“They still sold authenticity”

Dominic Green writes in The Critic:

No one seems to have noticed, but the fortieth anniversary of Rock’s death is upon us. You can pick a personal “day the music died”… Sentimentalists might pick the release of the Ramones’ collaboration with Phil Spector, End of the Century, on 4 February, 1980, or the murder of John Lennon on 8 December, 1980.

But End of the Century, despite its epoch-ending title, was a damp squib of a record; it might have been better if it had included “Hungry Heart”, the song Springsteen wrote for the Ramones, but which instead became his first hit single.

Perhaps it was a genuinely damp squib, a proper lead balloon. Why would this disqualify the album from signifying the end of rock music? Who guaranteed that rock ‘n’ roll would expire with a swan song?

They [London Calling and The River] are among the last artworks of the great Western youth revolt which began with Romantic poets and revolutionaries, ruined European civilisation as its children rallied to fascism and communism, and then played out its final stage as radical entertainment in America.

Coming from a professional musician and historian, the lightness of thought (or fancy) informing this passage must be mildly embarrassing unless it was meant as a tipsy joke. The Clash is oddly popular with a narrow segment of the conservative public, but so what?

Narrowing Green’s claim to something less grandiose and more technical, such as “rock ‘n’ roll ended with London Calling,” we might have a thesis worth exploring. Back in 2005, Stephen Metcalf wrote in Slate:

…The Clash weren’t a punk rock band. …the great fun behind the Ramones and the Pistols had been their love of the total lark, part and parcel to spitting on the burnt-out legacy of the ‘60s. There the Clash did not follow. They still sold authenticity, wailing spitefully at “every gimmick-hungry yob digging gold from rock and roll” as if that yob were emphatically someone else.

If authenticity is Romanticism for the poor, then… (to be continued some time later).

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