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ROCK IS MASCULINE

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This July, Elvis Presley’s first single, That’s All Right, turned sixty-three years old. For the youth of the time, Elvis Presley’s arrival marks the cultural shift away from the Bing Crosby and Doris Day mentality of their parents’ generation to one that is centred around youth and adolescence. The repercussions of this seismic shift can still be felt.

Like all cultural phenomena, rock was denounced as a passing fancy at best, and satanic at worst. And like all cultural phenomena, many have failed to grasp its masculine cultural symbology: while there have been some great female rockers (Grace Slick, Suzi Quatro, Joan Jett, Deborah Harry, to name a few), rock has primarily been the manifestation of raw masculine energy and lust.

Rock music owes a lot to the myths and folklore of the past. In his book, the Secret History of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Christopher Knowles postulates that rock music is deeply rooted in the mythological figures of Orpheus, Cybele and Attis, Isis, Mithra, the Druids, and so forth. Knowles writes:

“What did the Mysteries offer that other cults of time did not? Almost exactly what rock ‘n’ roll would, thousands of years later. Drink. Drugs. Sex. Loud music. Wild pyrotechnics. A feeling of transcendence – leaving your mind and your body and entering a different world, filled with mystery and danger. A personal connection to something deep, straight, and impossibly timeless. An opportunity to escape the grinding monotony of daily life and break all the rules of polite society. A place to dress up in wild costumes and dance and drink and trip all night.”

Nowhere is this sentiment better expressed than in heavy metal. A genre whose thematically operatic power is drawn from themes of violence, madness, mythology, and the iconography of horror. Central to heavy metal music are fantasies of masculine virtuosity and control. According to Robert Wasler, author of the book Running with the Devil, “metal songs usually include impressive technical and rhetorical feats on the electric guitar, counter-posed with an experience of power and control that is built up through vocal extremes, guitar power chords, distortion, and sheer volume of bass and drums.”

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Originally, the term ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ was an African American euphemism for sexual intercourse. Blues music, one of the roots of rock, contains a plethora of examples of the raw masculine aggression and lust that later rock music would allude to. Muddy Water’s Hoochie Coochie Man, for example, utilises the theme of masculine self-mythologization:

“The gipsy woman told my mother

Before I was born

I got a boy child comin’

He’s gonna be a son of a gun

He’s gonna make pretty women’s

Jump and shout

Then the world wanna know

What this all about

But you know I’m him

Everybody knows I’m him

Well you know I’m the hoochie coochie man

Everybody knows I’m him.”

In a similar way, Muddy Water’s Mannish Boy, itself a response to Bo Diddley’s I’m a Man, continues the theme of masculine self-mythologization:

“Now when I was a young boy

At the age of five

My mother said I was gonna be

The greatest man alive

But now I’m a man

I made twenty-one

I want you to believe me, baby

I had lots of fun

I’m a man,

Spelt ‘m’, ‘a-child’, n’

The represents ‘man’

No ‘b, o-child, y’

That spells ‘mannish boy’.”

Sex forms another important theme in blues music. Waters’ song Got My Mojo Working features themes of hoodoo – an African American form of folk spiritualism – and seduction. Other songs, such as Screaming Jay Hawkins I Put a Spell on You, focuses on the raw, animalistic qualities of lust:

“I put a spell on you

Because you’re mine

Stop the things you do

Watch out!

I ain’t lying, yeah

No running around

I can’t stand

I can’t stand, no put me down

I put a spell on you

Because you’re mine

Watch out, watch out

I ain’t lying

I love you

I love you

I love you, yeah

I don’t care if you don’t want me

I’m yours right now

I put a spell on you

Because you’re mine.”

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Masculinity and sex have always been themes in rock music. These themes manifest themselves most peculiarly in the quasi-religious experience of rock concerts. No one who has seen footage of Woodstock or its darker equivalent, Altamont, can fail to notice the undercurrents of tribalism present at these events. As one observer noted: “one of the most interesting developments in the United States in 1956 was the behaviour of hundreds of thousands of mostly white, middle-class girls, who screamed, danced, and sobbed to the point of ‘enthralment’, ‘near hysteria’, ‘mass hysteria’, or ‘pandemonium’.”

Rock songs of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s contained a plethora of references equating masculinity with sex. Dion’s the Wanderer is about a cad who roams ‘from town to town.’ Bob Seger’s Night Moves refers to a woman’s breasts – a natural object of male desire – as ‘points all her own sitting way up high, way up firm and high.’ More darkly, the Rolling Stones’ Brown Sugar contains themes of slavery, rape, interracial sex, underage sex, physical abuse, and drug taking. Then there are the music videos, many of which were banned from play on mainstream media. Duran Duran’s Girls On Film features nudity and mud wrestling. Queen’s Fat Bottom Girls features nude women riding bicycles around a sport’s track.

And, of course, it is not unusual for rockstars to enjoy favouritism from the opposite sex. Indeed, sexual prowess and adulation from women form an important theme in rock lore. Groupies of heavy metal artists, for instance, are not just female fans but are seen as extensions of the musician’s artistic identity. Women and access to sex are almost gifted to the rock star, much like the harems of the Ottoman Sultan, the mistresses of European monarchs, or the concubines of Chinese Emperors.

Rock music is the modern reincarnation of ancient myths and folklore. It relies on the same motifs and themes and therefore has a similar effect on the human psyche. As a result, rock music and mythology and folklore share many of the same tropes. Rock music glorifies masculine energy and lust through symbols and metaphors. It raises the rockstar to an exalted position and then confers benefits upon him by giving him greater access to women and sex. This, in turn, gives the rockstar an almost deific quality. Feelings of unity and tribalism are expressed through the quasi-religious nature of the rock concert. The long-lasting popularity of rock music arises from its ability to give expression to ancient symbols of masculinity, and in its capacity to provide an outlet for the more repressed aspects of our nature.


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