by Jim Harris
A lot of music critics have been asking lately, “Is rock dead?” Well, it’s always been sick, what with all the drinking, drugging, blood spitting and such, but I think it’s definitely still alive and kicking. Just look at all the classic rock stars who are still in great demand: Meatloaf is a contestant on “The Apprentice;” Steven Tyler from Aerosmith is a judge on “American Idol,” and how about Mick Jagger’s recent performance at the Grammys?
True, Mick’s vocal range is reduced to just three notes, and he can no longer sing the vowels “E,” “A,” or “I,” but he’s still relatively feisty, and … oh all right, dammit, rock IS dead. Defunct, extinct, kaput! It’s about as relevant as Icelandic clog-dancing.
I think this bothers a lot of middle-aged and older folks because they don’t like what’s taking rock’s place in the hearts and minds of young people — namely rap. For you folks unfamiliar with the genre, let me explain. Just as square dancing is synchronized walking, rap is synchronized talking. To put it another way, rap is a protest march without the marching, or music with all the harmony and melody removed.
It may sound stark and harsh, but it’s been around for almost 40 years now, and even scholars are starting to take it seriously. In his new book, “The Poetics of Hip Hop,” English professor Adam Bradley calls rap “the most widely disseminated poetry in the history of the world,” and he rhapsodizes over its use of “assonance, alliteration and apocopated rhyme.” Another new book, the 900-page “Anthology of Rap,” is published by Yale University Press, no less. I’ll be checking it out as soon as I finish re-reading Bill Clinton’s autobiography.
Structurally, the rap form has evolved to usually include two or more male individuals careening around onstage flailing their arms and either bragging or complaining, while an electronically generated note sequence (scientifically designed to be as irritating as possible) repeats over and over in the background. Recently, voluptuous females have been added to howl and/or lurch seductively at appointed intervals.
A typical performance:
•Rapper 1: [several expletives]
•Rapper 2: (grabbing crotch) Amonna haboba!
•Music: deedle-doo, deedle-dee, THUMP, deedle-doo.
•Voluptuous female: Yaaaeeeyaaaaa!
•The whole pattern then repeats until either shooting breaks out or someone shuts off the electricity.
Rappers don’t play instruments, so they don’t need to waste time studying actual music. They can start rapping the moment they’re born. Some of the superstars of the milieu are: Sean Combs (who also goes by the names Puff, Puffy, Puff Daddy, Diddy, P.Diddy, and Daddy Diddy), Ice Cube, Ice Tea, Vanilla Ice, Ice Pack and Slipped on the Ice and Broke My Pelvis. Off-stage, these once-deprived young gentlemen treat everyone but their “homeboys” like chewing gum stuck to the bottom of their shoes.
Of course, there are still some young non-rapping superstars, most notably, Lady Gaga, who sings and dances to a disco-ish kind of pop. She usually wears 10-inch heels, large, ornate headdresses and “dresses” from the planet Uranus. You would not want to sit behind her at the movies. She also uses elaborate props in her act. She emerged from a large egg in her latest Grammy performance, and she has been known to wear entire outfits made of fresh meat. I’m told that young girls find her message empowering. Excuse me for a moment, please.
Thanks. I’m back. I just needed to pound my head against a brick wall 500 times. I’m fine now. So, what do these new trends in popular entertainment bode for our society? Well, call me a dreamer, but if I could hazard a guess, I’d say that the current crop of young Americans will most likely oversee a wretched deterioration of the U.S. into a fifth-rate nation of burger-flippers and telemarketers. Of course that’s the best-case scenario, but we can only hope. I would now like to thank God that, banning some unforeseen medical breakthrough, I will not live to see it happen.
I, of course, being a post-World War II “baby boomer,” realize that all of this is exactly what my father’s generation said about the music that I listened to as a young person — Elvis, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Louis, Chuck Berry, etc. — so I say it with considerable chagrin. The only difference being, of course, that I’m right, and he was wrong.