Addendum On The Unwanted Sound

by Thomas Brett

There is one other point I wanted to make note of regarding Garret Keizer’s The Unwanted Sound Of Everything We Want. At the end of the book in a discussion of the U.S. Supreme Court’s case Ward v. Rock Against Racism (1989) Keizer makes the offhand observation that “rock music . . . may be the most apartheid cultural institution left in the Western world” (246). As inflammatory as this statement might sound to some rock music lovers, I was glad to read it.  I have nothing against rock as a musical idiom, but I have long wondered why so many listeners treat it as the only real (read: serious) popular music–as the main narrative and musical vocabulary that somehow we all share.  I have noticed this bias in the classroom too, when half the class are “rockists” extolling (with impressive discrimination of detail) what makes “classic” rock great while the others wonder what all the fuss is about.

And Keizer’s use of the term apartheid is not casual either, reminding us how exclusive rock music as a cultural institution has become over the decades.  We might do well to remember that rock is a music which, however much cultural prestige it has accrued over the years (e.g. remember the recent reverent hype over the Beatles’ music catalog coming to iTunes?), does not, in fact cannot, tell all of the stories that are out there to be told.