Presley, Janis Joplin, and the Rolling Stones, to cite a few of the most obvious, would
be unthinkable without the examples of African-American musicians.
As the twentieth century reaches its end, the circumstances surrounding rock and
roll are more complicated than ever and as controversial as ever. The tradition
appears more fragmented than before because of the preservation of historical styles
alongside interest in newer ones and because of the participation of various
constituencies of performers and listeners representing various ages and life-styles.
There is one aspect of the tradition, however, that remains unchanged: the music
created by young Americans for young Americans continues to alarm, shock, and
challenge the social code; its opponents are just as prepared as ever to voice their own
outrage, to wage their holy war, and to fight for censorship.
Pablo Casals, "A Disgrace to Music", Music Journal XIX:1 ( Jan. 1961), 18. The
Spanish-born Casals ( 1876- 1973) enjoyed an international career as a violoncello virtuoso and
conductor and was revered as one of the finest musicians of his time. His harsh assessment of
rock and roll must be understood as the perception of one whose life was devoted to European
Linda Martin &
Kerry Segrave, Anti-Rock: The Opposition to Rock 'n' Roll (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1988; reprinted New York: Da Capo Press, 1993), vii. Although some
commentators are willing to attribute the sordid lifestyles of various rock musicians as well as
the deaths of several others to the music itself, it seems clear that many other factors must be
The most comprehensive and systematic study of this phenomenon is probably Martin
Segrave Anti-Rock: The Opposition to Rock 'n' Roll, as cited above. Another significant
study addressing this issue in British society is Martin Cloonan, Banned! Censorship of Popular
Music in Britain, 1967-1992 ( Aldershot, Hamphshire: Arena, 1996); see especially Chapter 2, "Censorship: Some Characteristics of the Debate".
"Elitist" is used here to designate an attitude of perceived superiority or privilege.
"Yeh-Heh-Heh-Hes, Baby", Time LXVII:25 ( 18 June 1956), 54.
See the editorials "Control the Dim-Wits", Billboard LXVI ( 25 Sept. 1954); and
[Green], "A Warning to the Music Business", Variety CXCVII: 12 ( 23 Feb. 1955), 2.
The grand exception appears to be songwriter/composer Cole Porter ( 1891- 1964),
whose witty but suggestive lyrics earned for him the nickname "the genteel pornographer" from Cecil Smith in Musical Comedy in America ( New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1950).
See, for example,
Ronin Ro, Gangsta: Merchandising the Rhymes of Violence ( New
York: St. Martin's Press, 1996).
An early example is
Marion Meade, "Does Rock Degrade Women?", New York Times II ( 14 March 1971), 13, 22.
Martha Bayles, Hole in Our Soul: The Loss of Beauty & Meaning in American
Popular Music ( New York: The Free Press, 1994; reprinted Chicago: University of Chicago
Press, 1996), 355.