Wednesday, June 30, 2021

"Rock and roll destroyed history"

I've been reading John Sinclair's remarkable Guitar Army, a gathering of his writings first published in 1972, and the three passages below from the "Preview" section have been thrumming in me for days. In its propulsive energy, romantic yearnings, and smarts, Sinclair's righteous and excitable prose calls to mind Kerouac, Cassady, and Ginsberg's letters and the rawly earnest passion of Lester Bangs, among other zealots. Although he was ultimately a free jazz guy, and for all of his dissenting politics and interests in wide-lens cultural disquiet, this man truly got—that is, truly got—basic, raw rock and roll. I love reading "on the ground" accounts of early rock and roll, the personal and cultural impact it had on astonished teenagers, the tops of their heads lifting off, and it's fascinating, and not a little moving, to read Sinclair describe and find that pulse around him in the late-60s and early-70s, an era often associated with a weed-lethargic slowing down of the kind of eighth-note mania the passé early rockers were fueled by. 

I don't want to critique Sinclair's arguments here; in any event, later in the chapter he soberly acknowledges the failures of his revolution, and that he (seems to) truly have believed that rock and roll (plus LSD) might offer turned-on kids horizon-opening, electric epiphanies and unprecedented political power is, from my vantage point, both quaint and deeply charming. Rather, I want to celebrate the joy and earnestness of his imagined Future, however naive it might've been in conception. It all came back to community, love, and loud, amplified music. Rock and roll destroyed history—are you kidding me? That's a book in five words! (The golf line's great, too.) As you read, you can virtually hear doors flying open that Sinclair didn't know existed when he was a Midwestern teenager, let alone know were locked. My favorite line might be "Kids spouted their parents’ rehashed racist dogma between verses of 'Long Tall Sally' or 'Ain’t That Loving You Baby' and started to figure out which made the most sense, the Ku Klux Klan or the Cleftones?"—that's some rockin' epistemology, right there. I can only imagine the heady sounds and ideas that Sinclair and members of the MC5 swapped during late-night, drug-fueled raps about Little Richard. 

"It was incredible!" Sinclair writes about 1950s rockers:
These dudes opened their mouths to sing and a whole new race of mutants leaped out dancing and screaming into the future, driving fast cars and drinking beer and bouncing around half-naked in the back seats, getting ready to march through the 60's and soar into the 70's like nothing else had ever existed before. Rock and roll kicked off the 21st century almost fifty years ahead of time—it made the leap from the mechanical to the electronic age in the space of three minutes, 45 revolutions per minute, crystallizing all the new energy generated by the clash between these two monstrous technologies and squeezing it into the most compact possible form, the most explosive (and implosive!) form possible, and then shot that energy out through the radio into every corner of Amerika to retribalize its children and transform them into something essentially and substantially different from the race which had brought them into the world.


These black singers and magic music-makers were the real ”freedom riders” of Amerika, but nobody even knew it. They walked right into the bedrooms of middle-class Euro-Amerika and took over, whispering their super-sensual maniac drivel into the ears and orifices of the daughters of Amerika, turning its sons into lust-crazed madmen and fools, breaking down generations and generations of self-denial and desensitivity and completely destroying the sanctity of the Euro-Amerikan home forever—and nobody even knew what was happening! Kids spouted their parents’ rehashed racist dogma between verses of ”Long Tall Sally” or ”Ain’t That Loving You Baby” and started to figure out which made the most sense, the Ku Klux Klan or the Cleftones? It was no contest, even though the game went on and on before we realized that it had been over a long time ago. We had been given a spectrum from white to gray, from the Minutemen to Richard P. Nixon, or from Jake LaMotta to Yogi Berra, from Kate Smith to Kay Starr, and all of a sudden there was this whole new world of color our parents had never told us about, there was a whole new range of possibilities that they didn't even know about, and just because they were so dumb wasn't going to keep us from checking it out, no matter how weird or how silly it sounded to people who thought playing golf, for chrissakes, was the most exciting thing on earth.



Rock and roll was just what we'd been waiting for, all right, and we didn't even know it like that. Rock and roll hit us right at the right time, right when we were ready for it, and it was so perfect we didn't even give it a second thought. Rock and roll destroyed history. It caught us coming out of grade school and we thought everything had always been like that. We couldn't get the old people to understand that we were different from them, that we had a life of our own and we were determined to live it the way wanted to, and at the same time we couldn't ever understand why they were so up tight either. They kept talking about the past and wanted to drag us back into it, but we didn't have any idea of what they were talking about beyond the certain knowledge in our cells that we couldn't live like them, we had to follow our own way, and if we couldn’t articulate what it was we wanted we sure could sense it.
If your ears aren't ringing, you weren't reading closely enough.

Photo of Sinclair testifying from Guitar Army.

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