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Rock Rocks

December 06, 1987

I am always amused by the way that Robert Hilburn strains so hard to find artistic and intellectual merit in rock 'n' roll.

He quotes rock lyrics as if they were Shakespeare and manages to find enough meaning in banal songs to fill sociological and political treatises.

Thanks, perhaps, to the devotion of believers like Hilburn who hang on their every word, many of these undereducated, over-opinionated rock "artists" have actually become convinced that they have something intelligent to say.

I grew up listening to rock 'n' roll, and I too wanted desperately to believe that my rock idols had something important to say.

I eventually realized, however, that performers incapable of expressing political thoughts more complex than "I'm sick of it" could not contribute meaningfully to my political awareness. And that a medium consisting overwhelmingly of "love songs" (i.e., glorifications of flippant relationships) was incapable of nurturing my artistic curiosity or emotional development.

Hilburn, of course, could never admit that his heroes have little to say and do a poor job of saying it. To do so would be to admit that his job is largely a waste of time.

The rest of us, however, can be excused for not considering the battle between rock's "activists" and "couch potatoes" to be the most stirring intellectual event since the Jeffersonians took on the Hamiltonians. Or for recognizing that the work of U2, Springsteen, R.E.M. and other Hilburn favorites only looks "challenging," "daring," or "life-affirming" when compared to the large majority of rock 'n' roll that even Hilburn has the sense to recognize as trash.

The real danger is not that "couch potato" rock will prevail over the "activist" music that Hilburn prefers. Rather, the danger is that impressionable young listeners will believe that they know something about the important issues of the day by virtue of having listened to the simplistic posturings contained in "socially conscious" rock songs.

I wish that Hilburn would stop leading us on a wild goose chase to find the intellectual and artistic importance of rock, and write instead about the real cultural contributions of the genre: drug abuse, promiscuity and the pervasiveness of shallow values in our society.


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