Monday, March 14, 2011

ROCK ELITISM AND US

A few weeks ago, aging pop/rock star Bryan Adams came down to Mumbai for a show. I was excited, having been a huge fan of his music during my school days and thought I'd pay tribute by attending his show and generally indulge in some nostalgia.

Hoo boy, nothing had prepared me for the backlash that was to follow when I told some people I was going.

Ranging from taunts, point-and-laughs, phone calls to see if I was serious, and a very short, sweet SMS, simply containing the word "Thoo".

"But you listen to Dream Theater and Karnivool", said one gent. "I also like Carnatic classical. What's your point?", I replied.

Apparently, you can't listen to stuff like Bryan Adams when you 'graduate' onto music that speaks about ripping flesh and suicide. Ah, yes.

Rock elitism. One of the worst sorts of snubbing in our little society of delusion.

You know how you're at a concert waiting for some metchul band to play, and the PA system plays a riff that sounds familiar? You get excited and start humming along, not knowing what the song is. Then you realise it's Linkin Park (Heavens! And you're in your Cradle of Filth tee-shirt!) and immediately stop humming - and make a contorted face which questions the parentage of the DJ. Rock elitism.

It's basic human nature. As we 'graduate', it only becomes cooler to diss things we've graduated out of. Remember at school when you used to look upto the fifth graders as Gods? Heck, that devotion vanished when you were in the sixth grade. There were times we'd think how the blazes you'd ever finish a novel. Now that we read Steig Larsson and Tolkein, we rubbish Chetan Bhagat. And similarly, it becomes uncool to listen to Bon Jovi. Or Def Leppard. No?

Sure, an Adams concert may not have the dopeheads sophisticated rock crowd that knows their G minors from their Cadd9s and their Seymour Duncans from their Dimargios. It may not have the lyrical intelligence of Led Zeppelin or Dream Theater, but saying that 'this music is shit' or 'gay' is not just desultory but reeks of double standards.

Let's look at the points that the rock elitists usually cite, when trashing music lower than their acceptable levels.

1. Lyrical content

'Ooooh baby, baby.'
Is a line that could have been delivered by either Justin Beiber or the Backstreet Boys. But truth - Robert Plant sang it too, in Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You.

Okay, that was a little extreme, but I was just trying to make a point.

Popular music will never have the epic storylines of progressive music, or the opinions that metal tries to portray. Heck, that's probably why it's popular music.

But just saying 'the lyrics are kiddish' is a foolish reason to trash music.
Listen to the lyrics from early Beatles songs. But with the insurance of 'better' words from Sgt. Peppers and Abbey Road to back up the overall espousal of the band, it's safe to say 'I like those songs'.

2. Loudness and speed

This is even lamer. Patience (by GnR) is a 'softer' song than Larger Than Life (Backstreet Boys) and Nothing Else Matters (Metallica) is a slower song than Love Sensation (911). If the reason you like music is because it's loud and closer to incomprehensibility, I'm sorry.

3. Doesn't leave you with the same high

During the Adams concert, I looked around me. What I saw was one of the most poignant scenes I've ever seen during a show. People of all ages singing along. Kids perched on their parents' shoulders singing along and enjoying what was undoubtedly their first huge concert. Sure, there were no rip-roaring guitar solos, no invocations to the devil. But it just seemed that everyone fucking enjoyed it and enjoyed being there.

That left me with a high. Just like how straining my neck along with 30,000 others to For The Greater Good of God during Maiden '07 did.


I don't listen to pop or even Bryan Adams anymore. But I'm yet to see close-mindedness like the sort displayed by rock elitists. Example - look at forums when it was announced the Backstreet Boys were coming to India. Talk of pelting them and killing them. Movements to heckle people who go to their shows. Rallies to boycott them and ensure they never come back to India.

Really, guys? Really? Even a review on one of the most respected rock sites in India spoke of everything BUT the music (isn't that what the review was neutrally supposed to be about, in any case - and not the prevailing sense of negativity?)

I've possibly rambled on a bit and lost the original point I was trying to make out here. When people read an Enid Blyton to 'relive old times', it's cute. When people see Ice Age instead of their Tarantinos and Formans, it's called 'refreshing'. But go back to something played on just synthesizers and.... oooooh!

I have the same opinion on music listening as I do for religion - you practice what you want. I have no problems with that. But don't force your religion on me, and don't expect me to change my ways just because you do it.

Peace out, rock on.

44 comments:

z0 said...

People look taken aback when I wear an Alice in Chains tee and claim to like Britney Spears. Their reaction is fun :D

vinayak said...

hahaa !!! bang on bRO !! i wantd to do this but failed to get the right kinda explanations !!

AR Hemant said...

Well said, and something I relate with. I think most people are fundamentalists. Some for religion, some for Kishore Kumar, some for Sachin Tendulkar, some for an engineering degree. The more I get to know the people of my country, the more I feel that they don't like the idea of someone not agreeing with them. No?

Dinorocker said...

Thankyouthankyouthankyou! You flattened that nail into a shiny disk! :)

Krish Ashok said...

Amen. When I tell people I love hip-hop, a statistical analysis reveals that 90% of them say "But that's not really music" immediately afterwards

daddysan said...

Well written. Bryan Adams is one of those special cases for joke fodder but that's mirth, not malice.

Sad that one finds elitism instead of nostalgia.

Heck, I LOVE listening to Leppard. The music's good, the groove is great and it reminds me of the silly things I did in school.

विशाल said...

This post somehow reminds me of a Harsha Bhogle comment "Only if we could learn to disagree and still be friends".He had just finished a commentary on how a Australian fast bowler and a English All rounder had an argument outside the field and then went on to buy each other beer that night!

Abhilash Kumar said...

I try and keep up with all the latest bands that I come across that seem to play my music. But when I am driving, I invariably end up singing along to REM or Coldplay.
Nothing else seem to give me that joy.

Anonymous said...

HI, you are a homo.

shwet said...

nicely said..... one line to add "Comparisons are for fools, absorb the music" - by unknown

Hit Wicked said...

We graduate over things and then we giggle at things we liked earlier. Agree. Same applies with religion. What I believe is true and your God is fake.

I went to Bryan Adams concert here in Bangalore. And yes crowd of all sorts were here. And the main motive was still the same. Enjoying music.

neeraj said...

Agreed. As of now, my affection for 'tinku jiya' and 'woofer tu meri meri' has ostracized me , not just from the rock clan but from most sections of society. They refuse to accept me as studly cool, which I am sure you will agree I am :P

Ayaz said...

I will just repeat the comment by Dinorocker.

Thankyouthankyouthankyou! You flattened that nail into a shiny disk! :)

Kartikay said...

Damnit - I still listen to all my old songs and I can LIVE with it!

Awesome article!

Shreyas said...

Dude brill article. loads of people dont understand music tastes i claim to be a rock fan but id anyday listen to simon and garfunkel or abba cause that is the kind of music i like! AND kudos to the guy above who typed "hi you are a homo".way mature.

anirudh said...

What you're essentially trying to say is that "Don't judge me by the music I like. All music is equally good"

Well, I used to feel this way until I read a single line - "If everything is admirable, then nothing is." Also, people don't like to be associated with "the majority", and the feeling of exclusivity - when all the cool people you hang out and drink beer with listen to the same music.

So it's not really anybody's fault - and no amount of preaching will undo a whole generation of 20-somethings' lack of maturity and tolerance (including mine).

There's also a fact that a lot of music is "manufactured". The reason most people feel the "ke$ha"s and "lady gaga"s do not merit attention is because their music is written by other people and is "engineered" to drive record sales.

The lyrical and musical content sets the bar very low, and turns it into an "image game". All hip-hop videos are of people flashing large pieces of jewelery, and pretty girls.

If you spent thirty years studying classical spanish guitar, and implies you're a better musician than everyone in MTV Networks put together - it still isn't enough to get you air-time.

aks.. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
aks.. said...

Bang On!!!
I have been listening to Adams since School days and even though I don't listen to his music everyday now but nevertheless listening to him live sure made me nostalgic!!!the best part being I didn't need alcohol or grass to get high!!

Snooperman said...

Ah...very well said and very true indeed:)...I was initiated into western popular music by MJ and I still am a big BIG fan...Then moved on to BSB, A1, 'NSYNC and the likes cuz they sounded cool..and they still do...I say most moments in life can be tagged with a certain song and it immediately brings back fond memories...Regardless of u being a metchul head. Something surprising I've observed is that the only "pop" icon who metal heads absolutely respect is Michael Jackson:)
All said and done...I have also observed that most metal heads are not in touch with their emotional side enough and that maybe the reason why BSB, NSYNC, Justin Beiber and the likes are confined to the corner with a dunce cap...
Old school rockers do not hesitate in covering a few mushy tracks like When You Say Nothing At All and soft rock masterpieces of Adams and Jovi...
That's why I say I'd rather be born in the 60s or 70s when music was a part of personality rather than society...(Dunno if Im makin sense..)

culdivsac said...

Fair points and I concur. But the backlash/#outrage from rock enthusiasts to Backstreet's visiting India wasn't just because they were visiting. (God know, worse monstrosities have visited). The reaction, I believe, came out of Backstreet's being classified as 'Rock'. Travesty! :) And it was called 'Rock in India' festival. Now that *was misleading, innit?

Anonymous said...

It is the same with books, God forbid you read fiction along with NYT or something from Guha, thank you very much but I have been reading since I was 3 and I like books of all kinds including the guilty pleasure kinds, they entertain me, I like to call these people pseudo-intellectual snobs, people who like to flaunt what they believe is their superior intellect...

Deepak Gopalakrishnan said...

@z0:
Haha. One day I should wear vesthi and vibhuti and go to a Slayer concert or something.

@Vinayak:
Yeah, this is a feeling I've had for a very long time, and I finally got around to putting it down.

@Hemant:
It's basic human (perhaps Indian) nature to disagree. We like arguing and thinking we are (and our beliefs are) superior to others. Sometimes it's a minor thing, like in the case of musical preferences. Sometimes, in the case of religion, we know what the consequences are.

@DinoRocker:
Haha, thanks! That's a beautiful way of putting it. A little birdie tells me you probably got here from Ashok's tweet ;)

@Ashok:
Which begs the question - what IS music? To all of their arguments against 'unmusic', you can find an argument. I've listed out three. Then - usage of synth. So you're saying Europe, Rush and Dream Theater are not rock? Artificial beats? You're saying Zero's Hook, the greatest Indian rock album ever released, is not worthy? Rubbish.

@DaddySan:
Thanks, pop. Leppard makes some really good tunes. My favourite is a lesser known one from one of their newer albums, called 'Now'

@Vishal:
That's the way to play the game, innit? Used to have huge respect for that Ashes attitude.

Deepak Gopalakrishnan said...

@Abhilash:
And isn't music - whether pop or death metal - all about that? Giving joy in some measure?

@Anon:
Thank you for your observation, and proving yet another point - dopeheads tend to be homophobes as well. What exactly is gay music, again?

@Shwet:
Nice one.

@Hit Wicked:
I loved the atmosphere, really. And +1 to your 'God is fake' line.

@Neeraj:
Haha. Play it loud, my friend. Be unafraid :P Unless you stay in Palaash.

@Ayaz:
:)

@Kartikay:
Thanks for dropping by, man!

@Shreyas:
Haha @ the homo dude. Most flaming rocktard guys act that way.

Deepak Gopalakrishnan said...

@Anirudh:
All music being equally good - that's a debate I was struggling to put onto paper. We can extrapolate it to saying all art is essentially good. So even if I barf onto a piece of paper, it's art. It may not be good to 99% of the population, but there will be one hypothetical person who thinks it's genius.

Similarly, music. All the artists we've thrashed at one point in our lives - be it Beiber or Slayer - all have sold millions. So obviously there are people who swear by them. It's too much of a debate to open up, and is quite philosophical. I ain't that deep :)

But I totally agree to your manufactured music view, something I didn't look at in the article. Thanks for the alternative comment.

@Aks:
Like the acoustic guitar legend Don Ross said, "The only chemicals I need to make music are in my body"

@Snooperman:
Dude, you wouldn't believe how much I thought of you when I wrote this article :) The days we spent listening to everything from Skid Row to that Mallu piece we wrote for Bhoomika were the foundation for musical appreciation :) Cheers, man. And yes, you make perfect sense. Ah, the 60s...

@Culdivsac:
Agreed. That was a good point, infact, the only good point in the whole outrage. Using BSB under a banner of rock was unacceptable. But perhaps 2 people out of 10 pointed that out, the rest were just asking for their intestines.

@Anon:
I'm sure it's crazier in the book world :)

Ziltoid The Omniscient said...

Listen to whatever the fuck you want as long as you are happy with it. The more you comment on other bands you have no idea about, the smarter it makes you feel and talking shit about stuff you have no idea about makes you a true indian metalhead. I'm sure saying you have always been listening to Cannibal corpse and have never ever been into anything that isnt brutal makes you feel awesome and makes you think chicks want to be next to your DJENTitila. You are as wrong as Ashish Nehra's bowling was and DNA's decision to bring the backstreet boys for a 'Rock' concert. Enough of this rant. I'm gonna go crank the N'sync and Nile on vinyl. Got a problem? SHUT THE FUCK UP.

Punvati said...

That first anon comment made this post even more fun. Ah, joy.

Jinto Jolly James said...

hey,
please do change either your background image or the font color.. I had to do select the entire page to find out the comments link.. I don't think even your friends might bother to read like this.

Sameer said...

Nail on the head!

Sohan said...

You listen to different music at different times/phases in your life. And u may or may not like all of it now, but you sure did like it at some point of time in your life.
It's infact good to hear something like a Backstreet boys after a long time. Takes you back to the days when you were in school, and were crazy about them as was the entire world.

Pranav Backliwal said...

Nailed it, sir. I guess everyone is guilty of music-based elitism at some point in their lives - peer pressure doesn't help. I still unconsciously look down upon certain types of music, trying to actively correct my behavior.

Bon Jovi's playing here soon, that should help :)

Akshat said...

I have the same opinion on music listening as I do for religion - you practice what you want. I have no problems with that. But don't force your religion on me, and don't expect me to change my ways just because you do it.

+1

BombayDuck said...

That's a nice post. As I'm growing older, I'm finding myself giving nil of a fuck about genre divisions and getting exasperated of debates with 22-year-olds about whether Pearl Jam is Grunge or Alternative.

This has got little to do with growing old. I think it's more to do with listening to a whole mighty lot of music across so many genres, that you learn to appreciate that making any kind of music requires big heap talent and effort. Even a Jazzy B song can have something nice, like a an interesting rhythmic pattern to the way lyrics are sung. Or a Yanni song can have the best friggin' fretless bass solo ever written (Ric Fierabracci in The Rain Must Fall). The point is to learn to identify what is good about a song and not focus on what's bad.

A lot of music elitism is with people who have in some way come to form a personal identity through their choice of music. A lot of people in college and early-20s start to feel like they fit in somewhere because of the music they listen to... and at that age, the pressure to fit in is a lot. But the earlier you grow out of that shit the better, because your choice in an art is a rather superficial basis of carving an identity with.

Anirudh's comment is relevant. It's really sad that the world we live in allows hacks and simulators to score over people with genuine hard work and talent on them. But let that be a worry for musicians who're trying to build a career. As listeners, getting too obsessed with these things only results in emptier space on your 160GB iPod, that could have been filled with lots of individual great songs, or bad songs with great instrument sections that these hacks end up producing.

Anonymous said...

Yawn. The Brits and Americans did this decades ago. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rockism.

Yours,
A rockist.

krikkrak said...

Agree with you.Just listen to the music for fuck's sake.

Agent Orange said...

Britney Spears FTW!

Cute article.

Anonymous said...

Rock elitism exists only in India. We are a funny nation indeed. In US/EU nobody cares about rock and you aren't judged by what music you like. In Facebook/orkut/pagalguy/etc I have usually seen people showing off their patronage for rock. And lesser mortals trying to emulate them. Its just a kind of music. Knowing some of it won't make you a superstar.

I used to be a big rock fan in my early 20s, but now in my late 20s, after several years in the US, I can only ROFL at the "rock elitists". :-)

Bobin said...

You deleted my comment? :O

bloggervv said...

so true man. Even i have found myself a lot of times bitching about LP and at the same time listening to them.
Rock elitist.
Love the post man. Its simply the blatant truth.

Amit said...

Brilliantly put. Have always had the debate on why classify the music that you appeals to you. Is the genre or the band or the acceptance of the form by a set of people (mostly fanatics) the reason why something should or should not appeal to you. Don't you just listen to and enjoy the music with your ears and your heart?

But you've put it very succinctly.

What I like most is the fundamental point - liking something does not mean you have to hate everything else!

Deepak Gopalakrishnan said...

@Bobin - No, strangely, I got the email notification of your comment, but it didn't show up here. Sad, it was a lovely comment :(

nishanttotla said...

Very well written post. This elitism though, holds for literature, as well as movies.

But anyway, staying on to music, I always wonder what counts as good music. It is difficult to define, and much more difficult to characterize. I am sure that a large fraction of these holier-than-thou people don't even know the basic theory of music, or anything about it. They can't do half as good as the artists they so conveniently criticize. They follow something only to gain acceptance - heck, following the unconventional has always been deemed cool.

Navaneeth V K said...

Chetan Bhagat sucks even if you graduate out of him or not.

Anonymous said...

well,you know ,elitism in itself is relative.saying that one listens to this kind of music and that kind too,when,you're according to some listening to the kind of music that you shouldn't be supposedly listening to.now,we're creating counter-elitism.when rock music started out it was a revolution,something different.that has been mostly spoiled today.Obviously nobody has the right to dictate anyone what kind of you should listen to or you shouldn't.
for me one thing that always works is 'admire the music of the musician don't worship him'Pop and hip-hop is generally looked down upon by some because the only thing they are into is fast money making and lot o other stuff like lack of talent,see 'ma' house yo etc.
metal is what i listen to and it doesn't mean i hate and look down upon say REM or STONE SOUR(Which receives a lot of flak for not being loud enough or being too emotional and lovey dovey ;) well,aggression is an emotion too.) i don't listen to metal because it makes me cool.i listen to it because thats what i like.
the worst thing is being a wannabe a fake,trying to be cool,emulating someone to match the coolness.thats shit.non-confirmity is what we basically stand for,and that can very well be anything.
for the record i dont like Bryan Adams and i would also like to say that i do not find Judas Priest and ACDC particularly appealing.they just don't work for me.and there is one another thing an exception to a rule does not make or break the rule.

Anonymous said...

well,you know ,elitism in itself is relative.saying that one listens to this kind of music and that kind too,when,you're according to some listening to the kind of music that you shouldn't be supposedly listening to.now,we're creating counter-elitism.when rock music started out it was a revolution,something different.that has been mostly spoiled today.Obviously nobody has the right to dictate anyone what kind of you should listen to or you shouldn't.
for me one thing that always works is 'admire the music of the musician don't worship him'Pop and hip-hop is generally looked down upon by some because the only thing they are into is fast money making and lot o other stuff like lack of talent,see 'ma' house yo etc.
metal is what i listen to and it doesn't mean i hate and look down upon say REM or STONE SOUR(Which receives a lot of flak for not being loud enough or being too emotional and lovey dovey ;) well,aggression is an emotion too.) i don't listen to metal because it makes me cool.i listen to it because thats what i like.
the worst thing is being a wannabe a fake,trying to be cool,emulating someone to match the coolness.thats shit.non-confirmity is what we basically stand for,and that can very well be anything.
for the record i dont like Bryan Adams and i would also like to say that i do not find Judas Priest and ACDC particularly appealing.they just don't work for me.and there is one another thing an exception to a rule does not make or break the rule.