Death Rock 2000

Mick Jagger liked to participate in his own rejection. "Heart of Stone" is apparently obvious irony, the singer claiming he's going to make the girl cry when you know that it's the girl who's making him cry. Except, the way Jagger sings it, the guy really is as tough and scary as the words say he's pretending to be. "Back Street Girl" does it the other way around: The words say it's about ownership, the rich married man laying down the rules to his mistress like she's property, telling her he wants to fuck her but doesn't want her to enter into and dirty up his tidy upper-class life; but in the music it's the most beautiful love song the Stones ever recorded. Another example: the live "Midnight Rambler" in which the swaggering Rambler-sociopath-narrator-killer is boasting, "Honey, it's no rock'n'roll show," thereby denigrating the actual rock'n'roller who wrote and is singing the song and the mere rock'n'roll show at which he's singing it.

In Stanley Booth's great book on the Stones (called alternately Dance With the Devil and The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones) Alexis Korner and Ian Stewart recalled the Stones' early days.

Korner: "[Brian] used to jump forward with the tambourine and smash it in your face and sneer at you at the same time . . . Brian achieved what he wanted to achieve by his extreme aggression, and it was extreme, it was incitement, when Brian was onstage playing he was inciting every male in the room to hit him . . . It was Brian who made the blokes want to thump him. He would deliberately play at someone's chick, and when the bloke got stroppy, he'd slap a tambourine in his face."

Stewart: "Brian could have been killed a few times."

Of course the Stooges and Sex Pistols and scores of other punks elaborated on this call-and-response, bands and audiences flouting each other's authority, spitting, cutting, hitting, making noise, and presumably at times getting a kick out of the whole process. At Stooges shows, instead of the fans mobbing the band—like in the Beatles' teenybopper days—you had Iggy going after the audience. He would dive into the crowd, smash his body down onto the floor, flop around like a spastic, jab the mic into people's faces and demand they sing into it, lie down on broken glass, pour hot candle wax over himself, provoke people into hitting him. So this is the call-and-response turnaround: Instead of black audiences prepared to be part of the music, you have white audiences forced into being part of the show whether they want to or not. "I am the audience," Iggy claimed in one of his interviews. The guy behind me at the Stooges and Blue Öyster Cult New Year's Eve show, December 31, 1973, kept yelling over and over, "Come back here Iggy and I'll kill you, come back here Iggy and I'll kill you." Lester Bangs, musing back on a particularly violent Stooges show: "Jungle war with bike gangs is one thing, but it gets a little more complicated when those of us who love being around that war (at least vicariously) have to stop to consider why and what we're loving. Because one of the things we're loving is self-hate, and another may well be a human being committing suicide." But anyway, I want to consider the social environment of this death thing, in which the we splits up, the psyche divides.

Brian, Keith, Dylan, another Keith, Lou, Iggy, Johnny Thunders, Peter Laughner, Sid Vicious, Axl, Kurt, Courtney, plus scores of lesser knowns and probably a bunch of goth chicks and industrial guys I've never listened to. Though some of these people realized that failure was no success at all and so decided to live, or perhaps secretly led a life of blissful mental health, self-destruction was nonetheless part of their image and part of their appeal.

Leaning again on that Warshow essay, I'd say that though this music may emerge in urban bohemia, it has its emotional roots in the suburbs from which the bohemians come. Warshow was writing from the point of view of second-generation immigrant Jews whose world of success or failure was the garment district, drugstores, the move into academia and the professions. I'm third generation, and the world of success or failure is high school, college, the business job or professional/academic career that's expected (rather than a sought-after achievement). And the agreed conception of human life—at least among would-be bohemians, freaks, goths, and probably a lot of the normals, too—is that human beings have the potential to be compromised, contaminated, that you don't succeed unless you kiss the teacher's ass or the boss's ass; but if you do so you haven't really emerged from the crowd, you've just become a teacher's pet. Becoming a "rock star" is maybe a way out of this, since it's not the teacher or boss who's judging you anymore (supposedly). But you have to please the audience—and so, to emerge from that crowd, you have to attack your audience. And as I'm suggesting, certain audiences will want you to attack them, to assert your independence from them (and in so doing you act out for them their long-lost integrity). But then you've just pleased them anyway, and if you're a real punk like the Stooges and the Sex Pistols, you want fans to resist, to hit back. But either the fans kill you or (this is what audiences really do) they walk out on you. Then you're nothing, you're an obscurity. Or they don't resist you, they continue to appreciate you. So the only way to really resist their appreciation, to emerge from that crowd, is to die. And I (the fan) want you to, because otherwise you're still kissing my ass. (I'm not saying this is true, mind you; I'm just explaining the logic of its appeal.)

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