Duck! and Gather

Archive for December 8th, 2006

Continuing on from my previous posting, this posting will set forth a model correlating emergent American music genres with the social “turnings” described by authors Strauss & Howe in The Fourth Turning. For each of these turnings, I will set forth:

  1. the name and year range of that turning assigned by Strauss & Howe
  2. the name of the youth generation during that turning as assigned by Strauss & Howe
  3. the year and name of the new genre of American music that emerged during that turning and “spoke” to the youth

On point #3, the year of relevance is not the year during which the genre originated. Instead, it is the year during which the genre became generally popular around the nation — at least among the youth.

Moreover, this new genre must have enjoyed staying power. In other words, 20 or so years after its popular emergence, that genre should have evoked a feeling of nostalgia among the now middle-aged, thus fueling “oldies” radio stations and the like.

Fourth, the new genre should be somewhat repugnant to the older elements of American society (i.e. “What kind of crap are those kids listening to?”).

With the above constraints in mind, here’s the model:

  • 1886-1908 Third Great Awakening … Missionary Generation … 1897 Ragtime
  • 1908-1929 World War I and Prohibition … Lost Generation … 1920s Big Band Jazz
  • 1929-1946 Great Depression and World War II … G.I. Generation … 1935 Swing
  • 1946-1964 American High … Silent Generation … 1951 Rock and Roll
  • 1964-1984 Consciousness Revolution … Boom Generation … 1967 Psychedelic Rock
  • 1984 – 2001-5? Culture Wars … 13th Generation (“X”) … 1985 Hip Hop
  • 2001-5? – … Millenial Generation … ? Mashup

A couple of observations bear noting. First, the last two genres were difficult (for me at least) to identify. Concerning the 1980s, the number of sub-genres of only rock and roll boggles the mind. And even that endless list leaves out my selection for this period: Hip Hop.

All I can say is that Hip Hop seems best to embody the constraints I set forth above. Namely, it has exhibited strong staying power. Second, it has acquired ubiquity. In fact, as of the 2000s, Hip Hop has nicely crossed the black-white chasm in American society. Name me one of those white sub-genres of rock that has stayed and crossed into black culture. Grunge? Punk? Christian? Alternative? Electronica? I say none of the above.

Third, Hip Hop seems the best candidate among the other 1980s possibilities for evoking the “What the f$%k is that?!” reaction from the older segments of society.

As for the current turning, it’s still not clear that the 1980s have ended and the next crisis has begun. If the crisis has started, then 9/11 of 2001 seems the obvious starting point. And if that’s true, then my best guess for the present emergent popular genre is Mashup. (If you’ve got other ideas, please chime in.)

A second observation concerns the role of African American music in the development of American music. Look back at the above list of the seven defining, epochal, milestone American music genres since 1886. Five of the seven emerged directly and only from African American culture. The two in the list that didn’t are Psychedelic Rock and Mashup. The former was, save for Jimi Hendrix, pretty much a white thing; the latter seems cross- and multi-cultural in its origins.

I think this is extraordinary. Since 1886, African Americans have served as the most visible and most impoverished minority group in America. Yet this particular minority group has, over and over, written and produced the scores for the great American social turnings.

That white America has accepted this says much about America. For example, Ragtime can be described as the infusion of Aftrican rhythms into classical white European military march music. Over the same 120-year period, what European country allowed its national “white” music to be continually “spiced up” and “shaken up” by its underclass? I can’t think of any such country.

This is what I love about America; and simultaneously what I fear about America. What I love about America is that it is a fluid and dynamic place in which the truth will come out. What I fear about America is that what it takes for the truth to come out is the loudest shouting. Too often in history, that loud shouting has taken the form of violence.

Over the past 120 years, black America, through its music, has shouted at white America: “Your world is stiff, false, and hypocritical! Get up and move!”

Anyway, this is all preliminary dialogue. In the next posting of this series, I will explain how each new genre of music represents a protest from the street against the old dominant genre, but over time, the forces of corporatization bloat the new genre, making it easy pickings for the next generation.

A couple of evenings ago, for some reason or another, I got to reading about Charles Manson and his “Family” on the web. I had read the book Helter Skelter decades ago and hadn’t thought much about that case since. But, as noted, my interest was drawn back in, and with the Internet, we can dive in as deep as we like.

A few thoughts occurred to me on reading this material. First, Manson’s personality type seems to be the Seven, with his emotional health down around the pathological level. Not surprising given his horrific childhood.

Consistent with my theory that all cult leaders are Sevens, Manson’s Family certainly seemed to fit the same unhealthy-self-styled-Messiah-Seven-plus-his-devoted-followers pattern that describes Scientology, Hari Krishna, World Wide Church of God, People’s Temple, and pretty much every other cult I’ve ever looked into. So not much interesting or new there.

A second thought came to me reading about ATWA — Manson’s “Air, Trees, Water, Animals” organization. Basically, the psychopathic, murderous Manson Family also happens to fancy itself as proponents of love, holism, and nature. This perverse humor reminded me of Right to Life people who demonstrate their love of human life by bombing abortion clinics. Also brought to mind the American public and both political parties who, in 2002, listened to Mr. Bush’s “We’ll bomb Iraq into democracy and they’ll thank us for it” speeches and didn’t so much as blink.

But the above two thoughts are dead-end ones for me. That is, I’ve “been there, done that” on those thoughts. So they don’t interest me much anymore. But a third thought did interest me.

I thought about Charles Manson getting out of prison in March of 1967, and walking straight into ground zero of San Francisco’s “Summer of Love.” Through 1967, Manson had spent more than half of his life in institutions, including prisons, reform schools, and orphanages. That Spring, Manson was the human equivalent of those crazy self-raised elephants about which I podcasted a few months ago.

With 100,000 young “flower children” from across America and around the world flocking to Haight-Ashbury in the Summer of 1967, the predator Manson found easy pickings among the more troubled and insecure of these children. Thus began the “Family”.

But what really interested me about San Francisco’s 1967 Summer of Love is that that summer marked the public emergence of psychedelic rock. If you’re not sure what that is, watch this short video. That’s it right there — in style, lyrics, and melody.

The interesting thing to me about psychedelic rock is that it is so obviously a child of the Sixties. In some way, it helps define what we mean by “the Sixties”, as distinguished from the “Fifties”. For example, some of those 60s versus 50s distinctions include:

  • hairy versus trimmed
  • wild colors and dress versus staid
  • Indian melodics versus purely “American”
  • drugs versus “wholesomeness”

Another way to put it is: picture yourself as a middle-aged parent in 1967. You’re one of those crew-cut “gray-flanneled” “organization” types who went to college, got married and started a family in the suburbs in the 1950s. You’re sitting there in front of your TV, watching Ed Sullivan or some such show, when all of a sudden nice Palo Alto-private school-bred Grace Slick pops on the screen in that video linked to above. As you fall out of your chair, you’re thinking: “What the f@$k is that!?”

Anyway, this reminded me of a theory about which I have podcasted concerning music. Basically, my theory is that music is simply a form of emotional communication. If that communication “speaks to us”, then we experience a pleasant physical response, such a “goose pimples” or tingles. But if it doesn’t speak to us, the “music” can feel like painful noise.

In 1967, when psychedelic rock emerged in all its full Fifties-burnin’ glory, I suspect that this music spoke movingly to much of American youth, but at the same time, harshly to their parents and grandparents.

So that observation then got me wondering: Does every American turning produce a new form of music that helps define that turning? When I say “turning”, I am referring to the social framework described by authors Strauss and Howe in their book, The Fourth Turning. As I have written, I believe that that book predicts an upcoming People vs. Corporations crisis in America.

As I noted in the above paper, these turnings give rise to the notion of generations, i.e. Boomers, Generation X, and so on. During every turning, one of the generations is going through its youth — i.e. 20s, give or take. I believe it is during youth — after childhood but before middle age — that music is able to speak most clearly to us. That is, as youths we are most open to identifying with the current emergent genre.

So my question about American turnings and music can be restated as: Does every generation of American youth have its own unique genre of music that its parents might not much like, but which genre showed staying power?

Psychedelic rock fits this profile nicely. Its staying power is evidenced by the bands the Yardbirds and Pink Floyd. The psychedelic Yardbirds of the 1960s morphed into the hard rock Led Zeppelin. Similarly, the psychedelic Syd Barrret-led Pink Floyd of the 1960s grew into the “ponderous” Floyd of the 1970s that many of us fondly remember.

So there we have one piece of the puzzle:

  • 1964-84 Conscious Revolution — Boomers are the American youth — psychedelic rock publically emerges in 1967.

What about the other turnings? Do they all have defining genres of music? Read on …

for the money has gone too far

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