Saturday, June 11, 2005

Allan Bloom on Mick Jagger:

The Closing of the American Mind is to me a very interesting, at times fascinating, and at times fun (also at times hard to understand and written in abstruse prose) book. It's an extremely informative book on political philosophy as well. But caution: it is very slanted towards the "Straussian" understanding of political philosophy, which is quite controversial.

That being said, I'll note that there is much of this book with which I disagree. And I think that no matter what one's political orientation, there is stuff that just about everyone but a Bloom/Strauss clone would disagree with. For instance, how many folks outside of that cult think that John Locke was an atheist -- which Bloom implies, because "no true philosopher could believe in God," that quote said by Bloom more explicitly in Saul Bellow's Ravelstein (I've heard second hand accounts that Strauss used to say privately "philosophers are paid not to believe in God."). A closet deist or unitarian, maybe. But an atheist? Nah.

Anyway, one of funnest parts of Closing is to hear Bloom rant on rock music. And as a fan of rock, this obviously is something in which I disagree. But this passage on Mick Jagger, who epitomized to Bloom everything that was wrong with rock is priceless (the book was written in 1986 -- Bloom didn't live long enough to see the likes of Eminem, et al.):

The Left is better interpreted by Nietzsche than by Marx. The critical theory of late capitalism is at once late capitalism's subtlest and crudest expression. Anti-bourgeois ire is the opiate of the Last Man.

This strong stimulant, which Nietzsche called Nihiline, was for a very long time, epitomized in a single figure, Mick Jagger. A shrewd, middle-class boy, he played the possessed lower class demon and teen-aged satyr up until he was forty, with one eye on the mobs of children of both sexes whom he stimulated to a sensual frenzy and the other eye winking at the unerotic, commercially motivated adults who handled the money. In his act he was male and female, heterosexual and homosexual; unencumbered by modesty, he could enter everyone's dreams, promising to do everything with everyone; and, above all, he legitimated drugs, which were the real thrill that parents and policemen conspired to deny his youthful audience.* He was beyond the law, moral and political, and thumbed his nose at it. Along with all this, there were nasty little appeals to the suppressed inclinations toward sexism, racism and violence, indulgence in which is not now publicly respectable. Nevertheless, he managed not to appear to contradict the rock ideal of a universal classless society founded on love, with the distinction between brotherly and bodily blurred. He was the hero and the model for countless young persons in universities, as well as elsewhere. I discovered that students who boasted of having no heroes secretly had a passion to be like Mick Jagger, to live his life, have his fame. They were ashamed to admit this in a university, although I am not certain that the reason has anything to do with a higher standard of taste. IT is probably that they are not supposed to have heroes. Rock music itself and talking about it with infinite seriousness are perfectly respectable. It has proved to be the ultimate leveler of intellectual snobbism. But it is not respectable to think of it as providing weak and ordinary persons with a fashionable behavior, the imitation of which will make others esteem them and boost their own self-esteem. Unaware and unwillingly, however, Mick Jagger played the role in their lives that Napoleon played in the lives of ordinary young Frenchmen throughout the nineteenth century. Everyone else was so boring and unable to charm youthful passions. Jagger caught on.

In the last couple of years, Jagger has begun to fade. Whether Michael Jackson, Prince, or Boy George can take his place is uncertain. They are even weirder than he is, and one wonders what new strata of taste they have discovered. Although each differs from the others, the essential character of musical entertainment is not changing. There is only a constant search for variations on the theme. And this gutter phenomenon is apparently the fulfillment of the promise made by so much psychology and literature that our weak and exhausted Western civilization would find refreshment in the true source, the unconscious, which appeared to the late romantic imagination to be identical to Africa, the dark and unexplored continent. Now all has been explored; light has been cast everywhere; the unconscious has been made conscious, the repressed expressed. And what have we found? Not creative devils, but show business glitz. Mick Jagger tarting it up on stage is all that we brought back from the voyage to the underworld.

pp. 78-79.

*[Rowe]: LOL. This book is so "1980s" -- "The war on drugs," Michael Jackson and Boy George, etc. Maybe we could say that just as philosophers are, according to Strauss, "paid not to believe in God," Rock musicians are "paid to do drugs." I remember Sam Kinison saying something similar. He commented on the short-lived "Rock Against Drugs" program that they had in the 1980s. He said something along the lines of, "Rock Against Drugs?? Isn't this like Christians against Christ?" And then fundamentalist Christian John Ankerberg used Kinison's exact quote in a show demonstrating the "harm" of rock music. Kinison, Ankerberg may have been correct insofar as it was revealed that at least some and arguably many of the "RAD" spokespeople were on drugs when they made their "anti-drug" ads, and played "anti-drug" concerts.


Jonathan said...

David Swindle writes in an email:

You're forgetting the greatest, most important rock 'n' roll/drugs quotes -- those of the prophet Bill Hicks:

"Drugs have done good things for us, if you don't believe they have, do me a favour - take all your albums, tapes and CDs and burn em cos you know what, the musicians who made that great music that has enhanced your lives throughout the years? Rrrrreal f*cking high, ha ha ha ho ho. ok"


"And these other musicians today who don't do drugs and in fact speak out against them? Boy, do they suck! What a coincidence! Ball-less, souless, spiritless corporate little bitches, suckers of Satan's c*ck, each and every one of them. Gnorr. "We're rock stars against drugs cos that's what the President wants." Aw, suck Satan's c*ck. That's what we want isn't it, government approved rock n roll? Whooh, we're partying now! "We're rock stars who do Pepsi Cola commercials." Gnorr. Suck Satan's c*ck. Put that big scaly pecker down your gullet. Drink that...."

(Read the rest here.)

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