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Rock your body, babe, and let it roll
April 2000

Rock & roll is the music of rhythm. Well, you might say, blues, jazz and gospel have all their fair share in being music for the body. However, I don't want to debate their contributions in this article.

Rock & roll has established a body culture amongst many of its fans. It refers to the human body as much as the human body seems to be related to it. The dialectics of rock & roll are quite clear: the stimulus creates the response for the next stimulus ,,, and so on. No cause-effect relation, but an ongoing sequence of events, both individually and collectively.

The politics of sex have always been political events, even in their most bizarre modes. But it was also politics which shaped the increasing importance of music: the Viet Nam war has a direct relation to Woodstock and the Summer of Love, the lack of credibility of established parties led to the alternative movement, technological "progress" enabled new modes of musical expression (electric guitar, synthesizer, etc.). All of these factors impacted on cultures and societies as a whole, but they also found their expression in rock music as a medium of "liberation" via pleasure and amusement.

The messages are clear: rock your body and let it roll. Only a fool would assume that there's no sexual connotation. Of course, there is. Rock music is body music in essence, and body music means music which gives pleasure to the body.

In the beginning of rock music way back in the 1950s, Elvis Presley was considered to be an artist of obscenity. Hip swings and other body motions were seen as the devil's work having gained control of the human being. The connection between music and body feelings was not supposed to be expressed in public. Sex and music, a perfect blend for centuries if not millennia, suddenly became a matter of moral discussions, often leading to public outrage and even ban of certain musicians and/or their music.

The purpose was simple: sexual liberation was not on the agenda of those societies and rock music simply put it on the agenda by performing, rather than by discussing the merits of this placement.

Subsequently, the mid-1960s turned out to become the times of sexual and political revolution, not only in personal terms, but in terms of politics, education, racial relations, arts and particularly music. Musicians like The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones, The Who and others insisted on the maturity of their artistic projects and their openly declared relation to the Pleasure Dome known as the human body. Politics and pleasure, they claimed are not adversaries, but need to go hand in hand.

It was only a matter of time until more groups and musicians picked up the topic and made it their individual trademarks. Disco music is a good example, fashion still is. But also bands like Queen, Kiss etc. contributed to the body image of rock & roll.

The target of this music is the human body as the essence of the human being in terms of pleasure. By pleasure, I refer to all types of pleasure one may be able to generate from whatever way of listening and/or producing music. In the end, the music wishes to "turn on" the listener in every possible way. Prince is a classical example for this type of music, which expresses sexual fantasies (and/or needs?) by using the rhythms of rock - like: rock me baby all night long ...

The so-called developed societies have picked up rock music as a vehicle to transmit the message of "feelin' good" regarding products of all kinds: cars, shoes, perfumes, soups, underwear, you name it. Advertisement is broadcasted using rock music as a support to come as close as possible to human fantasies and possibly greed.

The cultural design of the human body has become a major industry (check out each and every Hollywood movie) and we seem to believe that this is just what we need. As if the whole world could live sustainably in Beverly Hills. Hey, I'm talking about 6 billion people coming together to live, work, play and love in this little suburb of L.A. All driving BMWs and all attending classes in beauty salons, and all consuming power, water, air, food, etc.

Hollywood presents another commercial arena of bodily displays accompanied by the rhythms of rock and roll telling us that we're attractive to the bone if we only meet the displayed standards. Attraction of the human being has been reduced to the sexually attractive human body, whatever "attraction" may mean in these White Man's terms of reference.

The body is displayed being clean, slim, and sometimes just mean. But it's pure flesh and it transmits the message: do it to me one more time. The body has become a sex-machine in the most mechanic, and therefore aesthetically ugly, sense.

I don't deny the pleasure of experiencing human bodies (how could I?). However, I question whether everything on billboards, journals, or on TV and computer screens needs to have a human body associated with the message and product in question. The exchange of a switch seems to be as meaningless as an encounter with another human body. Interaction has become mechanics. Or more philosophically: if it ain't for the greed of the body, forget the encounter.

C'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon now
Touch me babe
Can't you see that I am not afraid
What was that promise that you made
Why won't you tell me what she said
What was that promise that she made

Now I'm gonna love you
Till the heavens stop the rain
I'm gonna love you
Till the stars fall from the sky
For you and I
Copyright by The Doors (1967), Touch me

Copyright © by Eberhard Wenzel, 1997-2001