Into the 80’s..Rockism

Between the mid 70’s and the mid 80’s I can’t remember having a proper haircut. Gentleman’s hairdressers had a tendency to think that anyone with long hair wanted to look like a footballer rather than a member of Hawkwind so I had avoided the barbers until my hair was at it’s longest ever by the end of 1978. Despite punk having hit in 1976 the tide was only slowly turning but by 1979 not only was I cutting my hair shorter but I was also trying to taper my flared jeans.

It was a slow process, every time I cut it, my hair was a bit shorter than before but it was about a year before the nation were fully acquainted with my ears again. As I was creating this transformation with only a pair of scissors and a couple of mirrors the results were inevitably patchy but at the best, I could get close to a Nick Cave, at the worst it was a Nick Lowe but the results had an inevitable tinge of the mullet about them.

My band Butisitart? was starting to fall apart, our singer Meloni has fallen in with a bunch of 17/18 year-old middle-class lads from the local college. I was nearly 23 and already out of touch. The new breed were also musicians but punk for them was a distant memory, they had severe haircuts and wore clothes that made them look like they were in Rommel’s Afrika Corps, one day I heard one of them had made a jibe at my ‘Rockist’ haircut.

Rockism had suddenly become a thing. It had started as a joke by Liverpudlian singer Pete Wylie who announced a Race against Rockism campaign. The music papers had become infiltrated by a new breed of journalist who were either interesting/challenging/pretentious depending on your own perspective. For a brief moment rock was under the intense scrutiny and it was found wanting.

Rockism was largely undefinable but I kind of got it. It largely had any legs at all because of writer Paul Morley who was still writing articles in the Guardian about it about it over 20 years later. Morley’s obviously a lot bigger than one idea and he alerted us to the possibility of a world where blues and rock and roll had not been the cornerstone of popular music. A world where Kraftwerk were as important as the Beatles and Wire were bigger than Yes.

Rockism was not just about what music a band played it was about what instruments they played, how they payed them and what they wore. Wearing jeans was rockist (guilty as charged), guitars, especially low-slung Gibson les Paul’s were rockist. Anything with a trace of the blues was rockist and entertaining a crowd with hoary rock clichés was as rockist as you could get, in fact learning to play an instrument at all was suspiciously rockist anyway.

Consequently when Meloni formed a band with her friends we were treated to a half hour of free form noise. Having shown no aptitude in playing an instrument up to now Meloni had taken up the violin. To be fair I always enjoy a bit of noise and they had nice trousers and it certainly wasn’t rockist.

Clearly it was rather silly but so was load of rock music. At this point rock was at its lowest ebb at least in England and the notion of entitlement and deference with the likes of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd needed challenging. It was a temporary blip, the likes of Q magazine (RIP) embraced rockist values and by the 90’s the big bands were all back making money out of re-releasing their back catalogue on CD. And then Guns and Roses happened and took over the world for a couple of years and we knew that any war that might have existed had been well and truly lost

It made an impression on me though , I began to appreciate pop music more and began to realize a lot of rock gods were deeply flawed individuals rather than some sort of prophets, the secrets of relationships were to necessarily contained in the lyrics of a James Taylor song and a lot of the time most musicians don’t really have an awful lot to say, but that doesn’t stop them saying it.

Apart from my haircut, I almost doubted rockism had existed, things were moving so fast musically that it was there for a moment then it was gone. Even Simon Reynolds excellent book on the period ‘Rip it up and Start Again’ fails to mention it. However, online it appears rockism debate is back again and now there’s something called poptimism, how I wish I was young again and could give a shit.

By the way, Nick Lowe is rockist, Nick Cave isn’t, please doesn’t ask me to explain.

This entry was posted in 80’s music, memories of 70s, rock music and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Into the 80’s..Rockism

  1. wilwalker says:

    Cave plays the piano? I do remember Rockism – quite amusing, and it did have a point, of course, though I prefer Lowe to Cave.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Having never really understood the term (maybe it got lost during the long flight downunder) I’m grateful for this piece. Though I’m not sure I’m ready for an exam. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Was this a term in America? Because as a dedicated fan of post-punk/rock ‘n roll I can’t say I’ve ever heard it uttered in person or in an interview.

    Liked by 1 person

    • moulty58 says:

      It was barely a thing in the UK but for a while there was a real movement against all things American and rock and roll. You didn’t miss much and we got over it .


  4. Aphoristical says:

    The latest Trolls movie is all about rockism, apparently.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aphoristical says:

      Plus, I always think of rockism more about critics not giving attention to music that doesn’t have guitars and isn’t deeply introspective/political.


      • moulty58 says:

        You’ve covered plenty of that music . I think it was about stuff that wasn’t derived from rock and roll and blues. In the 80s there were plenty of musicians who didn’t care for Elvis and the Beatles at all which wasn’t the case in the 70s so much. Some tough listens though!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Aphoristical says:

        Maybe the definition has shifted a little over the years. Hopefully it helped acts like Kraftwerk or Earth Wind and Fire to get taken more seriously.

        Liked by 1 person

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