APROPOS the Grammy Awards ceremony this week, we recently came across the following scholarly discussion of the rock aesthetic in "The Jazz Scene," by English social historian and Marxist critic Eric Hobsbawm:
"The major innovation of rock was technological. It secured the mass breakthrough of electronic music," Mr. Hobsbawm writes.
Of course there were other pioneers of electrified instruments. Charlie Christian revolutionized the guitar by wiring it to an electronic amplifier. Similarly, singer Billie Holiday created a new vocal style with the personal microphone. But these were isolated experiments, Mr. Hobsbawm contends.
"It is undeniable that rock was the first music that systematically substituted electrified instruments for acoustic ones and systematically used electronic technology not for special effects but for the normal repertoire accepted by a mass public," he writes.
Mr. Hobsbawm takes a generally dim view of the abilities of rock musicians, however.
While conceding that rock "was the first music to turn the technicians of sound and recording studios into equal partners in the creation of a musical performance," he then goes on to say that was because "the incompetence of the actual rock performers was often such that no adequate records or even performances could have been achieved otherwise."
Mr. Hobsbawm also criticizes the concept of the "rock group." "The rock group not only developed an original instrumentation behind the voice or voices," he writes, "but consisted essentially of a collective rather than a small group of virtuosos who TTC expected to demonstrate their skills. Of course the members of very few rock groups, unlike those of jazz combos, had any individual skills to demonstrate."
To which we can only respond: Hasn't this guy ever heard of Eric Clapton?