The Triumph of Vulgarity: Rock Music in the Mirror of Romanticism
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The Triumph of Vulgarity in a thinker's guide to rock 'n' roll. Rock music mirrors the tradition of nineteenth-century Romaniticsm, Robert Patison says. Whitman's "barbaric yawp" can still be heard in the punk rock of the Ramones, and the spirit that inspired Poe's Eureka lives on in the lyrics of Talking Heads. Rock is vulgar, Pattison notes, and vulgarity is something that high culture has long despised but rarely bothered to define. This book is the first effort since John Ruskin and Aldous Huxley to describe in depth what vulgarity is, and how, with the help of ideas inherent in Romaniticism, it has slipped the constraints imposed on it by refined culture and established its own loud arts.
The book disassembles the various myths of rock: its roots in black and folk music; the primacy it accords to feeling and self; the sexual omnipotence of rock stars; the satanic predilictions of rock fans; and rock's high-voltage image of the modern Prometheus wielding an electric guitar. Pattison treats these myths as vulgar counterparts of their originals in refined Romantic art and offers a description and justification of rock's central place in the social and aesthetic structure of modern culture. At a time when rock lyrics have provoked parental outrage and senatorial hearings, The Triumph of Vulgarity is required reading for anyone interested in where rock comes from and how it works.
leans on Clarence as the disciple whom Jesus loved must have reclined on his master's breast. Bruce and Clarence are no fictional stereotypes but ordinary people engaged in living out a Romantic fantasy about the primitive. There is a lived intensity about the best rock that rises above conventions and asks for religious comparisons. In the past, the average Joe was a day-tripper to the Romantic. The rocker is a native. So others have been before him. Walter Pater advised his followers that "to
entirely devoid of distinction. Whatever is said, the same monotonous noise replies, and quivers up and down the walls until it is absorbed into the roof. "Bourn" is the sound as far as the human alphabet can express it, or "bou-oum," or "ou-boum,"—utterly dull. . . . "Pathos, piety, courage—they exist, but are identical, and so is filth. Everything exists, nothing has value." What horrified Mrs. Moore, what Nietzsche hated in democratic cultures, was the absolute vulgarity of a pantheistic world
This from the authors of "Let's Lynch the Landlord." Their respect for thought is not at odds with their vulgar energy, any more than Blake's occasional deference to reason subverts his first premise that "energy is the only life." In rock as in the Romanticism of Rousseau or Blake, feeling is primary, and reason is the check on feeling that feeling itself creates. The servant is not greater than the master. Blake and Rousseau lament that Western society reverses the natural roles of feeling and
"Well-hung, snow-white tan"—he is a hunk of burning love, but pale and delicate. Boy George, a nice British boy from London's Eltham Green who in the drag in which he rose to stardom looked like an attractive Margaret Thatcher, only carried the inherent sexual ambiguity of rock to one of its logical conclusions. But transvestitism and homoeroticism do not exhaust rock's sexual roles. The ideal rock star is sexuality incarnate. He is the focus of every possible taste. He is indiscriminate in his
revolution. De Tocqueville, who hated my brand of pantheism just as you do, was smart enough to see that my creed is not a narcotic to reconcile men to their fate in the status quo but an insidious doctrine that threatens to overthrow all the values and traditions dear to aristocratic tastes like your Man and God at Rock 'n' Roll High School 173 own. When you talk about knowledge and history and classes and consciousness, you are talking a language which De Tocqueville would have understood