Lyrical Legacies: Essays On Topics In Rock, Pop, And Blues Lyrics...And Beyond
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This is the case primarily because even though there are distinctly different responses, there are definite similarities at times more so than at other times between both youth sub-cultural and counter-cultural experiences. There have been numerous theories and interpretations of youth culture in general. Liberals and conservatives have tended to generate their own meanings and responses; and Marxists have disagreed not only on definitions, but also on the validity of the concept itself.
The correctness of the insistence on the distinctness of each new generation seems They thus share in some degree or other various common experiences and therefore expectations and values which are different from those of other generations. The degree to which this is true. But Jacques is careful not to liquidate the concrete differences between the experiences of the youth of various social classes. In much the same way that we discussed subcultures in general above, he explains that,.
Firstly, within each class or fraction of the class, the youth element possesses particular and distinctive characteristics in relation to the class as a whole and, secondly, youth in general shares certain similar overall characteristics. But it must be said that youth culture is not a monolithic whole, rather it is more appropriate in many ways to speak of youth cultures. Jacques argues that the disparity that has distinguished the experiences of the post-war generations those born during or after from previous generations has been most dramatic in three areas: 1 the ideological arena, 2 the numerical and material position of youth, and 3 its social composition.
This disparity reflects the fundamental differences between the long wave of capitalist contraction and crisis which characterized the period between the world wars, and the long wave of capitalist expansion following the second world war. Ideologically, the post-war generations have never confronted the major problems that dominated the lives of the previous generations, namely massive unemployment and fascism in power in major industrial countries.
Because youth have come to accept a state of relatively full employment and rising living standards as normal, they have judged capitalist society by quite different standards than those most likely utilized by people who lived through the s. This combined with the growth in the educational sphere, including the emphasis on extending the years spent in education, the increased income and spending capacity of working youth, and the declining role of the family, have all served to increase the ideological, economic and political autonomy and influence of youth as expressed in such phenomenon as popular music, clothing and sexual behavior.
Concerning the social composition of youth, the growing importance of various strata, of technical, scientific, intellectual and service related labor within the realm of wage-labor, especially in food production, entertainment and health care, as well as the financial and distribution sectors of the economy, has had a marked effect on working class youth.
This can be seen in the increasingly diverse areas and types of employment, with very different traditions, work situations, degrees of organization and educational requirements. Further, the length of time spent in education, including high school, community colleges and technical schools, as well as universities, has meant that more youth not only receive more education, but also remain outside of the full-time labor market for longer periods of time, quite often not by choice.
Thus, the composition of working class youth is now much more diverse than ever before, and numerically certain new sections are becoming quite important. Also, since most students enter the ranks of the wage-labor force, the social distance between student youth and working class youth, and between sub-cultural and counter-cultural responses, can at times become considerably narrowed.
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Though these facts should not be exaggerated in considering the existence of a youth culture, especially given the potential for extreme divergence of the experience of a young factory worker in Oakland and a secretary on Wall Street, and the wide divergence of national minority cultures, the tendencies do exist and the implications are important. The general oppression of working youth can be summarized into four major categories. This process can often involve the older generation teaching old and regressive values, such as racism and sexism, and negative practices such as alcoholism and child abuse.
The rebellion of youth against these various aspects of their existence takes on different forms depending on the class character of those responding. Music has tended to become a powerful vehicle for this rebellion because it can provide an expression for the focal concerns of youth, in words as well as sounds.
But given the hegemony of capitalist ideology, the rebellion tends toward individualism and subjectivism, particularly in a counter-cultural framework, such as prevailed in the U. This can develop further into a more consciously political response of Utopian anarchism that rejects all authority and organization. To define revolutionary cultural practice we need to return to certain elements of our discussion of ideological class struggle, as well as to develop certain new elements specific to cultural practice itself.
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New relations can be produced in culture. The question of whether or not such new relations are revolutionary can only be judged in their relation to, and impact on the broader realm of ideological class struggle. Does the portrayal and possible transcendence of existing relations serve to reinforce the hegemony of the dominant class ideologically and politically, or does it serve tendencies toward the dissolution of that hegemony? A song, or poster, or work of art can be said to be revolutionary if it serves to help break down the hegemony of the ruling class. Further, a single cultural object can contain both tendencies.
Fundamental to this understanding of class struggle in culture and ideology is a conception of revolution painfully absent in the theories and strategies of the majority of revolutionary groups in the USA today. Most revolutionaries have a vision of revolution that involves the dramatic physical assault by the working class against the capitalist state, in much the same way that the Russian working class rose to power in However, such an approach was successful for the Russians because of the concentration of state power in a narrowly defined power base.
The autocratic regime had been overthrown by the mobilization of the vast majority of the popular masses against the Czar. Bourgeois rule after February, , was tentative, and based on the support or neutrality of the working class and its primary ally, the peasantry. When this support was withdrawn, the state was highly vulnerable and susceptible to a frontal assault. Thus a frontal assault on an advanced capitalist state by itself, without other forms of struggle is no longer a viable strategy. It is precisely this struggle for working class hegemony and its necessary class alliances that points out the validity of a conception that sees revolutionary cultural practice in whatever elements that serve to break down capitalist hegemony.
The need for a process of developing working class hegemony can not be envisioned in isolation from the broad struggle against the hegemony of the ruling class, which also maintains alliances and unites other classes and class strata. Further, such a developmental process requires a large and effective revolutionary party actively practicing the science of Marxism-Leninism in the service of the working class. Our understanding here is based on the fact that a revolutionary situation is not simply an opposition of the working class to the capitalists.
A revolutionary situation is rather a complex accumulation of many social contradictions acting simultaneously with the fundamental class contradiction.
This is the Leninist conception of revolution, and Althusser has provided us with a theoretical summation of this process. Thus, any elements that serve to challenge the authority and legitimacy of the status quo can serve a revolutionary function. This is not to say that they will do so consciously, or that they will support the revolutionary process itself. It is to simply acknowledge the objective effect that such elements can have in challenging the hegemony of the ruling class.
It is the role of communists to provide direction for such challenges, and to struggle to develop an alternative to capitalist hegemony in the ideology of the working class.
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And we must be quite clear on the fundamental distinction between revolutionary communist practice and revolutionary anti-capitalist practice, both of which are vital to successful socialist revolution. Once communists understand the class struggle that is unfolding we can undertake conscious ideological campaigns to influence audiences, as well as certain musicians. Energy must be concentrated on reaching the audience because the masses are much more stable than a few isolated individual musicians, and it is the masses who will create their own artists and musicians, both by organically producing them and by supporting those who reflect their ideals.
Then the cultural workers can be involved in the process of learning the needs and desires of the working masses, and acting for their fulfillment, i. The cultural process must, therefore, be understood as highly contradictory, and potentially highly volatile. It is no accident that the dominant culture is overwhelmingly filled with elements that serve to avoid and obscure the concrete class contradictions, as well as any contradictions or history that serve to call into question the existing relations of existence. One of the more all pervasive myths today is that of consumerism, a myth that actually has quite recent origins in opposition to the traditionally frugal work ethic.
Publicity is the culture of the consumer society. I was reared with appliances In a consumer society. Under advanced capitalism the dominant tendency is for people to seek out relaxation and respite from the pressures and demands of work in the consumption of commodities. The purpose of publicity is to make the spectator marginally dissatisfied with his present way of life. Not with the way of life of society, but with his own within it.
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It suggests that if he buys what it is offering, his life will become better. It offers him an improved alternative to what he is. The basic needs for relaxation can be met through various means, including escape into fantasy, isolated individual consumption of objects and food or drugs, active participation in sports, passive entertainment by most movies, television, music concerts and drama; or on another level, intellectual expansion and critical interaction.
Materially, the need to regenerate ones ability to work, through the process of relaxation, is mystified and channeled by the ideological mechanisms of the media and advertising into the avenue of consumerism. Publicity turns consumption into a substitute for democracy. The choice of what one eats or wears or drives takes the place of significant political choice.
Publicity helps to mask and compensate for all that is undemocratic within society. Thus we can see that within the realm of consumer society the dominant tendency is toward manipulation, on both conscious and subliminal levels. But there is also a subordinate tendency of the consumer to have a degree of control over what is manufactured.
Under capitalism the process of any choice is predicated on the amount of surplus income available to purchase cultural commodities, which is directly connected to the standard of living of the masses, and to the rate of inflation. This complex relationship between consumer and commodity mediates the link in popular culture between the artist, musician or actor, and the values and feelings of the masses, toward themselves, the artist, the cultural object and toward society as a whole.
The dialectical interaction that takes place is such that the cultural product is not only shaped and enjoyed by the masses, but also shapes and influences them in diverse ways. For this reason any analysis of the cultural process must address the response of the audience. Because the aim of cultural and media products is to fulfill sensorial and emotional enjoyment, the response of the viewer or listener becomes crucial.
A song or movie can serve to generate leisure effects by creating an avenue for escape into apathy and fantasy. Walter Benjamin, the German Marxist literary critic who first developed an understanding of shock effects in culture, reflected on the fulfillment of a more general human need through the process of shock effects.
The daily shock of the brutality of modern society—from the chemical destruction of the Love Canal to police violence in Miami, has become for the most part an accepted part of our everyday lives. Since popular music is a relatively autonomous element within the complex totality of society, a direct and unmediated connection between the state of the economy and developments in music cannot be mechanically imposed on our analysis. However, whenever possible we must take into account the effects of an expanding or contracting economy, and the economy of the music industry itself, on the cultural expression of a given period, as well as the effects of other broad social factors such as war and repression.
Concrete examples of this include anti-war lyrics in the music of a wide range of mainstream rock and roll bands during the Vietnam war, and the angry response of British punk rockers to the prospect of dead-end jobs and welfare lines, given the current economic situation in England. Because of its relative autonomy as a cultural phenomenon, rock and roll music has its own internal rhythm of development which leads to periods of vitality and creativity, as well as periods of redundant repetition and stagnation.
This rhythm of development is more or less independent of other societal and cultural developments depending on a complex interaction of all the elements involved. The original fusion of popular rhythm and blues, country music and rockabilly—all musical expressions that sprang from the culture of working people—has become a wide-ranging musical realm that embraces on the one hand a soft and mellow, folk music sound, and on the other a driving energetic sound that is at times harsh and abrasive.