YOU HAVE TO WONDER about a 272-page book that purports to be a "sociologial study of rock and roll. Not that rock and sociology are subjects to be skeptical about, but there is only so much you can do to link the two. Twisted searches for rock music's underlying significance are more often than not a rock critic's attempt to justify the inordinate attention he pays to a subject that so many others pass off as youthful drivel.
Take Simon Frith's Sound Effect, Youth, Leisure, and the Politics of Rock 'n' Roll--as twisted a search as ever found its way into print. Rather than illuminating this appealing subject. Frith's book seems to be an earnest attempt to explain why a lecturer in sociology at the University of Warwick has spent much of his life writing for Creem and New York Rocker. The result is so artificially over wrought and scholarly that it lacks the distinctive spontaneity and accessibility of its subject.
Most of what Frith has to say of interest is lost in pointless self-indulgence. Witness this description of the groups of the "punk vanguard."
They sought to undermine the populist assumptions of transparency and subcultural identify, to mock the idea of a direct like from social experience to musical form, to expose the subjective claims deeply embedded in all rock music.
Populist assumptions of transparency, Subcultural identity? Does Frith mean to say that the punks (The "punk vanguard," that is) played loud, nasty music? If not, exactly what does he mean?
FRITH'S CENTRAL THESES. as one rock fan disentangled it, seems reasonable enough: despite the corporate attempt to control the rock markets, the music itself is so bound up in youth's changing attitudes that it will never become merely another commercial product. But against and again, Frith couches his message in such convoluted analysis that it is difficult or a layman to fathom.
The book's most frustrating flaw, however, lies less in its jargon than in its unfulfilled promise. Certain sections--a description of the war records are produced, a discussion of the music press--are genuinely compelling and informative.
A series of interviews Frith conducted with youths in a small English industrial town proves especially thought-provoking. One student's ascertain that "I like what I like, no one changes my opinion about music" illustrates the peculiar resilience of rock and roll that Frith strives to demonstrate.
But in the end. Frith suffers from the essential difficulty of rock criticism: balancing passion for the music against taking it too seriously. the promotion and rise of the besides was certainly prime fodder for a sociologist eager to understand the 60's. Frith is quite right in saying"... the world-wide impact of the Beatles can now be seen to have been an extraordinary and unrepeatable business event." But the Beatles would never have been bigger than Jesus if they had not made people dance--and that had nothing to do with the politics or sociology of rock and roll.