Friday, July 22, 2005
Today’s Arbitrary but Fun exercise blends the meanderings and divagations of Theory Tuesday and this blog’s traditional obsessions with curious pop-culture phenomena. Frequent reader, occasional critic, and fellow Horowitz Scourge Philip Klinkner, James S. Sherman Associate Professor of Government at Hamilton College, writes:
Per your earlier post about the origins of smooth jazz, what ever happened to southern rock? I was listening to some recent iTunes downloads of old Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd songs and it hit me that this type of music really dominated the charts in the 1970s, but has pretty much disappeared. Is this the result of the corporate homogenization of all music, so that now the big labels just can’t handle something as eclectic as southern rock? Or was southern rock just the musical manifestation of the post-civil rights era New South, when the region seemed willing to blend old and new in interesting ways—a musical version of Jimmy Carter, if you will. And like Carter they eventually couldn’t resist the polarization around them. Thoughts?
I replied, of course, that I would turn this question over to my readers, which I hereby do (hey, maybe there’s room in a Theory Tuesday for a discussion of performative utterances!). But I also suggested that one factor in the decline of southern rock might have been the ascendancy of “alternative” southern rock in the 1980s, from the dBs and Let’s Active to REM and Guadalcanal Diary and the Connells. When I lived in the south (1983-1989), these were the bands the Kool Kids were listening to, and I imagined that thousands of aspiring young musicians throughout the region were cutting their hair, jettisoning the eight-minute guitar solo, stripping the Confederate flags off their amps, and learning to play “Radio Free Europe” instead of “Sweet Home Alabama.”
But Professor Klinkner tells me that my suggestion is excessively formalist and subjectivist, and amounts to a form of deviationism that he will not fail to note at the upcoming Twentieth Congress of Left Cultural Critics. Insofar as it offers no account of the material base, either with regard to the transformation of the post-Civil Rights South or with regard to the transformation of the recording industry, and insofar as it overlooks the fact that none of these bands achieved much in the way of commercial success in the 1980s, my “Kool Kids” account of the decline of southern rock must be summarily rejected.
OK, readers, it’s up to you. The Allmans. Lynyrd Skynyrd. Marshall Tucker. Charlie Daniels. Molly Hatchet. .38 Special. Once, they roamed the land without let or hindrance; now, they and all their kind are confined to Classic Rock stations and the occasional state fair. Explain their rise and fall in well-argued comments of 5000 characters or less. Extra points will be awarded to anyone who can play the solos in “Blue Sky.”
One side note: when I was growing up in Queens in the 1970s, Skynyrd and Charlie Daniels and the Allmans were huge on Long Island. The closer you got to the Queens-Nassau border, the more cover bands you heard playing “Free Bird” and “The South’s Gonna Do It Again.” I found this genuinely strange. My theory at the time was that the Mason-Dixon Line actually runs out from the Maryland-Pennsylvania border into the Atlantic Ocean, takes a 90-degree turn north, and reemerges on Long Island, where it bisects Flushing-Bayside. But apparently this theory is wrong too.