Article: The King Is Dead
It's like rock and roll never happened.
An inescapable insight emerges from the lockdown: today’s young are not what the young once were. Scanning western streetscapes, it is hard to miss that the ones wearing face masks are not overwhelmingly — as one might expect — the old and vulnerable, but include a disquieting number of youngsters, all but immune to SARS-CoV-2, who wear their acquiescence in the current plunge into tyranny like a pendant of courage along with their Nike Airs and Buck Mason Mavericks.
It’s like rock ’n’ roll never happened. Or, rather, as if the rock ’n’ roll spirit had never proclaimed the rejection of slavery and subjugation. Once social distancing restrictions are canceled (if they are) these young people will flock again to hear Coldplay and U2, oblivious to something ineluctable in themselves: they are missing the point. Try as you might, you will not find a photograph anywhere of John Lennon wearing a face mask — although you can purchase a ‘John Lennon face mask’ with the slogan ‘War is over’ for $10. You can also get an Elvis mask offering ‘three layers of protection’, with a choice of legend: ‘Always on my mind’ or ‘TCB’. There’s even one of Johnny Cash giving the finger — why not get the point while missing it?
For more than a half-century, rock ’n’ roll was central to the formation and initiation of young westerners, influencing, inspiring, broadening horizons. Born of the congress between black music and white, this revolutionary form exploded in 1953 in Sam Phillips’s studio in Memphis, before going on to create, for the first time in history, a bespoke youth consciousness with its own soundtrack. From the opening notes of ‘That’s All Right’, Elvis urged the world to awake to freedom, desire, change, life, calling ‘Time!’ on post war torpor and weariness. His early songs were the manifesto of a new sensibility that declined the strictures of existing authority and the infallibility of adulthood.
The rock ’n’ roll spirit was neither primarily ideological nor big-P political, but an existential refusal, born of the surprise of the rock ’n’ roll encounter, which instantly inoculated against the acquiescent or banal. The rebellion was as much image as sensibility, attitude as conviction. It repudiated all forms of authority from parental to divine and asserted the vindication of human desire in its most immediate forms as the defining ethic of the age. The energy of those early moments later energized a decade, the Sixties — especially 1968 and its rejection of the political assumptions of the time. Sam Phillips later said that, until Elvis walked in the door, he hadn’t known what he was looking for. He just knew it would be something uniquely new, something that didn’t fit, didn’t make any sense of or reflect life in America as it then was: something that made everything a little bit irrelevant, created confusion, didn’t allow people to feel safe in ways they’d grown used to.
This existential shopping list hardly describes the rock ’n’ roll kids of 2020, who happily wear face diapers that are unnecessary, useless, spiritually destructive and actively harmful to the wearer’s health. Instead of an existential revolution or even the soundtrack for one, millennials have given us in cancel culture a phenomenon that has unleashed a trembling unknown since the days of Joe McCarthy, diverting their own idealism into trolling and snitching one another up for any shortfall in compliance with the diktats of PC.
To read the rest of this article published in the January edition of The Spectator USA, please click here.
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