History of Rock & Roll “Elvis Factor”
Rock and Roll challenged the traditional types of music. One of the reasons that Rock and Roll became so big was because it was representing everything that the teens at that time had their parents telling them not to do. There was a sense of rebellion but no bigger than the one that each generation of parents experiences. Every teen goes through a stage in which his or her parents don’t like the music they are listening to or don’t like the crowd they are hanging out with. The teen says that the parent will never understand and the parent says that the teen will never understand.
Once the teen grows up they realize that they are having the same feelings about their children that their parents had about them. (Rowe, 122) Around 1954 Elvis Presley started his musical career. The young girls loved him and his gyrating hips. The parents of the teenagers were against Elvis and everything that he was about and represented. The parents of the time were saying that their children were failures because they wouldn’t conform to their standards. That was wrong, they weren’t failures, and they just wanted to be different.
Elvis was very important to the rebelling teens because he was proof that you could make it through without conforming to the social standards of the time. The early career of Elvis Presley is the perfect example of these new, culturally subversive affiliations. The son of hardscrabble working-class parents, steeped in a musical background of blues, country, and gospel musics, Elvis became an example of (and an example for) crypto-delinquents, who would ultimately seem to include just about everybody: “Those who dress sharply, ‘hip,’ and ‘jazzy,’ and affect ‘off-beat’ haircuts.
” He was positioned to do so in part by virtue of his background and his abilities, but perhaps even in larger part because Sam Phillips, who seems in retrospect perhaps the closest thing America has had to a prophet in the twentieth century, saw that the children of Tail Gunner Joe and Dr. Wertham were ready to hear a white man sing “with the Negro sound and the Negro feel. ” (Geoffrey, 1977) Rock & roll music established social contexts in which subterranean social forces could assert themselves, find an outlet for expression, and resolve their various antagonisms.
Just as all of these forces were not “progressive,” neither were all of these resolutions. But that is not what is at issue in the movements to contain rock & roll; the issue is that these various contending tendencies were given a voice, that they came into the open, established connections, and found reinforcement for their sense and practice of applied antinomianism: rock & roll seemed to call for a realignment of energies at both the psychic and social levels.
While that may have been fine for the kids, for their parents and the other authorities rock & roll was a threatening reminder of the existence of others and otherness that set a dangerous precedent that had to be examined, understood, criticized, and controlled. The career of Elvis in the 1950s turns out to be exemplary not only for the sort of social forces that he inspired and signified, but also as a catalyst and focus for the wrath of power in the face of the noise.
(Wicke, 89) While Elvis would define the parameters of style and desire for teenagers by the end of the 1950s, at the time of his first recordings ( 1953-54), he attired himself in the sartorial code of the delinquent or the “cat,” as stylish, tough young men called themselves in Memphis. From the beginning, Elvis occupied a space of class and race anxiety that would define his image and his music. Elvis was culturally and politically dangerous not only because of his particular reconsolidation of the codes of class and race, but of gender as well.
Perhaps the most common complaint in the demonography of Elvis is that he was a marginally literate pedagogue whose chief lesson was sexual confusion. The writer for Life and Jack Gould, of the New York Times both agreed that Elvis’s signature stage mannerism — his wild, grinding, abandoned hip movements — were not so much suggestive of a new masculine sexuality as they were reminders of the old spectacular presentations of female sex: the burlesque, the bump-and-grind, the hoochy-koochy.
And, Gould implied, that was the only reason for his fame. (Gould, 6 June 1956) Gould’s assessment seemed to be borne out by the famous broadcast of Elvis’s first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. The network censors would allow only the upper part of his body to be broadcast, although the studio audience could see him as a gyrating totality. This carefully censored broadcast of Elvis is perhaps the best figure for the attitude of power toward the rock & roll of the 1950s.
Elvis there became a bivalent text, exoteric and esoteric at the same time: while the surface Elvis, his “front,” if you will, was not terribly frightening or exceptionable, this front was supported by a “secret” Elvis, darkly sexual, capable of generating an outbreak of mass hysteria that all could see at home, leaving its cause to the imagination. But even this bit of social prophylaxis was too suggestive.
The fault here did not lie with Presley, who was presumed to be too stupid to chart the course of his fate, nor with the teenagers, who were simply poor dupes, but with the sober, responsible men of the ruling class who were in a position to decide what would and would not be represented in the legitimate and legitimating cultural markets of the day. Elvis was a “blue note” that did not belong in respectable music or in respectable society, a dissonance that was too appealing and suggestive of a new form of musical and social equilibrium radically at odds with the prevailing one of the day.
The reaction to Elvis was severe, at all levels of society: police departments sent out vice squads to his concerts; religious organizations held prayer rallies to counterpose his pernicious influence.
Geoffrey Stokes, and Ken Tucker, Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock & Roll ( New York, 1986), 77. Gould, Jack “TV: New Phenomenon,” New York Times, 6 June 1956. Rowe, David. Popular Cultures: Rock Music, sport and the Politics of Pleasure. California, SAGE publications, 1995. 122 Wicke, Peter. Rock Music: Culture, aesthetics and sociology. New York: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge. 1990. 89Sample Essay of Masterpapers.com