It’s Monday here at Carthage — and everywhere else, except in outlandish time zones and outer space and stuff — and on Mondays we discuss our weekend. At least, we do on this Monday.
On my weekend, I attended a Tom Stoppard play called Rock’n’Roll at the A.C.T. with some people (thanks, Michele, for arranging it). Stoppard did his usual Stoppard thing with this: his plays are dense food, packed with many layers of themes and closely arranged wordplay, and this one was no exception. The play is about Communism in Prague, kind of, in the same way that Hamlet is kind of about a guy who can’t make up his mind. Anyway, it’s a starting point.
Rock’n’Roll explores, among a host of other things, the rock’n’roll counter-culture that reached its Czech height in ’68 and went on during Czechoslovakia’s long era of iron-fisted Communism. Stoppard posits that the long-haired limp-brained rockers were the only ones truly rebelling against the Communist regime, because unlike the revolutionaries fighting the government, the rockers genuinely didn’t care about the political situation — and that lack-of-caring was the true opposite of the Communist fervor ruling the country. Which was alarming for the people in charge, which led to a lot of anti-rock laws and rock-related beatings and arrests, which in turn led the die-hard revolutionary types to sit up and notice that these disassociated rockers were actually getting some results and maybe they all ought to join forces, kinda.
Also, there’s some stuff that happens in Cambridge.
What I’ve done here is poorly encapsulate a mind-blowing, complex play into a couple of paragraphs, because I’m not writing a thesis, I’m just sort of chatting with you. And what I really want to chat about is the music behind the play, the Doors and Floyd and Beach Boys, that gets played during scene changes and intermission.
I understand, because I’ve seen the movies and been told often enough, that this music changed a lot of people’s worlds and maybe even had some political impact on its era, or caused the people who heard it to go out and have political impact. But set as a background to this charged and master-crafted play, it seemed sort of…irrelevant? Even when Stoppard places it in this context, that by causing people to just opt out of the system and into their own little mindspace it was changing the world by changing people’s reactions to the world, even then I don’t really hear in it what millions of people heard in it. It doesn’t sound to me like anthems of disassociation; it doesn’t sound like anthems of anything.
Understand, the Moms, that I’m not comparing it to my own music or any other music and saying this is better or worse. I just don’t get it. Even within the context of the play, where for three hours I lived and breathed, I still didn’t have the tools to hear anything in it besides music.
So what was there for people then that isn’t there for me now? Was it just the startling juxtaposition of the world around you going to war and shit while these rockers on the record player were saying ‘peace, love and look at the pretty colors’?
Or maybe my problem is that I heard these songs for the first time simultaneously with the commercialization of rock; that even in the play, you hear the rock and you see the monument dedicated to the assassinated rocker at the same time. The music can’t be a ladder or a manhole that leads out of the system anymore, and even The Plastic People of the Universe wanted to get famous in the end.
The thing that grabbed me about all this was that the play itself did not feel like a museum piece or a cute little Wayne’s World flashback. Even though I couldn’t feel the resonance of the music, I still felt the resonance of the the message. But maybe that’s just because I’m a word person, and rock was never going to be my means to an end anyway.
This is not my way out.