Defining rock ‘n’ roll these days has become near impossible, but with the aid of Alice Cooper and TV’s Big Brother, Ingrid Woodrow thinks she may have it pinned.
“It’s only rock ‘n’ roll, but I like it.”
It’s nearly 40 years since the Rolling Stones coined this phrase, but what exactly is rock ‘n’ roll these days?
It seems to have become one of those slippery terms sometimes easier to define by what it’s not.
I’ve caught myself using the phrase in the negative a few times lately – on hearing there’s actually such a thing as a “dry” wedding (as in, “No alcohol? That’s so not rock ’n’ roll”); and again at the sight of a paparazzi snap of a somewhat pale and out-of-condition Keith Urban, not in boardies, as I would’ve imagined, but in unflattering navy Speedos.
Definitely not rock ‘n’ roll.
And I like Keith Urban.
Even the winner of last year’s series of the Nine Network’s “reality” (I use the term lightly) TV show Big Brother, Tim Dormer, used the term as justification to nominate the much-maligned Tully for eviction from the house on the grounds that, despite her appearance as something of a “rock chick” (long blonde hair with prominent regrowth and a penchant for tight black leather and “bogan-chic” t-shirts and jeans), she wasn’t actually being “rock ‘n’ roll.”
“She thinks she’s all rock ‘n’ roll but rock ‘n’ roll isn’t about attitude. It’s about believing in yourself and having the confidence to stand out from the group, and I’m calling her out from the group.”
Big Brother accepted both Tim’s nomination, and his definition of rock ‘n’ roll.
And, at first, so did I.
In Britain’s The Express, ageing rocker Alice Cooper – an authority on the subject if ever there was one – offers a definition of his own:
Rock ‘n’ roll is not about ‘happy, happy, happy, everything’s OK.’ I just feel this whole generation needs to eat steak.
While Cooper’s pronouncement is made as part of a tirade against British folk rockers Mumford & Sons after they headlined at Glastonbury, his scorn, like Tim’s nomination, runs deeper than it seems. Cooper acknowledges later in the Express story that the group is “great at what they do.” Rather, he seems offended that their success is linked to an insidious watering-down of the values of integrity and authenticity (“keeping it real”) upon which rock ’n’ roll itself is based.
Or is it?
Adrian McKinty also takes up the anti-Mumford baton.
“Everything about Mumford & Sons reeks of phoniness,” he begins, listing their litany of affronts to authenticity: the lead singer’s school-days spent in one of the most exclusive and expensive private schools in England and the band’s “…faux working class roots, their interviews speaking of poverty and struggle in the wilderness years. All lies.”
Unlike Alice Cooper, however, he also goes on to ask, in short, “So what?”
After all, as a society, haven’t we reached the point where defending anything as being truly authentic is pretty much obsolete, since even the concept of the “real” itself is constantly in flux these days, helped along by the likes of the Big Brothers of the world?
In the book Discographies: Dance Music, Culture, and the Politics of Sound, Jeremy Gilbert and Ewen Pearson talk about a 1980s concept of “authentic” rock, where “artists must speak the truth of their (and others)” situations… fundamental role was to represent the culture from which s/he comes.”
In this context, Tim’s disdain for Tully’s presumed inauthenticity – in effect, labelling her a “fake” – makes sense to an extent if he believes her rock chick persona isn’t, well, “real.” But however much the Big Brother producers – and even the contestants – want us to believe the characters on their “reality” show are authentic (being called out for “playing the game” or “flying under the radar” are common house-mate euphemisms for competitors who aren’t being “themselves”), the very nature of the show demands participants play a role from the second they line up to audition.
In this context, I’m thinking maybe Tim has Tully all wrong.
Mark Duffett poses the question, “Isn’t a great faker themselves something of an original?”
In the hyper-real fish-bowl that is the Big Brother juggernaut, there is of course no answer – authenticity and fiction are outdated currencies.
Still, Tim and Tully, in their own ways, have got at least one person thinking about it.
Maybe that’s rock ‘n’ roll?