and the young working class became the driving population behind musical creation and production. In fact, Wall (2003, p. 37) calls rock and roll the "product of the birth of teenager." Roe (1996) states that the music of this period was the young people's way to construct their identity and revolt against the norm. During the war, teenagers did not have the power or ability to make their own decisions and escape from their parental authority. When the war came to an end, they had much more freedom to do and say as they wished. Rock and roll reinforced this rebelliousness between the younger and older generations. At the same time, technology was advancing, so that music could easily be heard and even seen on early televisions across the country. And the youth had the purchasing power to buy the products being produced in mass. Waters (2003) notes that the year 1955 marked the emergence of rock and roll from being lost in the shadows to shining in the open under the bright lights. It is also when the rules of music transformed. The way that music was produced and how it was received throughout all areas of the country by different populations significantly altered culture.

Marcus (1987) sees rock and roll going beyond the youth population. He argues that rock and roll needs to be understood not as an outlet of specific subcultures of class and race but instead as a musical means of establishing a more general national identity. He describes his concepts as a way to widen the context in which music is heard -- to observe and define rock and roll not as a youth culture, or counterculture, but just as American culture. To Marcus, this musical genre is best recognized as a cultural happening that struggled against the American norm, due to its antiestablishment message, at the same time as continuing to represent a distinctive national character. As time went on into the 1960s, rock and roll would be embraced as part of Americanism.

Marcus' book Mystery Train sees rock and roll developing from the "ancestors" of Harmonic Frank and Robert Johnson, who strongly influenced individuals such as Elvis Presley through their subcultural musical expressive style. In the mythic iconicity of blues guitarist Johnson was a classical folk "badman" performer who dug deep into the inner core of tremendous emotional despair, sexual angst, social abandonment, and geographic marginalization. He is America's "first rock and roller," who established an entirely new form of music with loud, jabbing sounds that were driven by a beat and rhythm so strong that it was impossible to not to participate. The medium of rock and roll gave musicians as Johnson the opportunity to express a version of America that displayed the contradictions of the country's cultural spheres. Frank and Johnson can be seen as having the same aesthetic and historical importance as that which is give to such authors as Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville.

Music, argues Marcus, can be viewed as the country's great literature. It portrays an idea of what it means and is worth to be an American and what the life stakes in the country ought to be. The musical artist can illuminate the concerns and questions that are being raised by the American people and add quality and meaning to their efforts. Not only does Marcus rewrite American history through the view of rock and roll, but he also was the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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