How The Beatles Didn’t Save Our Culture 50 Years Ago
Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – “So Julia Roberts gets up there and says we’re all to be thankful because 50 years ago today we were all saved by the Beatles. They came here and they changed America. Her exact words were “They changed America.” They made it all better for us. Now look at our vainglorious culture here. Look at Pink hanging from the ceiling.” Check out today’s transcript for the rest…
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: So Julia Roberts gets up there and says we’re all to be thankful because 50 years ago today we were all saved by the Beatles. They came here and they changed America. Her exact words were “They changed America.” They made it all better for us. Now look at our vainglorious culture here. Look at Pink hanging from the ceiling. Steyn wrote:
We are all rockers now. National Review publishes its own chart of the Fifty Greatest Conservative Rock Songs, notwithstanding that most of the honorees are horrified to find themselves on such a hit parade. The National Review countdown of the All-Time Hot 100 Conservative Gangsta Rap Tracks can’t be far away. [Mike: This is obviously before Steyn was writing for NRO.] Even right-wingers want to get with the beat and no-one wants to look like the wallflower who can’t get a chick to dance with him. To argue against rock and roll is now as quaintly irrelevant as arguing for the divine right… [private FP-Monthly|FP-Yearly|FP-Yearly-WLK|FP-Yearly-So76]
of kings. It was twenty years ago today, sand the Beatles forty years ago today, that Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play. Well, it was twenty years ago today—1987—that Professor Bloom taught us the band had nothing to say.
I don’t really like the expression “popular culture.” It’s just “culture” now: there is no other. “High culture” is high mainly in the sense we keep it in the attic and dust it off and bring it downstairs every now and then. But don’t worry, not too often. “Classical music,” wrote Bloom, “is now a special taste, like Greek language or pre-Columbian archaeology. Thirty years ago [i.e., now fifty years ago], most middle-class families made some of the old European music a part of the home, partly because they liked it, partly because they thought it was good for the kids.” Not anymore. If you’d switched on TV at the stroke of midnight on December 31, 1999 you’d have seen President and Mrs. Clinton and the massed ranks of American dignitaries ushering in the so-called new millennium to the strains of Tom Jones singing “I’m gonna wait till the midnight hour/ That’s when my love comes tumblin’ down.” Say what you like about JFK, but at least Mrs. Kennedy would have booked a cellist.
Mike: Folks, this is an exercise, by the bye, that I engage in on a regular basis with children, mine, and with Mrs. Church from time to time when I spy those untoward lyrics that bellow and slime and ooze their way out of radio speakers when I’m in her car. You understand what that chick just sang, don’t you? You’re driving around and you basically have musical pornography on, that’s what it is. People don’t like to admit that, and most people won’t admit it. They’ll just get very angry at you and tell you to stop being so square, pops. It’s undeniable that most of what passes for popular music today, especially the really popular stuff, is at least suggestive pornography. I don’t need to give you any examples because all of you right now are thinking: Gee, I never thought of it that way, but yeah, I can think of about 100 examples of that. Back to Steyn:
“Popular culture” is more accurately a “present-tense culture”: You’re celebrating the millennium but you can barely conceive of anything before the mid-1960s.
Mike: Boy, isn’t that true? We can’t get beyond the ‘90s now. Pop culture, Eric, started with Kurt Cobain, right?
Eric: I believe so.
Mike: The first musical band ever was Nirvana, right? Back to the story:
We’re at school longer than any society in human history . . .
Mike: By the bye, he’s right about this, too. I was reading in my Butler’s history of the fathers, saints and martyrs of the church, I was reading the story of St. John Chrysostom today. St. John Chrysostom was in Rome practicing law and knocking the greatest lawmen of the day on their duffs at the sagacious and wise old age of 17. That’s after he had already been out there practicing. Anyway, back to the story.
Yet in all those decades we exist in the din of the present. A classical education considers society as a kind of iceberg, and teaches you the seven-eighths below the surface. Today, we live on the top eighth bobbing around in the flotsam and jetsam of the here and now. And, without the seven-eighths under the water, what’s left on the surface gets thinner and thinner.
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So the “Music” chapter is the most difficult one for young fans of The Closing Of The American Mind—because it’s the point at which you realize just how much Allan Bloom means it. And by “young fans,” I mean anyone under the age of Mick Jagger, who features heavily in that section. A couple of years ago, Sir Mick—as he now is—spent an agreeable hour being interviewed by a pleasant lady he’d carelessly assumed had been dispatched by one of the hip young magazines surfing the cutting edge of the zeitgeist. He was furious to discover subsequently that she was an emissary from Saga, the magazine for British seniors. They put him on the cover as the Pensioner of the Month, and he wasn’t happy about it, although one could see their point: When you think about it, “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” makes a much better anthem for seniors than it ever did for rebellious youth. He should be grateful they didn’t send their medical correspondent: “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” “Well, it’s a common problem at your age. But the good news is that often it’s just psychological.” Twenty years on from Allan Bloom, this is the triumph of rock’s pseudo-revolution: elderly “street-fighting men” with knighthoods—Sir Mick Jagger, Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Elton John, Sir Bob Geldof, Sir Bono.
For Bloom to write his chapter on “Music” seems to many of us braver than attacking the 1960s or the race hucksters or his various other targets. No-one wants to be Mister Squaresville. And it’s interesting to see the reaction it gets from readers. Told by Bloom that they know nothing about Brahms or Mozart, they respond that he knows nothing about … well, whomsoever they happen to dig. They point out that his chapter is full of generalities: “Ministering to and according with the arousing and cathartic music, the lyrics celebrate puppy love as well as polymorphous attractions, and fortify them against traditional ridicule and shame.” Turning teacher on the professor, they demand that the assertions be bolstered by examples, by specifics, by an understanding of the difference between the lyrics of, say, Bob Dylan and Britney Spears.”
But Bloom is writing about rock music the way someone from the pre-rock generation experiences it. You’ve no interest in the stuff, you don’t buy the albums, you don’t tune to the radio stations, you would never knowingly seek out a rock and roll experience—and yet it’s all around you. You go to buy some socks, and it’s playing in the store.
Mike: That’s something that really — I don’t know about anyone else out there — but really annoys me. How many times have you been to a restaurant — Eric, how many times have you been to a restaurant and you took your girlfriend there and maybe you’re thinking it’s an Italian bistro or something to that effect. While you’re waiting for your homemade manicotti to arrive at the table, you are writhing and grooving to the sounds of Metallica coming through the speakers? It’s crammed down your throat. You can’t avoid it. You can’t even turn the Olympics on. When they’re finished playing John Williams’ classic leitmotif, that march for the Olympics, that’s what’s known in the music business — if we weren’t so consumed with rock we would all know this — that’s a leitmotif. As soon as they’re soon with the leitmotif, what do they go into? The heavy-metal guitar strains while the snowboarders are crashing over their ramparts. Back to Steyn:
I was filling up at a gas station the other day and I noticed that outside, at the pump, they now pipe pop music at you. This is one of the most constant forms of cultural dislocation anybody of the pre-Bloom generation faces: Most of us have prejudices: we may not like ballet or golf, but we don’t have to worry about going to the deli and ordering a ham on rye while some ninny in tights prances around us or a fellow in plus-fours tries to chip it out of the rough behind the salad bar. Yet, in the course of a day, any number of non-rock-related transactions are accompanied by rock music. I was at the airport last week, sitting at the gate, and over the transom some woman was singing about having two lovers and being very happy about it. And we all sat there as if it’s perfectly routine. To the pre-Bloom generation, it’s very weird—though, as he notes, “It may well be that a society’s greatest madness seems normal to itself.”
Whether or not rock music is the soundtrack for the age that its more ambitious proponents tout it as, it’s a literal soundtrack: it’s like being in a movie with a really bad score. So Bloom’s not here to weigh the merit of the Beatles vs. Pink Floyd vs. Madonna vs. Niggaz with Attitude vs. Eminem vs. Green Day. They come and go, and there is no more dated sentence in Bloom’s book than the one where he gets specific and wonders whether Michael Jackson, Prince, or Boy George will take the place of Mick Jagger. [Mike: Now we just write songs about Jagger, see: Adam Levine.] But he’s not doing album reviews, he’s pondering the state of an entire society with a rock aesthetic.
That’s another reason I don’t like the term “popular culture”—because hardly any individual examples of popular culture are that popular. I don’t mean that whatever the current Number One single is this week will sell far fewer copies than the Number Ones of the 1940s, but in the sense that a gangsta rapper is not as popular as Puccini was ninety years ago, or Franz Lehár a century ago, or Offenbach. Popular culture has dwindled down to a bunch of mutually hostile unpopular popular cultures. The only thing about it that’s universally popular is its overall undemanding aesthetic.
End Mike Church Show Transcript