The band guy’s footprints forged the genre’s path from the early 1960s onward, from Liverpool’s grubby Cavern Club to Seattle’s dingy Dutchman rehearsal space, in leather boots and Converse sneakers. Blending Hobbit-like charm with Aragorn-ish glamor, this figure took shape within the dreams of countless men following in the wake of John, Paul, George and Ringo teaming up as the Fab Four. The romance, familial connection and creative exchange that sparked for The Beatles in their Cavern Club days grew mythic as they became the biggest act rock ever produced, pulling rock’s ring from the hands of solo artists and duos and making fellowship the primary energy empowering rock’s quest. Over the decades, band guys traded leather for Spandex for skateboarder shorts, blew up the genre like punks and reassembled it as grunge; but what bore repeating was that story of men growing up together through music, turning into a family and finding glory on the battlefields of rhythm and noise.
Associated with this is the irony that as the world was becoming less segregated, music was become more so with the appropriation women and culture. In particular, “The Beatles brought white America a sense of relief.”
It’s not a coincidence that the music industry itself became more segregated during a period when civil rights defined the spirit of protest in America. The Beatles and the other English soul transformers/appropriators that quickly followed in their wake, from The Rolling Stones to Joe Cocker, personally protested the divisions that greeted them on tour and sometimes in the recording studio; yet as they became rock’s norm, they allowed white fans to enjoy what the late great music writer Greg Tate identified as a pasteurized form of Black culture: “everything but the burden.”
Women of any race were also pushed out of the band-guy narrative, despite the very real roles they played in the British Invasion, from Tina Turner teaching Mick Jagger how to move to The Shirelles inspiring The Beatles’ harmonies.
This is an insightful piece. It had me thinking about the balance of guys and girls in Dave Grohl’s autobiography. Although there was discussion of Joan Jett, this was wedged in-between living in the van and Pantera’s strip club.
It also had me thinking about Damian Cowell’s discussion of white male rock in his podcast. What is intriguing is how the group may change, but the myth carries on.
The group sound doesn’t always feed the myth of the band guy, but as water tends to find its own level, it’s become intertwined with it. It’s not imaginary, this sense that musicians making music together over time produce something that both enhances and exceeds each participant especially when they are composing together. This is one way to understand jazz, for example. But in rock the fascination with “the group sound” melded with a romantic view of masculine freedom and prowess that made the band not just a conduit for artistry, but a way of life. Even as the multiracial revolution disco wrought overtook it in the 1970s and, simultaneously, punk’s antics knocked it down a peg, the band lived on as the most potent signifier of rock’s ability, in the words of its post-1970s high priest Bruce Springsteen, to “bust this city in half.”
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