Continuing on from my previous posting, this posting will set forth a model correlating emergent American music genres with the social “turnings” described by authors Strauss & Howe in The Fourth Turning. For each of these turnings, I will set forth:
On point #3, the year of relevance is not the year during which the genre originated. Instead, it is the year during which the genre became generally popular around the nation — at least among the youth.
Moreover, this new genre must have enjoyed staying power. In other words, 20 or so years after its popular emergence, that genre should have evoked a feeling of nostalgia among the now middle-aged, thus fueling “oldies” radio stations and the like.
Fourth, the new genre should be somewhat repugnant to the older elements of American society (i.e. “What kind of crap are those kids listening to?”).
With the above constraints in mind, here’s the model:
A couple of observations bear noting. First, the last two genres were difficult (for me at least) to identify. Concerning the 1980s, the number of sub-genres of only rock and roll boggles the mind. And even that endless list leaves out my selection for this period: Hip Hop.
All I can say is that Hip Hop seems best to embody the constraints I set forth above. Namely, it has exhibited strong staying power. Second, it has acquired ubiquity. In fact, as of the 2000s, Hip Hop has nicely crossed the black-white chasm in American society. Name me one of those white sub-genres of rock that has stayed and crossed into black culture. Grunge? Punk? Christian? Alternative? Electronica? I say none of the above.
Third, Hip Hop seems the best candidate among the other 1980s possibilities for evoking the “What the f$%k is that?!” reaction from the older segments of society.
As for the current turning, it’s still not clear that the 1980s have ended and the next crisis has begun. If the crisis has started, then 9/11 of 2001 seems the obvious starting point. And if that’s true, then my best guess for the present emergent popular genre is Mashup. (If you’ve got other ideas, please chime in.)
A second observation concerns the role of African American music in the development of American music. Look back at the above list of the seven defining, epochal, milestone American music genres since 1886. Five of the seven emerged directly and only from African American culture. The two in the list that didn’t are Psychedelic Rock and Mashup. The former was, save for Jimi Hendrix, pretty much a white thing; the latter seems cross- and multi-cultural in its origins.
I think this is extraordinary. Since 1886, African Americans have served as the most visible and most impoverished minority group in America. Yet this particular minority group has, over and over, written and produced the scores for the great American social turnings.
That white America has accepted this says much about America. For example, Ragtime can be described as the infusion of Aftrican rhythms into classical white European military march music. Over the same 120-year period, what European country allowed its national “white” music to be continually “spiced up” and “shaken up” by its underclass? I can’t think of any such country.
This is what I love about America; and simultaneously what I fear about America. What I love about America is that it is a fluid and dynamic place in which the truth will come out. What I fear about America is that what it takes for the truth to come out is the loudest shouting. Too often in history, that loud shouting has taken the form of violence.
Over the past 120 years, black America, through its music, has shouted at white America: “Your world is stiff, false, and hypocritical! Get up and move!”
Anyway, this is all preliminary dialogue. In the next posting of this series, I will explain how each new genre of music represents a protest from the street against the old dominant genre, but over time, the forces of corporatization bloat the new genre, making it easy pickings for the next generation.