Tuesday, December 07, 2004


The following discussion has been reconstructed from several e-mails. MM is the source of this fascinating topic. TM is yours truly, and ML is known as the Tater Tot Queen of Ohio. Feel free to contribute your thoughts on this fascinating topic in your comments.


MM: I have a very important thing I need your insight on concerning rock
and the western world. It has been said that France has never produced
a great rock band. You and I may have discussed this in the past. I
continue to ponder this deep question and need your guidance and
mentorship in my ruminations-- some things have come up:

TM: Ok, I’ll do my best.

ML: Always keep in mind that everyone else in the world has some sort of inferiority complex when it comes to France. Everything France has done is ignored and what they haven't done (or seem not to have done) is made fun of. Not that I'm some sort of rabid francophile, I'm just trying to throw out some perspective on the situation.

A. can Sterolab be considered French?

TM: Their label is UK. But that could just be a cover, considering the whole stigma with France and popular music and all. I'd probably do the same, if I were French and trying to make music.

ML:You know, I think they're from Quebec or Montreal, so that depends on yr view. They'd probably say yep, we're french, but the rest of the world would say give it up, yr canadian. Can we consider them french for this argument? Sure, fine by me!

A1. if so, Sterolab is great but, as great as the Beatles or U2 or
Sonic Youth or the Velvet Underground or The Stone Roses? Eh...? There
are doubts.

TM:Yeah, they are cool as all get out, but they're not tremendously accessible. I think, in most cases, to rock one needs to be understood by a larger audience. For instance, Bobby Conn often rocks out, but for such a select audience, that he and the Glass Gypsies cannot technically be construed as "rockers." I think.

ML:Hmmm, that's a good argument. In my opinion, there are several types ofrock music": Beatles rock (pop rock), Rolling Stones rock(blues-influenced pop rock), Black Sabbath rock (blues-influenced "heavy"rock), and Velvet Underground rock (avant-garde "noise" rock). In order of rocking (with the first rocking the least and last rocking the most), I'd rate them as Velvet Underground, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Black Sabbath. Sure, there are plenty of times that these all morph, and the lines aren't super clean, but in general, that's how I look at the world of "rock". So to answer, I'd say that Stereolab is a great band in the VelvetUnderground/Beatles rock morphed line that really makes quality music(inventive, interesting, creative, and melodical), but that no, they'renot as good as the above 4. They haven't altered the face of rock music in the same way as the above 4.

A2. Also, if Stereolab were qualified as great, arguably it is not so
because they _rock_ but because their music is pretty. So would it
really count?

TM: Nope. See above.

ML:Well, that's true. Since Stereolab doesn't fall into a seriously “rocking" category, I don't think they really count as a rocking band. Oh, and I'm counting "rocking" as generally being played with typical instruments (guitar, bass, drums), all of which are played with a lot of oomph. Makes you want to bang yr head, reaches some primal instinct, makes you want to grab the lead singer (or bassist, or guitarist, or drummer, whatever your pick is at that moment) and get down and dirty. That's rock in my book.Stereolab, while super awesome, does not make you want to do any of that. Sure, the girls are cutie pies, but they don't drive you insane with raw desire, ya know?

B. my new coworker Amanda noted that Italy has never produced a great
rock band either. (I countered that they produced Sophia Loren, which
is the equivalent, but she rightly pointed out that Ms Loren does not
and has never to our knowledge publicly strapped on a a guitar and
leather pants and produced the earsplitting sonic glory that comprises

TM:http://www.scaruffi.com/history/italian.html There are no Italian rockers of note, as demonstrated by this website. At least no one in the US knows about them. No one anywhere. I'd like to hear some Italian punk rock. It should be pretty hilarious- and probably really misogynistic. Whee!

ML:Although the Sophia Loren counter was a good one (that lady is so gorgeous and hot, nobody else even comes close. Well, except maybe Anjelica Huston, but she's gotten hotter as she's gotten older and Sophia has just stayed hot. But that's another topic for another day.) it's true that Italy doesn't really rock. Maybe France & Italy have spent so much attention to gorgeous art/architecture/etc that they haven't had time to rock?

B1. Concerning France and perhaps also Italy: could it be that there
is an inverse relationship between the rockingness of a country and
its food and wine quality? (for more discussion on this point see
section C, subsection 2)

TM:I think you’re on to something here.

ML:This is a great theory. In fact, I think there might be some truth to that. Rock doesn't make you want to drink fancy wine, it makes you want to drink whiskey right from the bottle. Or the flask you snuck into the show with you. (Ah the good old days!) Maybe we can say that the better your food, the less you need to seduce with rocking music?

C. Perhaps the real issue at hand is obscured by the perspective from
which it is considered. Maybe the pith of it is not so much which
European countries "cannot" rock, but rather, we could focus on the
disproportionality of the solid rocking in the US, the UK, and
Ireland. And, ok, occasionally Canada. What accounts for the

TM:Perhaps it has something to do with genetics, or lifestyle. Or perchance vodka? More on potatoes and derivatives of them later.

ML:Again, I'm going to throw the food card. For example, Italy, France, and Spain have fucking awesome food and wine, but don't seem to rock. And The eastern block countries don't seem to have much good food or rock (vodka aside, of course, when was the last time you had a killer eastern block country meal or drink?), so maybe that adds to the theory.

C1. Concerning Canada: Some may argue that Alanis Morisette, Celine
Dion, and Bryan Adams negate any claim to Canadian Rockability, but
my own contention would be that America too would have its Rock
Quotient severely lowered if we were deducting points for unrocking
acts. We all know that America, for all its other flaws---and perhaps
because of those flaws--- rocks indubitably, and therefore I argue, a
system of measuring rockingness which deducts for de-meritorious
faux-rock is invalid in determining the rockingness, absolute or
relative, of a country.

TM:http://www.canadianbands.com/bios_1d.html Go here- the music is- something. So, Neil Young is from Canada, which is good. But he doesn't always rock. Same for The Bare Naked Ladies. Same for RUSH, although they did attempt to. I've thought about it for a minute, and I think that the artists you mention above really do negate much of Canada's rockworthiness- in my estimation. And when you add Anne Murray to the scales, the balance is forever tipped. While your theory would hold true if Canada had even a single undeniably rocking band ever come out of it, as far as I can tell, it hasn't. Oh, and- um-Supertramp. That's all I'm saying. But you should run this all past Leeann (our token Canadian friend, who does rock.)

ML:Celine Dion ruins all music, so I think it's perfectly okay to claim That she ruins Canada's claims on rock. I mean, I saw her cover AC/DC at some VH-1 show last year, and it was so un-rocking it hurt. How the hell can you make AC/DC not rock? Well, she did it. And with that, she took away any balls with which Canada had to rock. There you have it: Celine Dion castrated Canada.

C2. Considering the question from the perspective proposed above, one
notices certain cultural ties of western countries which seem,
consistently, to rock. Notably: the presence of the English language
as the dominant language, democracy and a roughly two-party system,
and a high incidence of beer over wine drinking. In addition, it seems
that the countries which rock most have abominable diets consisting
largely of fried, greasy, bland foods, and lots of potatoes.

TM:All true, all true. (But I still think genetics may be at play. After all, many Canadians are French, and have a hard time rocking.) I think perhaps grease, hops, potatoes, and vodka may have untold effect on our rockers. Perhaps it is a chain reaction. The 2 party system breeds complacency, which prohibits culinary experimentation. Bland food then causes whiteys to drink until they pass out. Upon awakening, only grease and more alcohol will take away the hangover. A sense of futility and frustration ensues, causing the need to rock. In other European countries, dinner is varied, celebrated, and late. There is no time or need to rock.

ML:This is an interesting argument. I think you might have something here. Maybe we can carry that theory even further and say that the more refined your food choices (wine, cheese, pastries), the less you need to rely on the primal instincts that rock drives out to seduce? Because pretty much everything boils down to sex: you join a band to get laid, and you serve a tasty meal to get laid. So maybe the better your food, the less you need music to reel 'em in.

Tifanie, I have never been to Europe, so, can you contribute any
insight from what you've experienced there? Also, is there any insight
to be gained by widening the scope of the analysis to non-western
countries which seem to rock, or are starting to show promising signs
of rock, such as Japan, Mexico, India, and the states formerly known
as the USSR? My hunch is that English will not much longer be the
language of rock and that there is no link between rockingess and the
language spoken by the populace (though spoken German, clearly unfit
for music of any kind, may be a possible anomaly or outlier. Also, it
seems to me that Germans do actually rock in spite of this fact).

TM:Well, there was no rocking going on in Italy or France. People like local electronic dance music, or the same American pop that pervades our airwaves over here. Pop saturation. There are a lot of local ballads, and a lot of electronic music in malls and elevators. They seem more willing to let genres rub shoulders with one another. I did not witness any French mullets, or other examples of music influenced fashion, except for hip-hop. Hip-hop is everywhere, along with baggy pants. French rap is funny. I know nothing of Mexican Rock, or states formerly know as the USSR rock. But I have a feeling that Russians could rock- potato factor- and the same for the Germans. Does strife = rock? Is rock only born of struggle? Maybe, but so was reggae. Hmm. African revolutionary music is still quite melodic and beautiful. This is obviously a cultural difference, because their music is very participatory, especially vocally. As for Japan, I have heard some kick ass rock, but a good deal of it is in English. I think that Japanese rock, and much of Japanese culture, is so heavily influenced by the states that English will continue to dominate in it. I think until Americans start learning other languages as often as people from other countries do, a lot of foreign rock will still be performed in English.

ML:From what I know, there are actually a lot of super-rock (type 4) bandsfrom Germany and the USSR areas. I think one of the only actual satanic metal bands in the world is from Germany (I can't remember their name, but I know they were banned from playing for a while because of some murders or something, it was pretty gross and bizarre), and I know that there's a metal band from the USSR area that's pretty big in some circles. Maybe warmer climates (Mexico, India) aren't as conducive to rock? And again, Mexican and Indian cuisine is fucking tasty, so that might further thegood-food-trumps-rock theory.

I am intrigued by the pervasiveness hops, potatoes, and grease in
countries which rock, coupled with the relatively low consumption of
alcoholic beverages derived from grapes... India and the former Soviet
states also consume a lot of potatoes, I believe. The Japanese eat
potatoes as well, though I am not sure they are a staple of the diet
there... do you think this "beer/vodka and fries/chips" idea is a
promising direction to explore? Vodka is derived from potatoes...

TM:I do think it hold promise. But I think there could be some kind of genetic thing going, too.

ML:Okay, so I think maybe the potato is the key! Potatoes = rock. There just isn't any other explanation. Of course, if we throw rap and hip-hop into the mix, what will we find? I'm not sure I have the concentration to think about that right now, but it's a good one to ponder.


Blogger adriana said...

OY. i'm not sure there's even a way to jump into this. however, i would state that your standards for "rocking" are impossibly high. you can't expect any band (including stereolab) to break ground in rock in this time period, because there is no ground to break. the foundation was already laid by the bands you mentioned (beatles, etc). that will always be "rock" as you are defining it. for a band to change the world at this point, it would have to be in a new genre. and who knows, that could be from somewhere like France, where the wine flows like...wine.

9:22 AM  
Blogger tifanie said...

You are right that our standards are high. But I do think there are a number of new bands who rock in the same category with those mentioned above. However, lines are very blurred now, which is fun and wonderful. There are many bands who sometimes rock, and sometimes do other unnamably fascinating things, like oh, say, The Endless, Poe, etc. Certainly, there can be no definitive way to classify these emerging sounds, and what's in a label, anyway?
Everyone has a different take on what rock is, and there is no way to reconcile opinion, of course.
Maybe new bands that I think rock only do so because their sound reminds me of other bands who I always considered to rock. So while they may not be breaking ground, it's still rock and roll to me.
Ultimately, I think the crux of our above (admittedly silly) discussion lies in linking potatoes to rock in the most universally accepted sense, and not in whether new bands can break ground in rock.
So, what do you think about the potato part?

6:31 PM  
Blogger JBuchanan said...

Ooooh, this conversation is just delicious.

When I lived in Rome, most Italians and Europeans for that matter thought the Spice Girls rocked. On the other hand, Marcello, a street musician who dated one of my friends, definitely rocked, but he played American & British cover songs. At least he was an Italian who appreciated the “rock” aesthetic.

But what of the potatoe/hops/grease diet’s relation to rockin’ and the olive oil/wine diet’s relation to non-rockin? A couple of things come to mind:

*Food and Music are both aspects of culture, which brings up a secondary discussion of why cultures develop in a certain way and not another way. The genetic argument is very dangerous because ultimately it ends up with a decidedly racist construction, especially when you look at aspects of culture that make them “successful” or not according to first world economic standards. Jarod Diamond’s book, Guns Germs, and Steel discusses this issue at length.
He argues that environmental factors, natural resources, the availability of food sources, and the necessity of developing job specialization, which inevitably creates social stratification, and finally the element of choice all play a part in how a culture develops. So yes, I believe that somehow the fact that the food of countries that rock is similar in the same way the food of countries that don’t rock is definitely significant.

*Should we create a distinction between countries that have begun to rock as an emulation of the potato countries that already rock? I have heard some Japanese bands that rock, but one could argue that they are importing this from the potato countries that already rock. Their ability to rock might exist independently of their food/culture construction.

*Rock as rebellion. What do you think about the idea that those countries that create music that rocks have more of a need to rebel against puritanical elements in their culture? The French and the Italians are much more likely to display public affection without offending. They aren’t really repressed in the same way that American, Japanese, British and I think the former Soviet States are repressed in terms of personal expression.

8:52 AM  
Blogger adriana said...

YES I agree fully. Very very well said.

I do believe that repression creates rebellion, and also that potatoes create indigestion...I mean digression...I mean...what do I mean..oh yeah--RAAAAWK.

I could go on and on but I really think there is something to the food thing.

9:10 AM  
Blogger tifanie said...

Holy hell, you girls blow me away.

5:31 PM  
Blogger JBuchanan said...

This is what I do at my shit job when you give me a computer and leave the room.

6:37 AM  
Blogger Gabriel said...

I don't know much about potatoes 'cept for I eat 'em, You can find potatoes in almost any convieniance store in Japan, 'cept they call 'em frenchi fry potatoes. Any how about all this rockin. What constitues a rockin. Well beatles. Black Sabbath, Rolling Stones, Velvet Underground. Now only one of the four is american. I think America is the emulator there. Stereolab is british 'cept for the vocalist being french. And Germany certianly does rock. Faust, Popol Vuh, Guru Guru, Kraftwerk, Neu, Can, and many many more. Ever heard of Kraut Rock. Well it changed the face o music.
Back in Japan every record store has a Kraut Rock section. Hell even inside the big touristy Tokyo Tour Wax Musuem there is a tribute Kraut Rock or Progressive Rock.
Kraut Rock changed music indefinately. It was weird. It was different. And it certainly rocked. Thus began prog rock. France had one of the most amazing prog rockin' bands ever. Magma. Although they didn't sing in French. They made up their own language and sung many a song in their newly crafted tongue. As for potatoes. they never wrote a song about it far as I can tell, but I don't speak in Magama's language.
Italy was also consumed by the Krauts. There are many a prog band from Italy. Some of which do rock. There exist a couple of books about the topic.
Japan does rock, because it takes so many influences from the Kraut's and the prog tradition and mixing it with their pop music and traditional music. It's different all right.
As for Canadia. Well Neil Young rocks! He's the potatoes without any katsup.
I don't know where I am going with this. But this rock ain't served at Mcdonald's. It's not the rock you see everywhere. It's the rock underneath the rocks. And ain't that where potatoes come from too.
anywho for more info on Kraut and prog rock consult: www.gepr.net/
You all rock!!!!!!!!

10:10 AM  
Blogger tifanie said...

Welcome home, Gabe! I knew you could set it all straight. I miss you somethin' terrible. Let me know when a good time for a trip to SF would be.

7:50 PM  

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