This article originally appeared in Issue# 34
In 1968, the musical Hair opened on Broadway. It was brazenly irreverent yet charmed many audiences with such ironic tunes as "I Got Life," an explicit celebration of the human body, and "What a Piece of Work is Man," a zinger critique based on the words of William Shakespeare.
Hair delivered messages of anger and confusion at a tine when this was more acceptable. Today's young people, in my opinion, are far less fortunate. Indeed, they are being made to bear the brunt of an assault on popular culture that stems from a glossing over of the complex, troubling circumstances of the 1980s.
Common sense suggests that the composers and performers of contemporary rock music are expressing realities they feel. This is not to deny that some of the music may be quite offensive. However, offensive is not the sane as dangerous.
Moreover, there is nothing new about sexually suggestive performances — or about the urge to censor them. When Elvis Presley was on the Ed Sullivan show, cameras did not film him below the waist because his hip movements might offend.
Without praising all contemporary rock music, one can still admit that much of it addresses important social issues. According to David Marsh, an expert on rock music and author of a fascinating book, Rock and Roll Confidential, "one of the driving forces behind American pop music is the tension between the constant merger of various musical traditions and the need for those who suffer moat in our segregated, unequal country to express their particular reality on their own."
In addition, many lyrics ask tough questions of relevance to us all. It is somewhat surprising, then, that the music is often written off as socially worthless. Clearly it is not. Rather, it may be too relevant to pass in today's conservative climate, particularly since many rock groups, including the heavy metal groups, have been made a sensation by white, suburban middle class children.
One of my concerns is that the furor over rock music serves the Right by steering adults away from the causes of youth alienation and other pressing political issues. Symptoms and cause are once again blurred. It seems to me that rock and roll music is no more or less a problem than the environment it expresses. Those convinced that the music is dangerous might reach other conclusions if they would listen in and summon more faith in the spirit of the young.