Pop music argues with itself about itself

By Amanda Marcotte
Saturday, June 19, 2010 21:39 EDT
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Sarah, guest-blogging at Feministe, has a post up about how David Bowie is an inspirational figure to her as a feminist, because his whole act in the 70s was about subversion of gender and traditional ideas of performance, and it’s a very liberating thing. I agree with all that, of course—there’s not many Insufferable Music Snobs who aren’t giant geeks for David Bowie—but I just wanted to point out that Bowie has one more feather in his cap. He’s also the force behind the best, probably only, concept album that really held together as a story. (I think it’s safe to say that Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon holds together as a concept album, but it doesn’t tell a story, so I’m leaving it out of this estimation.) Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars gets sort of lost in the IMS shuffle because of Bowie’s later collaborations with Brian Eno, but it really is remarkable not only for kicking ass, but also holding together as a narrative that tells an incredibly effective story.

It’s kind of ironic, I realize, to point that out, because Sarah’s post is about the power of rock and roll salvation, and of course, the whole point of Ziggy Stardust is to take a giant piss on the possibility that rock could be this liberating force. Ziggy starts the album as a hero who will save humanity from itself before the end of the world, and after a haze of fame, drugs, and sex takes him over, he ends up as a burnout who achieved fame but didn’t save anyone.

It’s just one entry in an endless dialogue pop music has with itself on the liberating power of itself. It’s funny, because on the tour for Ziggy Stardust, Bowie made it a point to cover Velvet Underground songs. Now, there was a band that was cynical about a lot of things, but also wrote one of the sweetest, most optimistic rock-and-roll-will-save-your-soul songs ever.

I have an idea floating around in my head for a mix tape based around these themes. I haven/t really settled on the entire list of songs, but I know I want to put these two next to each other, because I feel like they’re arguing with each other:

I don’t have much of a point. I just think all this stuff is pretty interesting. You could literally go on for hours in this vein, dealing with songs about pop music and the potential for liberation, or lack of it.

One thing is certain: If it’s not bigger than Jesus, it should be. With apologies to John Lennon.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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