POP MYTH-TAKES: a prolegomenon
by Mel Green, writer for "Octopus"
"Octopus" was Ottawa's underground newspaper in 1969 -- a very "left-wing" publication that was quite popular with young adults. This write-up appeared on page 22 of the November 21, 1969, edition. The author mixes his report between 60's music and who should be leading and following pop groups and singers. Mel Green's writing style attempts to be "hip" or "chic" without straying too far from the "left-wing" platform for those who would have been reading it back then.
The first two opening paragraphs are bit of a heavy opener, (gee, Mel, you write like you were about mid-way through obtaining a degree in "Sociology") but once you get beyond his opening spin, Mel does make some interesting and astute observations about the roles of the Beatles and Bob Dylan and the general music scene in 1969.
-- John Whelan, Chief Researcher for the Ottawa Beatles
November 10, 2002.
Do social-situations generate (determine) ideas or do ideas produce social-situations/structures/properties?
Marx would reply that only the former (in a particularistic economic fashion) is true, since any ideological super-structure must necessarily be the product of certain sub structural economic determinates. Ideationists would argue that all social-technological-scientific change reflects the actualization of cerebral innovations or accidents. Others, (like Berger and Luckman) in a reconciliatory manner, suggest that a reciprocal, interactive process occurs whereby ideas affect social-structures and social-structure ideas -- simultaneously and continuously.
But when Bob Dylan first sang The Times They Are A-Changing was he heralding a new movement? part of an ideological avante garde? a determining factor for anyone at anytime? a prophet? over interpreted? a Great Man? a media-guerilla? teaching? preaching? warning? aware of what he was doing? aware of what others were going to do to him?
Is Rock an idea or a Durkheimian 'socila fact'?
Who's really in charge here anyway?
If Eric Burdon is one plane behind the Beatles, who's one plane ahead? If S.D.S. is a generational reincarnation of the '20's-Socialists, who (or what) are the Socialists a reincarnation of? If The Rolling Stones bad-rapped dope (Dylan already has -- Listen to Memphis Blues Again: "It strangles up my mind/and now people just get uglier/and I have no sense of time") would YOU Stop smoking/dropping/snorting/shotting? Would anyone?
"You're what's happening, baby", screams Murray the K; but how do you know what YOU are so you can figure out what's happening? "I am he as you are he / as you are me / and we are all together", sing The Beatles (after three months of intensive transcendental mediation); but what the hell does that really mean? "Don't you know it's going to be alright?" is there reply to a rising doubt: but what if your album sells somewhat less that $22,000,000 worth its first week on the market? Who do you believe when the harmonics are equally complex?
In other words: what gives "where it's at' its whereit-atness?
In pop music it is probably true that there are some individuals and groups who not only survive musical trends and fads -- but determine and create them. Not deliberately, and not out of whole cloth, but by synthesizing, internalizing, and expressing the existential vibrations that surround all of us but to which they, as particularly acute receptors, are extraordinarily sensitive, The genius of these 'superstars' (Dylan and The Beatles being the archetypical examples) lies in the fact that they are ineluctably right; that each of their musical productions, in turn, captures the mod, the temperament, the vision, of the times; that they embody the truth-element of any socio-historical moment. Their records are in a one-to-one relationship with the flux of existence. They stand, alone, at the very nexus of what is meaningful, significant, and relevant at any given temporal juncture. They are avatars of our collective conscience; but their representations of our fears and aspirations are almost always natural, rarely conscious or contrived. As John Lennon has said: "People think the Beatles know what's going on. We don't. We are just doing it."
Where The Beatles and Dylan tread, others follow:
Lennon-McCartney and Dylan are responsible for making Rock relevant; i.e.: for the politicization and psychdelicization of contemporary music.
Dylan, nearly single-handedly, reconciled Folk and Rock audiences. No one else could have done it.
Until Sergeant Pepper there was no such musical animal as a 'concept album'. Now (except for Golden Goodies collections) almost all albums are concept albums -- integrated ventures in rock experimentation and/or syntheses.
The Beatles hinted at Country and Western four years ago with Rubber Soul. Despite Buffalo Springfields and the Byrds' tributes to country funk, the idiom didn't become commercially established as a Rock phenomenon until Dylan's section of Nashville as a recording site for his last two albums. Poco, the Flying Burritto Brothers, Crosby-Stills, Nash - (and Young), and a thousand other artists, have since recognized and exploited the sudden popular acceptance of C&W.
The Beatles and Dylan are as attuned to us as we are to them.
But their morphogenetic quality derives not only from their musical progressions and unfailing receptivity to our human condition, but from their mass canonization which is a consequence of their musical talents. This legitimation tends to reduce our natural skepticism and distrust to the point where Dylanisms and Beatleisms are quoted with religious reverence, and new albums are unquestioningly assumed to be repositories of contemporary truth and wisdom.
Nashville Skyline and Abbey Road are both dynamite listening experiences. But both, significantly, represent reactionary departures from potentially confrontative trends, a looking backwards rather than forwards. Perhaps they have, again again, guessed correctly that many of us are looking for a safe way out, a strategic withdrawal, a return to the naiveté and innocence from which they first awakened us. Get Back says it all. But is nostalgia any solution?
Only we can save ourselves. But if we insist on appointing leaders we should at least take care about where we permit them to lead us.
End of article.