In Elvis, you have the blueprint for rock & roll. The highness—the gospel highs. The mud—the Delta mud, the blues. Sexual liberation. Controversy. Changing the way people feel about the world. It’s all there with Elvis.
-Bono, on The King
Rock ’n’ Roll and its modern incarnation of simply rock music are as sexy as can be. Since its beginning days in Elvis and its climb in the 1960s, rock has been sexy. With its four-four time and electric guitars, the genre was designed to be sexy. It was the sex-appeal of rock music that put guys like Mick Jagger and Eric Burdon on the map. It was all about sex.
And I mean that. Rock music is deeply connected with sex, not just in its lyrics but in its rhythm. It is one of the basest elements of the genre, and its sensual nature has bled into the pop music. Rock music’s influence is widespread, and in that way, almost all the music one can hear on the radio is embedded with sexuality. It’s all about sex.
Allan Bloom, in his work The Closing of the American Mind, makes exactly this point and goes further. He launches his inquiry into American music by citing Plato’s thought that, in order to take the spiritual temperature of an individual or a society, one must “mark the music.” He admits music’s centrality to the human experience, but claims that rock is an abuse of music:
Rock music has one appeal only, a barbaric appeal, to sexual desire—not love, not eros, but sexual desire undeveloped and untutored. It acknowledges the first emanations of children’s emerging sensuality and addresses them seriously, eliciting them and legitimating them, not as little sprouts that must be carefully tended in order to grow into gorgeous flowers, but as the real thing. Rock gives children, on a silver platter, with all the public authority of the entertainment industry, everything their parents always used to tell them they had to wait for until they grew up and would understand later.
He goes on to say that the very beat of rock ’n’ roll is reminiscent of sexual intercourse. Rock music is obsessed, he says. It is obsessed with sex without limits. Its understanding is that sex is the natural course of action, and it eliminates the need for even pornography. It has consumed America and the West with the rawest desires of the soul.
And I get that this makes me sound old, but Bloom makes a good point—and it is deeply bothersome. He may exaggerate the situation (the term “barbaric” seems a bit much), but at the very least, this sexuality is present and our culture has been shaped by it.
In Seinfeld’s new series, he and Bill Maher discuss the crass turn of comedy these days. Their complaint is not regarding its morality, but rather its skill. The craft of comedy, they say, is in decline due to this societal change. And it goes beyond comedy; our culture’s baseness simply makes for lower quality work in every arena. As Bloom says, it ruins education and makes it near impossible for people to have a “passionate relationship to the arts.”
And while I am deeply concerned with how the arts are affected, I am most concerned with our society’s sexual obsession in and of itself. The porn industry is unfathomably large—a multi-billion dollar industry. People consistently report dissatisfaction regarding their sex-lives and relationships; nothing can live up to what they’ve grown to expect. Sexualization infects younger and younger demographics—it’s not uncommon to pick up a fashion catalog and see advertisements for bikinis for 7 year old girls (I thought about including a picture here, but decided it was best not to). We are increasingly tolerant of sexual misconduct and sin.
The Christian ideas of sexuality have not been lost, but they are at a low. Rock music has been changing things for over half a century. With rock came the Stonewall Riots and second-wave feminism, all of which worked to destroy Judeo-Christian morality. As Bloom argues, commercial pursuits—or sexual success—has become more highly valued than love. “Nothing noble, sublime, profound, delicate, tasteful or even decent can find a place in such tableaux.”