Let’s Roll!: “What’s Left?” July 2012, MRR #350

Rock is dead. Long live paper and scissors.


I have an acquaintance who has this incredibly annoying habit of proclaiming something dead once it no longer conforms to his expectations, his principles or what he thinks ought to be done. Everything from a simple reading room/library project to a complex social movement like Occupy Oakland, things that he sometimes initiated, but definitely jumped into and at first enthusiastically supported, eventually go belly up in his estimation. Oh, they continue on and perhaps even achieve important things, but he has pronounced them D.O.A. and thereby dismissed them.

Of course, it’s common practice to declare dead that which one no longer considers significant, or hopes to make insignificant. Socialism, communism and the Left were all declared dead when the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union collapsed in the late 1980s. The Republican Party was declared dead with Johnson’s landslide electoral victory over Goldwater in 1964, as was the Democratic Party in 1980 and 1984 with Reagan’s victories over Carter and Mondale respectively. American democracy was declared dead when the Supreme Court sided in favor of George W. Bush over Al Gore in the Florida deadlock of 2000, and again in the Citizens United ruling of 2010. Rather than delve into such highly political debates, lets bring this practice a little closer to home. We’ll inject politics into the discussion soon enough.

Rock and roll has been declared dead time and again. Folks into 1950s style rock considered psychedelic rock to be the music’s death knell, while fans of 1970s prog-rock were aghast at punk’s angry snarl and were more than willing to bury the whole genre. No need to cite the numerous times punk itself has been erroneously pronounced dead. Of course, there are always people who aren’t appalled by the changes in music so much as think that things have evolved beyond what the standard categories allow, as when David Byrne said: “As I define it, rock and roll is dead. The attitude isn’t dead, but the music is no longer vital. It doesn’t have the same meaning. The attitude, though, is still very much alive—and it still informs other kinds of music.” In general though, those willing to declare rock’n’roll dead hate the current state of the music, and are looking to abandon the present for some nostalgic past.

This very magazine has been declared irrelevant, if not dead, a few times itself. When Punk Planet, Hit List, Heart attaCk and Shredding Paper emerged circa 1994, these zines all harbored the notion that MRR was a punk rock monopoly that needed to be broken, if not killed off and buried. MRR’s main competitor at the time, Punk Planet, made no secret of its opinion that we were obsolete and moribund. And yet, who remains standing today? One of MRR’s columnists who jumped ship to join Punk Planet, Larry Livermore, made it clear he thought we were history and, years after Punk Planet bit the dust, he expressed sneering surprise that MRR was still alive and kicking. Now, he claims, in the pages of this very magazine, that he is excited once again to be contributing to MRR.


Mention of Larry Livermore brings up another way of thinking about such matters, that being of the living dead, or more accurately, of the undead. There are numerous countercultures, subcultures and youth cultures that gave up the ghost years, even decades ago, but which still wander the land like mindless zombies or blood-sucking vampires. Beatniks, Teddie boys, mods, rockers, hippies, New Romantics, Rastas, Heavy Metal maniacs, skinheads, et al, exist side-by-side with todays punks, Hip-Hoppers, and Rappers; a sad melange of faux rebelliousness and rampant consumerism. Those youthful tendencies, the individuals of which had or still have revolutionary intentions—their aspirations seem quaint, if not outright ludicrous.

Declaring this fragmentation of “youth culture” to be a nefarious capitalist plot to co-opt potential revolutionary youth movements, to redirect youthful energies, or just to get kids to buy lots of shit is absurd. Social atomization, niche marketing, and conspicuous consumerism is the way capitalism rolls these days, for everybody. Frequently, these characteristics of capitalism are more than sufficient to dispel working class militancy, nationalist agitation, and social unrest without need for state intervention, at least in the developed West. When they don’t, or in the rest of the world where capitalism is still engendering a consumer oriented middle class, government violence can be meted out proportionally to maintain the status quo.

The Arab Spring is actually the exception proving the rule in this case. Born of societies where young people are majorities, youth spearheaded the uprisings in the region, where it affected some eighteen Middle Eastern countries, but resulted in only four regime changes. The quintessential example of the Arab Spring’s success, Egypt, is still ruled by the military, which recently disqualified a slew of candidates in the lead-up to presidential elections.

The flip side of declaring something dead, whether it is or not, is to trumpet that something is vital and alive, when clearly it isn’t. The acquaintance mentioned above also suffers from this equally annoying flaw, nowhere clearer than his evaluation of the so-called Egyptian revolution. Labor unrest in Egyptian textile mills, pharmaceutical plants, chemical industries, the Suez Canal and Cairo airport, the transportation sector and banks during the Tahrir Square protests was heralded by him as the beginnings of a proletarian insurrection, with workers councils imminent. The rather rapid dissipation of this working class agitation, not to mention elections held from November 28, 2011 to January 11, 2012, which brought into Parliament a sizable Muslim fundamentalist majority, have failed to dispel his fantasy of a revolutionary uprising right around the corner. And never mind that former, mostly secular protests have now become fundamentalist riots. One textile factory remains on strike, so that must be the spark that will start a prairie fire, that will usher in a true Soviet Egypt.


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