It goes without saying that Fred Siegel should be reading my Rock Songbook, which underlines the middle-class mediocrity of most rock, even as it defends, with respect to music, the low, the high, and even the middle-brow version of the high. He could go to my last post , about the tensions between classical music and popular culture, or better yet, to perhaps the most important (yet-least-commented-on) Rock Songbook entry I ever wrote, “Rock’s Social Geography.”

Consider Siegel’s account below of what American middlebrow culture really was like (which if you follow the link includes the success of Mortimer Adler’s “Great Books for Everybody” campaign) alongside what I said in that entry:

Rock, consumed and created by such types, is thus an inescapably intellectual phenomenon, but also a sort of anti-intellectualism of the willingly half-educated. For once our poetic student has determined, correctly or not, that the higher intellectual or artistic life is not suited for her, she commits herself to a scene determined to tear down the very notion of the high. Such a scene has little but contempt for the old middle-brow route she might have taken, the route of partaking of the high from time to time.

So both fine arts music and great books education are left in the dust, but with vague aspirations for higher things . . . er, better make that avant things, left festering in the soul.

And the actual achievements of the best American popular art, including rock n’ roll, become despised, or only ironically embraced as Pop Art, a trend both Siegel’s essay and Martha Bayles’s Hole in Our Soul tie to the Susan Sontag essay “Notes on Camp.” As Bayles noted, in a similar spirit the Germanoid jerks who called themselves Kraftwerk said that the Velvet Underground made their favorite kind of American music because its

. . . “dada influence” raised it above “American popcorn chewing gum.”

Leaving the VU out of it, a band (unlike Kraftwerk) I have had some praise for, the proper 2012 retort is:

“Yeah, and our nearly fifty-year run of Dada for the Masses has been so much obviously better than either American rock n’ roll or German classical, right?”

Articles by Carl Scott

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