organization of the record industry brings to
light an essential ambiguity of rock music. If
most new musical trends result from the
criticism of mass consumption (including of
music), they seldom resist very long the
relentless attacks of the industry and its
most unorthodox practices are rapidly
popularized and made palatable, losing in the
process their radical character9. The latest
example being that of the Seattle band Nirvana,
jumping in a few weeks from the status of
garage-band to the #1 position in the charts.
Each musical trend, after a few months of
existence, thus faces two alternatives: either
to slowly fade away, or to integrate into mass
culture. The evolution of the record industry
lies on this well-documented process (see, for
example, Richard Peterson and David Berger or
John Fiske in Introduction to Communication
Studies), the fierce and unrelenting competition
between majors and indies, which is often closer
to plunder than collaboration.
Rock music is never counter cultural for long.
As a rule, after a short period on the fringes,
each new style becomes a mass counter-cultural
movement, before eventually joining the mass
culture merry-go-round. Mass industry cares
little about the subtle differences between
culture and the counter culture. In fact, its
essential feature is precisely its ability to
digest any form of deviancy or marginality. As
Herbert J. Gans noted in 1974: ... the youth
culture of the 1960s has now declined, at least
in public visibility, and no longer looks as
threatening to the advocates of high culture as
it did only a few years ago.
Indeed, much of that youth culture is now being
incorporated into commercial popular culture.
In the end, one may wonder how relevant is the
questioning of rock music as it is carried out
by the various schools of criticism mentioned
earlier. The central question is not one of
origin. To ask whether rock is a commodity
manufactured and imposed by cultural industries
or the authentic offspring of popular culture is
pointless. In any case, it takes both to make
rock commercially viable as well as artistically
exciting; a commodity which doesn't rely on a
popular taste is bound to flop. As Todd Gitlin
put it regarding television programs: ...
capitalism implies a certain sensitivity to
audience taste, taste which is never wholly
manufactured. Shows are made by guessing at
audience desires and tolerances..."
Similarly, rock music cannot be content with
keeping a low profile. It needs the limelight to
makes rock so special is its volatile and
radical nature. It is actuated by a tension, the
necessary resistance to an unavoidable
commercialization, which creates new forces,
prompts new talents. By regularly breaking free
from cultural industries, by opposing the
individual to the community, by questioning its
involvement with mass culture, rock manages to
may then resume its position within this culture
with a renewed potency, until the next break.
Rock music is not a state. It belongs neither to
an individualistic counter culture nor to mass
culture. Rock could be best described as a
passage, an interval, the space between. Rock is
a dynamic, the dynamic of change.