This is a guest post from Sean Kay, Robson Professor of Politics and Government, and Director of International Studies, at Ohio Wesleyan University. The interview quotes appear in his new book Rockin’ the Free World! How the Rock & Roll Revolution Changed America and the World (2017).
There is power in rock and roll – an art form that has modernized American values and helped them to ripple around the world – advancing freedom, equality, human rights, and peace. Over the last several years I was fortunate to interview about sixty major rock and roll artists, songwriters, producers, managers, non-profit heads and activists as part of a new book project. The interviews led me to the central case – that rock and roll advances progress in America and the world.
The Ethos of Rock & Roll
More than a music form – rock and roll is also an attitude and an ethic. As Joan Jett said in her 2015 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:
I come from a place where rock and roll means something. It means more than music, more than fashion, more than a good pose. It’s a language of a subculture that’s made eternal teenagers of all who follow it. It’s a subculture of integrity, rebellion, frustration, alienation, and the glue that set several generations free from unnatural societal and self-suppression. Rock and roll is political. It is a meaningful way to express dissent, upset the status quo, stir up revolution, and fight for human rights. Think I’m making it sound more important and serious than it is? ‘It’s only rock and roll,’ right? Rock and roll is an idea, and an ideal. Sometimes, because we love the music and we make the music, we forget the political impact it has on people around the world. There are Pussy Riots wherever there is political agitation.
The modern world has been shaped by rockers – even if not being overtly “political.” According to Jann Wenner, founder and publisher of Rolling Stone magazine, rock and roll can be a shared expression of freedom, Wenner says: “Like Chuck Berry, just writing about how boring school was, ‘ring ring goes the bell’ – can’t wait to get out of there!” Billy Bragg, who was inspired to his career at a Rock Against Racism concert put on by the Clash, says: “You challenge your audience. Sometimes you are confirming the things that they support. I don’t like the phrase ‘preaching to the choir’ – but you are ‘recharging their batteries’ – by reminding them; they’re standing in the room and everybody in the room sees there’s power in union together.” George Clinton, of Parliament-Funkadelic tells me it was the kind of freedom you: “…could get at church, or any kind of ritual, but especially to do it on your own terms – not to get psyched into it, because you’re still opening yourself up.” Continue reading