The anarchic spirit of rock n’ roll is never far removed from crime, usually metaphorically and occasionally literally. Phil Spector was recently sentenced to nineteen years for shooting a girlfriend. Mary Kay Letourneau, imprisoned for years for having a sexual relationship with one of her young students, is now celebrated with a Van Halen-inspired “Hot for Teacher” night at a Seattle bar where she and her former student, now husband co-host. (If I could easily find the Van Halen video on YouTube instead of just the audio, it would also be a reminder that back in the 80s, which I keep saying were in many ways looser than the 00s, nobody really blinked at images of, for instance, a dominatrix imprisoning schoolboys, whereas that would likely and understandably raise some eyebrows today.)
Frankly, I say good for Mary Kay and hubby. How many couples can boast of overcoming the obstacles they have and sticking together this long? She went to prison, for crying out loud, and they still got back together. And as every male no doubt thinks at some point but none are supposed to say in public: we might fear for young females exploited by predatory male teachers, but in cases where the genders are reversed, unless you’re a feminist of the sort who refuses to admit that switching the genders matters, you must suspect that the exploited young male, if his female teacher was sufficiently hot — see Debra Lafave photo above — was likely getting high fives from his school buddies for the rest of what he will probably quietly remember as “the absolute best year of high school ever.” Not that that necessarily means it should be legal, of course. But again: see photo of Debra Lafave above. I realize we don’t want a law code that lets hot women do things non-hot women cannot — but that’s sometimes a shame, isn’t it? Is anyone in Critical Legal Studies circles working to find a way around this problem?
(Perhaps all that can be a side discussion during tomorrow’s Zionism-themed Debate at Lolita Bar — which is not why the establishment is called that, by the way. It’s from the “Nolita”/“Lolita” geographic distinction on the Lower East Side near Little Italy. Of course, if we ever do some sort of cross-promotion with the nearby Lolita Bra shop, people will have more reasonable grounds to criticize.)
Anyway: anyone interested in reconciling conservative impulses and the spirit of rock n’ roll — such as a guy espousing a form of “conservatism for punks” — would be well advised to admit up front that the two do not naturally jibe (failure to admit that leads to things like that fun but often unconvincing and contrived National Review list of 100 conservative rock songs three years ago). Conservatism is usually construed — at least in the context of social mores and before everyone started obsessing over boisterous radio hosts — to mean something like self-discipline, responsibility, respectability, calm, civility, and so forth. Rock, obviously, is not.
That’s why that photo of Nixon shaking Elvis’s hand seems like it should probably be embarrassing to both parties (even in an ideal world where you replace the phony-conservative president with a real one and the rock star with one who isn’t hypocritically offering to monitor the drug culture for the government).
Anyone espousing some sort of “conservatism for punks” must either have a very idiosyncratic definition of punk or, more likely, an idiosyncratic definition of conservatism. No one is allowed his own private language, but to avoid coyness and pretense, let me come right out and say that of course the Todd Seavey definition of conservatism, while hardly arbitrary or unprecedented, is and has long been one emphasizing the capitalist and individualist elements of the movement, not to trick anyone or to suggest that I get to vaingloriously declare myself a “movement of one,” but simply because they’re most the valuable elements, I think, and the direction I’d like to see the movement go in the future, if it has one.
By contrast, you may recall my beloved witty genius girlfriend, Helen Rittelmeyer (who just happens to be sort of a bad-girl turned teacher, come to think of it), taking the view that conservatism is almost entirely about solidarity and ritual expressions of human excellence (even, or perhaps especially, violent ones), not “do your own thing or whatever makes you happy” — and she admires punks precisely for submitting to a sort of strict collective self-discipline. (She often displays an admirable similar sense of solidarity around some of her comparably — though not, of course, equally! — brilliant and witty close friends.) So we both end up seeing two fusible strands but for what are arguably radically-different reasons, almost like two green anti-capitalists discovering hours into a conversation that one of them’s an idyllically-inclined Tory and the other a Gaia-worshipping left-anarchist (which sounds fun in its own way, of course).
Either way, though, we have to admit rock can be reconciled with conservatism mainly as a result of our unique takes on conservatism rather than as a natural fit. The interesting question is to what extent we may subconsciously, many years ago have redefined conservatism in our minds — before having explicit ideologies — precisely to make it accommodate rock. Rock is a force that cannot be denied at this point in history, after all, and few people are likely to risk giving it up for ideological reasons any more than, well, a professional science-promoting nerd is going to stop watching Lord of the Rings to protest its lack of scientific plausibility.
But a bit more on rock and politics in tomorrow’s entry, when we board The Boat That Rocked.