Monday, January 18, 2016

Fr. Rutler against post-Sixties pop music and the cultural revolution generally

In speaking of the rock and roll genre, I certainly do not want to be lumped with those preachers who once condemned Ragtime music, or even Chesterton who in an unmeasured moment called Jazz “the song of the treadmill.” But I am a pastor of a section of Manhattan called Hell’s Kitchen. I recently had the funeral of a young man who died of a drug overdose, and whose musical world was Corybantic. His cousin, a client of the rock and drug scene, is in prison for murder. So I speak not only as an aesthete who publicly avows that he prefers Mozart and Chopin to Jackson and Bowie, but as a priest who has to pick up the pieces of those who never knew they had a choice. And I object to comfortable prelates in a higher realm, penning panegyrics for the doyens of a culture that destroys my children.
The young Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, for example, were livewires, huge natural talents exuding bad-boy sexuality (not the domesticated Elvis of the movies and Vegas); of course the girls screamed as they did for Sinatra. Just like the Rat Pack, all were naughty (those two being Southern sinners Flannery O'Connor probably understood: "I'm not the King, honey; Jesus Christ is the King. I'm just a singer") but not destructive to the culture as the cute, seemingly tamer Beatles (somehow an instrument of great evil) and the raucous but less talented (and not good-looking) Rolling Stones were in the next decade. The former set's many vices remained a private matter.

So while I appreciate Fr. Rutler's argument, I don't hate early rock'n'roll; like Pat Buchanan I love it among several genres (including swing), the music of a confident, winning America. The '50s were a perfect storm for the country: unprecedented prosperity and the old values or at least the old norms still in force. (But reactionaries such as European traditionalists are right that the rot, the nihilism and agnosticism, had already set in regarding values, certainly among the elite, going back to at least the "Enlightenment." Norms lag; the non-elite often still went to church.) Read Face to Face for some more on that:
It's important to keep in mind as we enter the renaissance of populism, we have to remind the liberals that their revival of 1940s and '50s New Deal economics will have to be traded for a return to lifestyles of the '40s and '50s. If they want a higher minimum wage and narrowing inequality, they can afford to close down pornography, multiculturalism, and rootlessness. By the same token, conservatives must be willing to pay higher income taxes, work in a more unionized economy, and face tighter checks on over-weening career ambition.
Who else does that remind of Catholic social teaching as I think I understand it? Not Big Brother but certainly not libertarian. "Narrowing inequality": the American dream was real then.

And I let Bowie off easy, preferring to remember him as a throwback to a reactionary aristocracy (the Thin White Duke, not an egalitarian nor pretending to be, aristocrats affording not to care what you think, in a business that rewards virtuosity; not born upper-class but looking the part), again with many vices as such have long had. Fr. Rutler puts him in the same malignant camp as the Beatles. For people lacking the cushion of money and social station (class) and/or intelligence, imitating the vices of the upper classes is materially disastrous. And that, I think, is Fr. Rutler's objection to him: flaunting, nay, preaching his vices and harebrained ideas, he made them public for many people's possible ruination.

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