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September 28, 1969 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 1969-09-28

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Sunday, September 28, 1969


Page Five

Sunday1 September 28, 1969 THE MICHIGAN DAILY Pc~ge Five

Rock and
Rock and Roll Will Stand, edited by Greil Marcus. Beacon Press, $7.50
(Paperback BP 341, $2.95).
Literary Editor
WHEN IT REALLY happened was when Snooky Lanson stood up
in front of one of those ridiculous cardboard sets on "Your Hit
Parade" in front of millions of tube watchers and started singing
"You ain't nothin' but a hound dog" with that ridiculous smile
plastered all over his creepy face.
At that point the battle was over. Rock had arrived. Not even
all the machinations of the American Tobacco Company could keep
it off the charts and out of the airwaves.
But wait! Something was wrong! Snooky Lanson, the boy wonder
who built up the Neilsons with his spectacular versions of "Shrimp
Boats A-Coming" and other such shuck looked like even more of a
complete schlemiel than ever when he tried to smile his way through
"Blueberry Hill." Ratings were crashing. "Your Hit Parade" slid off
the air forever.


"Why?" you ask.
r"Sex !" I respond.
Rock music is sex. Pure and
simple sex. In fact, when a bunch
of old white disk jockeys named
the new hard rhythm and blues
"rock and roll" because those
words seemed to show up in every
song they set a bunch of young
black kids to laughing in the
streets. "Rocking and rolling"
being what you call a euphemism
for just what you think it's a
euphemism for.
Little post-pubescent girls didn't
turn up at Elvis Presley concerts
to hear his songs or listen to his
lyrics. They just wanted to feel the
pound pound pounding of the beat
and watch him squirm and hope
in their hearts of hearts that just
this once his jeans will rip.
And somehow I can't believe that
any post-pubescent girl in her
right mind would stand around
split his chinos.


The Moment of Cubism and.
Other Essays, by John Berg-
er. Pantheon Books, $5.95.
.JOHN BERGER has written a
book of essays which can-
not be described without the
terms "history" and "art" -
and here all our difficulties be-
gin. Because we have all, guilt-
ridden children of the age, sub-
mitted ourselves to that peculiar
form of penance called "History
of Art." You 'know the scene:
the dim vault into which a
thousand-thousand of the starv-
ing, the Kultcha. crazed, h a v e
been heaped around a stage in
varying degrees of blindness,
suffocation, and impotence.
Meanwhile, upon that stage, Six
Centuries of the plastic and
architectural arts are traversed
with all the delicacy of Sher-
man's march to the sea. This
is not to confer a particular
blame upon the History of Art
Department - the University
itself is a process of making
One out of too-Many, lopping
off any spare feet, buttocks and
too often brains which will not
fit into the space-time avail-
But all of this is precisely
Berger-territory, as he probes
the problems, the horror and
banality which attend knowing
about art in the contemporary
world. His discussion of a r t
museums is easily extended to
the University:
"They conserve - in the
full sense of the word - what
is already there; and some
of them acquire new works in-
telligently. It is not useless
but it is inadequate. It is in-
adequate because it is outdat-
ed. Their view of art as a self-
evident pleasure appealing to
a well-formed Taste, their
view of Appreciation being
ultimately based on Connois-
seurship - that is to say the
ability to compare product
with product within a very
narrow range - all this de-
rives from the eighteenth cen-
tury. Their sense of heavy
civic responsibility - trans-
formed into honorary pres-
tige - their view of the pub-
lic as a passive mass to whom
works of art, embodying spir-
itual value, should be made
available, this belongs to the
nineteenth-century tradition
of public works and benevo-
lence. Anybody who is not an
expert entering the average
museum today is made to feel
like a cultural pauper receiv-
ing. charity, whilst the phe-
nomenal sales of fifth-rate art
books reflect the consequent
belief in Self-Help."
The museum possesses its art
works, the University its know-
ledge; both are convinced that
there is some product which
it is their province to own and


The possession of

and knowledge

other essays-occasional pieces
on topics from Che Guevara
to Vermeer-according to these
premises. A work of art is a
responsibility, for viewer as well
as creator. It is impossible to
separate art from other, on-
going, forms of seeing and
knowing-or, at least, the at-
tempt to separate can only re-
sult in indifference among both
the public and the artists. Thus,
an art museum is responsible
for illuminating the epistemo-
logical and cultural problems
which surround the art display-
ed. Perhaps, Berger suggests,
by grouping a painting with
others which have tried to cap-
ture the same material but with
less success, the spectator may
become more actively aware of
the choices and peculiar ar-
rangements which the successful
artist has made.
There remains the problem, of
course, of what shall determine
"success" and how we can de-
cide upon t h e most valuable,
most coherent "groupings." Ber-
ger is over-confident when he
assumes that "good" and "bad,"
"then" and "now," are categor-
ies which we can all easily agree
upon. There is a contradiction
between these traditional as-
sessments and his description of
modern relativity - "the result
of our constantly having to take
into account t h e simultaneity
and extension of events a n d
possibilities." But granting him
this as his point of departure,
Berger is consistently illuminat-
ing in his connections between
social and technological condi-
tions and individual art works.
He contrasts brilliantly the
meaning of death in Rem-
brandt's "Anatomy Lesson" and
in the famous "pieta" photo-
graph of Che Guevara's corpse.
And, as often as not, his criti-
cism of art is used in reverse; to
define the "moment" through
its art - "In the second half of
the twentieth century the aes-
theticism of sex helps to keep
a consumer society stimulated,
competitive and dissatisfied."
IN THE SECOND half of the
twentieth century, it is rare to
find art critics willing to face
the consequences of this cen-
tury. Mr. Berger is, eloquently,
one who does.

waiting for Snooky Lanson to

AND, AS A. C. NEILSON will tell you, none of them did,
What they did do was drool over Elvis on Ed Sullivan and start
getting into Little Richard and Chuck Berry and loud loud music.
Not that they stopped listening to regular old garbage like Snooky
used to shine on, they just put it in second place. I mean, Pat Boone
was warbling while Elvis was gyrating.
You can see it in the beat of the music and you see it in the words
but you can see it best in the fans. The kids start really getting into
rock when they hit puberty and they start drifting away when they
get married or start shacking up or whatever it is these crazy kids do
these days. They take their drives out on the dance floor and running
up the aisles at the concerts and In fantasies inside their heads.
Which brings me around to this
book hock and Roll Will Stand,
which, if it really means anything
to you, is a bunch of essays byS
seven different guys that first
appeared in sheets like "Good
Times" and "Rolling Stone" and
other rock rags.
And which has the right idea
(as the title tells you) but sort
of misses the point. All the writers
are from Berkeley or Frisco and
they all show that Berkeley bias
that louses up a lot of otherwise
good stuff that comes out of it.
Which is to say, the guys get
so hung up in politics that theyJ
forget where they're going. Just
as Berkeley is the only city that
could have a local band like Coun-
try Joe and the Fish that mixes
politics with rock, so Berkeley is
the only city in the country that
could put out a book that focuses
(when it does focus) on that least
typical of all bands, the Fish themselves
Which isn't to say that this is a lousy book or anything like
that. In fact, it's a pretty good book-about half a cut above most of
the stuff that's pouring off the printing presses on rock this fall.
When it steers clear of the politics of rock, it's sometimes great.
But it's a real shame to look at the dustacket on this book
(which is what got me off on this in the first place) and see the
photo of Peter Townshend of the Who making love to his guitar
(metaphorically, of course) and then read the book and find out that
the writers missed the point that the picture makes so well.
Which is that rock and roll will stand, even though Snooky
Lanson and Pat Boone and Country Joe and the Fish are going to
fall by the side of the path. And that it will stand because every year
a whole new generation goes through puberty and starts looking
around for an outlet.
And every year they turn to the rock that their older sisters (and
some of their brothers) are grooving on and find out that that's where
the action really is and that that's where there's sex you can feel and
talk about without getting thrown in jail or grounded for a week
or pregnant or marrled
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to dispense. Berger points out
the contradictions in this con-
viction, since art and know-
ledge as well> is a process, which
cannot __without atrophy-
be reduced to a safe, delimited,
As Berger sees it, in The
Moment of Cubism (and, es-
pecially, his title essay it is
no longer possible for one to
maintain an antique simplifi-
cation about "static" objects,
or beings, or even events. Mo-
dern communication makes us
aware of the vast number of
people and events which must
be considered when we try to
evaluate our own lives. Modern
physics can no longer guarantee
a set of changless laws for space
and time. The complexity and
uncertainty (or, at least, lack
of finality) of modern know-
ledge created a challenge which
Cubism, between the years of
1905 and 1915, faced and met
in a temporary burst of "revolu-
tionary" forms. But the early
optimism of Cubists (and Ber-
ger includes Apollinaire as well
as Braque and Picasso), their
certainty that they had resolved
all dilemmas, faltered as they
became more aware of the dif-

ficulties and subtleties of mo-
dern life.
Burger stresses that Cubism
was only a "moment" in the
history of art: a moment which
has dissolved into the strident
and helpless subjectivism of
most contemporary work. While
admitting that some of the
forms are new (happenings,
junk sculpture, sandpiles and
rooms filled with foan), Berg-
er is convinced that they are
conventional expressions of
anxiety and frustration. T h e
modernity of Cubism was its re-
fusal to eschew the responsibil-
ity of cummunication and con-
tinuity with the whole com-
plexity of lif°. The revolution-

ary artist must avoid even the
fixation of his own point of
"The lproposition that a work
of' art it a new object and not
simply the expression of its
subject, the structuring of a
picture to admit the coexist-
ence of different modes of
space and time, the inclusion
in a work of art of extraneous
objects, the dislocation of
forms to reveal movement or
change, the combination of
hitherto separate and distinct
media, the diagrammatic use
of appearances - these were
the revolutionary innovations
of Cubism."

Today's Writers . ..
LIZ WISSMAN is a semi-
reluctant candidate for a PhD
in Literary criticism here at the
University. She is a regular
contributor to BOOKS and a
frequent debating partner of
Daily's own teeny-bopper in
residence. Miss Funn is an ir-
regular observer of kultcha, pop
kultcha and especially rock and


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