Rock Behind the Curtain

j1952

One of the most important effects of the emergence of “Rock & Roll” in the United States during the 1950’s was the social revolution that came along with it. The older generations were shocked by Elvis Presley and the way he shook his hips, the sexual energy of performers like Little Richard, and the personal controversies of people like Jerry Lee Lewis. As the 1960’s came into view, The Beatles encouraged young men to wear their hair longer, Bob Dylan encouraged political protest, and more African American artists then can be named gave face the plight of African Americans in this country then ever before. Rock music represented social revolution in a way that few had seen before.

While all of this is important, it can be easy to forget that Rock was not a phenomena at the same time, once it did come around, the response was largely the same. When I looked at the sources provided by 17 moments, it was interesting to see how the older parts of Soviet Society responded to the liberalism that rock encouraged amongst the youth in similar ways to their western counterparts. In the article entitled “Western Styles Infect Soviet Youth”, the writer argued that teachers needed to, “protect young people from bad influences and vulgar tastes. It is not only proper behavior that we are inculcating, after all, but also civic virtue and patriotism” (Western Styles…). In typical Soviet manor, they tied the need to protect the youth in a patriotic way, something that their American counterparts never tried when fighting against rocks influences. Even more interesting was the official attempts at supresing the distribution of Jazz and Rock records in the early 1960’s. In the film Shadows on the Sidewalk, authorities attempted to these records distribution, seeing them as a threat to the Soviet values most likely. Interestingly, during this time Left thinkers from the Frankfurt School were coming out against jazz, but this is more a coincidence.

Another interesting strategy that the Soviet’s took to discredit rock music was to attack its commercial leanings. In an article entitled “Bob Dylan’s Trajectory”, contained an interesting passage on the commericalization of rock music as a form of critiquing it:

“The founders of this musical genre called it a “revolutionary art form,” but with time it has become clear that powerful “pop culture” has turneditinto just one of its commercial enterprises. Rock ‘n’ roll quickly became a form of business. Rock songs, many young Americans still feel today, challenged their “fathers’ culture.” But what happened? The fathers had experience and business acumen on their side. “Get mad, but only on the playing field,” they said to themselves. “Don’t go beyond that, or we’ll punish you.” (“Bob Dylan’s Trajectory”)

 

While this line of thought has some validity to it, I think one could argue that great innovation can happen in these circumstances. The greatest works are those that are able to take these restrictions and able to work against them. Additionally, coming from a regime that routinely created propaganda films in its native industry and then would hide them if they didn’t show everything in a favorable light (“Don’t go beyond that”), it seems rather hypocritical to criticize American rock music for its comericialization.

The Soviet response to rock music is interesting. Like their American counterparts, they were scared of the liberal ideas that came with it, that it would inspire youth to rebel against their leaders. It goes to show that the fear of youth culture and the new values it often represents always scares the parents and leaders of the youth, whether its in America or behind the Iron Curtain.

This post earned a Red Star award from the editorial team

Sources

“Bob Dylan’s Trajectory”

Western Style Infect Soviet Youth

Shadows on the Sidewalk