I respect the argument that house music is tantamount to rock ’n’ roll in the 1960s. The rock ’n’ roll movement had substance. It fostered the advancement of the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement, the sexual revolution and anti-war protest. But in all candor, house music lacks similarly substantive messages.
If house music unites the masses under a nondescript “feeling,” then what does that say about who we are as individuals and how the youth identifies as a generation? Paul McCartney’s, Blackbird, struck a chord with African American women suffering from iniquitous oppression.
“Take these broken wings and learn to fly. All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arrive,” he sings. His words conjured images in the minds of the youth of the Little Rock Nine, Rosa Parks and Daisy Bates. He brought people together with a message of oppression and empowerment.
Yet, house music reminds today’s zombie hoard that we have feelings? And sometimes we get good feelings. That is deep.
Unlike house, rock ’n’ roll cultivated a national movement. White and blue collar workers came together to shatter the Man’s chains. By comparison, purchasing a plane ticket to Miami, a weekend at a hotel and a $300 admission ticket, buys today’s youth unfettered access to the “house movement.”
Rock ’n’ roll altered the fundamental social composition of American society. Congress commissioned the Committee on Un-American Activities to combat rock ’n’ roll’s effectiveness. In contrast, a film of a girl making out with a tree at Ultra has gone viral. Back away from that oak.
Rock ’n’ roll conscientiously crafted counterculture. Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert advocated drug use as a way to “think for yourself and question authority” and “be here now,” whereas Madonna encouraged fans at Ultra to take ecstasy for no apparent reason. I am not advocating drug use, but there is a critical distinction between taking a stand and seeking a thrill.
Maybe there is no modern analog to the rock ’n’ roll movement because there is no compelling reason to fight the establishment. Humanity has made undeniable progress since Jim Crow and La Leche League, but we are far from utopia.
A revolutionary backdrop is not a perquisite to a legitimate movement, but a legitimate movement needs a meaningful purpose. Betty Friedan wrote, “Aging will create the music of the coming century.”
We’re not getting any younger and our generation must resolve problems like inequality, hypertrophic growthand aimlessness. Rock’n’roll facilitated the baby boomer generation’s ability to reduce abstract ideas into articulable goals of equality, peace and love. The abstract aspirations of house music have not materialized into ascertainable goals.
If house music is the medium then the message must be refined.
Todd Friedman is a third year law student.