Thursday, January 17, 2008

Political Poetree

"Carter, Begin and Sadat
Breznhev, Teng and Castro
every day negotiate us closer to disastr-o
Idi Amin and the Shah
and Al Fatah is quite bizarre
I could never get the hang of ideology

I do the Rock
I do - I do - I do - do the Rock"


Tim Peterson said...

Wow, what a great album! I have to get that!

The verb "Rock" is one of those great all-American words because of how it combines intimacy with an implied violence like a threat weighing in a little on the positive side, and how this combination created new expressions and vocabulary for the colloquial American idiom: you rocked me could mean: I was shaken to my core, you made love to me, you beat me (up). Or possibly: X rocks, which essentially means "X both beats up and makes love to some indeterminate other." Probably the newest manifestation of this linguistic process is HU-AH.

Oh, and Comedy Central ROCKS, by the way.

rodney k said...

Hi Tim,

So true. And what you point out about the word "rock" fits perfectly with the unfocused ambiguity of Curry's delivery in the '78 YouTube clip. He's sort of generally satirical in tone without quite satirizing anything in particular: all the gestures of a putdown with zero detail, pure namecheck. What is it exactly he's getting at with "Mick is frightfully bold"? Or Gertrude's hanging pictures? Works a little like "Rock" the way you describe it here--a stretchiness that lets the form fit any function you might care to give it.

What gets under my skin about the song too is the calypso delivery. WHY is he taking on an islands inflection? What work does he think that's doing? Signalling easy good times ("Sunshine! Pull de top down")? Giving his song the license for social criticism that made calypso so subversive? Or doing just plain ol' cultural pantomime with a public schoolboy twist?

Well, I could never get de hang of ideology ...

Tim Peterson said...

I really like what you have to say here, Rodney. I mean to be clearer that I wasn't talking about Tim Curry's syntactical mangling "I do the rock" which I think is delightful, but about the use of the phrase "rock" colloquially in the culture. Likewise, I think "Mick is frightfully bold" is also a delightful gesture that subverts these conventions.

As to the matter of being generally satirical without satirizing anything in particular, maybe it's just that I've been living in New York too long, but when I encounter this phenomenon I am usually inclined to hear its equivalent when used in a social situation, which is usually that it signifies hostility. (our possibilites for reading language being derived from the dialogic and from speech acts when it comes down to that)

On another level, what oftens happens in my personal experience is that this can happen gradually. IE, I cannot count the number of times I have been at a production of the Rocky Horror Picture Show (including a production derived from Richard O'Brien's originally that I saw in England a few years back) where you suddenly start to feel a little dirty, like you were sitting in a nice lecture by Trotsky and he suddenly morphed in Ayn Rand, for example. This drift I think is largely due to a misreading of what the Rocky Horror Picture Show is about, one element which may in fact account for its very popularity in the general culture which uses phrases like "that rocks."