Rock & Roll Books

Summer reading

Rock & Roll Books

Is Rock Dead?

by Kevin J.H. Dettmar

Routledge, 208 pp., $19.95

No, rock's not dead, but do we really need 200 pages to tell us that? English professor Kevin J.H. Dettmar set out to perform an arduous task, putting on the detective's cap and pounding the pavement in search of clues, bodies, distraught parents, and dangerous dames (well, the awkward cover drawing represents the first two). He digs deep and, indeed, offers estimated times of death for poor rock & roll: Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show, Altamont, Dylan going electric, the dawn of MTV and its first video, the Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star," the PMRC, and the death of Kurt Cobain. He also cites writers and critics: Lester Bangs ("Everybody should relax. Rock & roll died when Elvis went down for his physical."), Greil Marcus, Jim DeRogatis, and has an especially gnarly thorn in his side for author Nick Hornby for trashing Kid A in a New Yorker article – an affront which inspired this book ("He can be quite ruthless with music that doesn't fit comfortably into his comfortable life.") In the end, however, he says rock fans are the quickest to declare rock dead when their favorite band goes "mainstream," and that declaring it so allows it to go on. True, but as he also notes, it's old enough now to start dying of "natural causes." We just have to stop confusing maturity with death.

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