Saturday, September 29, 2012


"Sure the kids love it. And why not? It's the only sexual outlet most of them have" -- A 1950's psychologist explaining the appeal of Rock 'n Roll

It seems like a world away, but at one time, music - in particular, jazz and rock 'n roll  music - was, to use a more modern vilification, demonized by the American Establishment. Moreover, it is interesting to note that in the same decade communism and comic books came under fire as well from these self-professed do-gooders. Although not quite in the same league as McCarthy, I can understand being a little wary of communism . . . but comic books?

According to the so-called "moral majority" of the times, juvenile delinquency ran wild in the streets back in the 50's and 60's, and the afterbirth from this horribly dysfunctional child would later grow up to become another of society's monsters -- political correctness. Dr. Benjamin Spock (d. 1998) wrote his medical manifesto, Baby and Child Care, for every helpless housewife in America. With over 13,000,000 copies sold , it was promoted as "The most widely recommended handbook for parents every published." That a boilerplate "how to" of child rearing could end up to be so popular is only testimony to a surprisingly ignorant and gullible public. When Spock's methods failed, there was always a trip to the psychiatrist, a therapeutic treatment system barely out of infancy and its own dirty diapers.

Time has proven that kids have always rebelled against their parents. Ever vigorous "intervention", more intense therapy, and the use of drugs like the over-prescribed Ritalin can't seem to stem the tide of teenage malcontentism.

But I digress. Music came under fire because it was said to cause in the young listener uninhibited and wanton behavior. That it illicited unwholesome acts like underage sex, while asserted, can nevertheless be disputed as a sole cause. After all, won't kids find any excuse to get into trouble anyway? Again, in the 60's, music was the foundation of the counterculture. The assertion then was that it encouraged drug use, and, again, uninhibited and wanton behavior. The pattern grows monotonous.

In the December, 1956 issue of the men's magazine, RAGE, appeared an article entitled, "Rock 'n Roll: The Sound of Sex", that tried to explain the phenomenon. A few years before the public had witnessed something similar when Frank Sinatra crooned to the ladies. Lead by whom the article describes as a "Kentucky hillbilly", this Elvis Presley was something entirely different: "Sixteen-year-old girls were gouging his name in their arms with pen knives". Even older women "screamed his name".

The article attempts to explain all this by describing rock 'n roll music as an analogue to the sex act itself, replete with suggestive lyrics urging on the frenzied listener to new acts of lust and debasement. While it was then meant to be serious, it can now only be looked at with at least mild amusement by even the most sympathetic of readers.

As if it were planned, the very next issue (RAGE, February 1957) contained what could only in context be called a rebuttle. Written by none other than the "Kentucky hillbilly" himself, Elvis Presley, "There's Nothing Bad About Rock 'N Roll!" was determined to set the record straight.

Oddly enough, there is not really much in the article to substantiate the title's claim. Instead, the humble hillbilly recounts his modest beginnings and sums up his singing of "country" and "rock 'n roll" music by stating, "I never tried to sing any special way. Except the way I wanted to sing. It's like it comes up out of me. I wouldn't try to do anything else than be myself."

Presley goes on to say, "It seems like about every ten years a new style comes along. People jump on it, and right away the critics are out swinging, trying to knock it down."

While a compelling argument is lacking that effectively counters the previous issue's assertions, the man who would be King softens the blow by providing the reader with the portrait of an unassuming country boy who just wants to sing songs for his fans, claiming that they "know what they like." If that is indeed the truth, then the Devil's music will be around for a long time.

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