Book Review: The Secret History of Rock

The Secret History of Rock:  The Most Influential Bands You’ve Never Heard, by Roni Sarig

This book provides a compelling and worthwhile history of Rock & Roll that is at various times inspiring, appalling, and informative.  As a fan of obscure musical history [1] whose tastes run more towards Semisonic [2] than Nirvana, I found this book a somewhat dated, though very worthwhile examination of the process by which edgy independent musicians influence their more commercial followers, so that decades after the original work in classical music or art criticism, or the independent and obscure bands that seek a new fusion or a new sound or a new approach, the mainstream is inundated with Gramscian bands (like Nirvana, Soundgarden, U2, and REM) whose music reflects much more obscure trends that have been bubbling underneath the surface.  By providing a coherent narrative of how mainstream rock music was influenced by these very obscure bands, the author (probably knowingly) shows how those who wish to subtly influence society start from the margins and then seek to inspire others to copy their example, spreading the culture of “straight edge” rock (started by Minor Threat) or psychodelic rock (influenced heavily by Syd Barrett, among others), often for destructive ends.

This book examines a variety of different types of music to determine a variety of important influences on the Rock & Roll of the 1990’s that are denied their rightful place in the canons of history, including the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame that supposedly supports important influences without great commercial success but often in fact fails to do so [3].  There are 80 bands covered in depth in this book, which has the following chapters:  20th-Century Composers, International Pop Underground, Psychotic Reactions and Garage Rock, Absurdists and Eccentrics, Naive Rock, Frayed Roots, Krautrock, Sound Sculptors, Original Rappers, New York Rockers, Minimalist Funk, The Post-Industrial Wasteland, British Post-Punk, Riot Moms and Other Angry Women, American Hardcore, and Avant Punk USA.

Some of the bands are more familiar to me than others (Philip Glass, Kraftwork, Mission to Burma, and Gram Parsons were all familiar to me, for example).  Nonetheless, the book especially succeeds in showing how the music industry was influenced by both good things (a do-it-yourself work ethic that is hostile to the greed and theft of the music industry, a straight edge hostility to drug or alcohol abuse) and bad things (deviant sexuality and drug experimentation) by stealth and infiltration.  Understanding this method and this historical process is a useful one whether one is a fan of independent music or more generally a student of culture.  Either way, this book provides a lot of sobering and thought-provoking analysis of the subtle but vital role of influence in shaping our present culture.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/13/power-pop-tragedies-and-the-search-for-obscure-music-history/

[2] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/14/book-review-so-you-wanna-be-a-rock-roll-star/

[3] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/12/15/the-hall-of-fame-game/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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11 Responses to Book Review: The Secret History of Rock

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