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Jack Smith

The physics of rock 'n' roll: To every action, an equal and opposite reaction

February 28, 1985|JACK SMITH

My perhaps premature hosannas on the passing of rock music have inspired some passionate reaction--all the way from the eulogistic to the fiercely critical.

All I said, actually, was that the yuppies seemed to be moving away from hard rock back to a quieter kind of music, for which I was grateful, since I considered rock too loud, too imitative and too pretentious; and I resented its domination of our culture.

"Huzzahs for your brilliant, deft and devastating declaration that the rock emperor has no clothes on," writes my colleague Gladwin Hill. "I've long wanted to denounce rock as a fraudulent abomination, but was so apoplectic in my feelings that I couldn't find the words.

"I'm sure a pro-rock lynch mob will assail you, but be not dismayed. There are more of us sane people."

Not all my critics were of the rock generation:

"There you go again!" writes Ellen Griffith. "You jumped on your soap box and trashed rock music. Well, I belong to your generation and I'm a little embarrassed by this kind of old-fogeyism.

"It's too bad our generation didn't look beyond the rebellion; didn't really listen at all. How sad that almost no one over 45 has ever heard 'Vincent,' Don McLean's haunting, poetic tribute to Van Gogh. Or Linda Ronstadt's deeply moving 'Desperado.' Or the Eagles' playful anthem to the whole rock culture, the dazzling 'James Dean.' Of course, these elements of poetry, humor and insight won't be found, even in the best of rock, by the narrow-minded. . . ."

Who said anything against Linda Ronstadt? Not me. I love every syllable she utters.

"Come on, Jack," writes Theda Gosser of Corona. "You give us older folks a bad name. I can still remember some inspiring lyrics from our day. Have you forgotten 'The Music Goes Round and Round' and 'Mairzy Doats and Dozy Doats' not to mention 'The Three Little Fishies'--'Boop boop dittum dattum wattum choo'?"

(The way I remember it, Theda, it's "Three Little Fiddies ." Remember?:

Fwim, said the Momma Fiddie, fwim if you can,

And they fwam and they fwam all over the dam.)

Oh, well, every era has its nonsense music.

"I feel it very unfortunate," writes Mike Bean of Van Nuys, Class of '77, "that you chose to berate a very fine songwriter, Randy Newman. . . . While the lyrics for 'I Love L.A.' may not be awe inspiring, they have undeniably captured the imagination of this city. . . . He even has a song which echoes your feelings:

Didn't used to be all this ugly music playing

all the time

Where are we, on the moon?

Whatever happened to the old songs, Mickey?

"Just remember, if you want to listen to it, you have to turn it up real loud to understand the words."

"I'm stunned," writes Pam Miller-Algar, writer/researcher of "Dick Clark's Rock, Roll & Remember."

She finds me "vehement" and "dogmatic" and accuses me of condemning the entire genre of rock 'n' roll, and thus the generation that spawned it.

"Being a part of the so-called baby-boom generation (serving you since 1951), I must remind you that the music you categorize as being delivered in "an angry primal scream" reflects the times during which it was created. . . .

"It is a subcultural and social mirror of us--like it or not. . . . Rock 'n' roll came when many of us, while still in grade school, accepted 'drop drills' as a fact of life under the nuclear umbrella. We grew up with the kaboom of A-bomb blasts instead of the rroooaahhh of the B-17. Frantic music for a world doing the neutron dance. . . ."

Miller-Algar seems to be excusing rock music for its excessive noise and anger on the grounds that it is the art of a generation that grew up under nuclear arms. It was also the richest, most self-indulgent, least-disciplined generation in American history--a fact that is also reflected in its music.

Valerie A. Kurlychek of Riverside notes that in writing wistfully of the sound of "pure instrumentation, unadulterated by amplifiers," the word I need is acoustic.

"A non-electric guitar is called an acoustic guitar, which means that it relies upon the resonance of its shape and design as well as the vibration of the plucked strings. It is, in fact, this vibration and resonance that distinguishes 'live' from electronic sound. There is a visceral aspect that I believe is the result of the subsequent actual movement of air as a result of the vibrations, rather like a pebble being dropped in the middle of a glassy pond. It is that great and thrilling thud at the bottom of an orchestral climax that you almost seem to feel push against your chest as you hear it.

"Rock music--at least today --simply does not cause this to happen because no matter what the circumstances, even at a live concert, you hear the final result through loudspeakers. . . . The only thing you can do to make any impact is to turn the volume up.

"The real problem is that amplification is everywhere . Even the Hollywood Bowl. The only places seemingly free, thank God, at least thus far, from this aural blight are the symphony, ballet and opera.

"Instead, we get pasty-faced and pasty-voiced 'singers' and 'musicians' who would never survive a 24-hour worldwide power outage. . . ."

"For you to dismiss an entire genre of music as unintelligent," writes James McIllece of South Pasadena, "when in fact you've never heard any of this music (or, dare I say, understood some of it) is irresponsible and unfair. . . ."

Sing to me, Linda. I want to understand.

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