Friday, February 1, 2013

There are No Bad Boys Left in Rock, Just LOTS of Bad

If you don't remember Third Eye Blind, count yourself among the lucky. Paris Hilton has led a less charmed life (one might even call it semi-charmed).

During their fifteen minutes, I caught their singer Stephan Jenkins being interviewed on MTV. He was being asked about their onstage antics. Apparently, Third Eye Blind had some dancers onstage shaking their thangs behind screens, causing the VJ to say something like, "You guys are the new bad boys of rock."

The absurdity of this was forever seared into my brain.

By the late nineties, rock had become so pathetic and obsolete as a form of rebellion that all it took to grab the "bad boy" mantle was to have a woman that no one could actually see remove her top while a blow-dried pop song flatulated through the speakers.

I don't blame the host for grasping for the "bad boy" cliché. He was just doing what journalists and talking airheads always do: regurgitate meaningless archetypes. Since rock began, there have been "bad boys." When rock first emerged, they were pretty much all bad boys; Little Richard and Elvis did actually represent some sort of threat to the established order. Then as rock became the new mainstream, more defined rock categories began to emerge--hard rock, folk rock, etc.--and over time various bands--The Rolling Stones, Guns N' Roses--were given the title of "rock's bad boys."

The reality that eventually rock had no bad boys didn't matter. Once "bad boys of rock" became an established marketing tool, nothing was going to stop the industry and its sycophants from using it. No bad boys on the rock scene? No problem. We'll just create some. No one will be able to tell the difference anyway.

Even rebellions within rock were eventually distilled into irrelevance. Look at punk. The fact that Good Charlotte had nothing in common with the Sex Pistols mattered not one iota. Marketing needed to happen, "punk rock" was a marketable archetype, and the kids who fell for Good Charlotte's "punk" put-ons didn't understand or care about punk's origins. Punk (which began as something eclectic) was eventually distilled down to spiky hair, extremely simple chord structures and lots of "energy," and anyone willing to adopt those affectations suddenly qualified as punk. Never mind heckling the royal family, here's Good Charlotte.

If you think I'm just being grouchy, compare some lyrics from Good Charlotte's "Hold On" to the Sex Pistols' "Bodies":

Hold On

This world, this world is cold

But you don't, you don't have to go

You're feeling sad, you're feeling lonely

And no one seems to care

You're mother's gone and your father hits you

This pain you cannot bear

But we all bleed the same way as you do

And we all have the same things to go through

Hold on, if you feel like letting go

Hold on, it gets better than you know


Dragged on a table in factory

Illegitimate place to be

In a packet in a lavatory

Die little baby screaming

Body screaming fucking bloody mess

Not an animal

It's an abortion

Body! I'm not animal

Mummy! I'm not an abortion

The fact that by the time Third Eye Blind hit the charts punk rock was safer than a Volvo in the slow lane didn't matter. Just because something becomes passé doesn't mean its archetypes vanish. Far from it. We don't have a WASP in today's White House or on today's Supreme Court, yet progressives still harp about a repressive WASP elite. Opposing malevolent, power-abusing WASPs has been a progressive staple since your great grandparents were in shortpants, so even though WASP elites have disappeared, today's progressives still recycle that archetype to define themselves as rebels. Because nothing says rebel like speaking truth to a long dead power. I've been known to take bold stands against the Minoans.

I don't follow today's rockers, but I bet anyone unfortunate enough to open Rolling Stone would still find anodyne bands being referred to as bad boys without the faintest whiff of irony. This is extra hilarious, considering that today's world is so callous and detached that short of doing a suicide bombing during the guitar solo, nothing can really be called shocking anymore. Possibly the only thing more headline-grabbing than strapping a bomb to your chest and detonating it in a crowded arena would be to grab the mic and announce that you don't think "The Wire" is the greatest TV show of all time.

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