Archive for August 14th, 2008

Of the rocker

Rock music is sometimes associated with drugs, sex, loud guitars and hedonism, the kind of things that make some parents, moral guardians and religious leaders worry and become hopping mad. That’s partly true.

But like many other things in life, rock music — as with many other types of popular music — also has its positive dimensions. Some rock music and rockers do carry messages that raise political and social awareness among the younger generation.

Here one is reminded of bands and individual artistes such as Rage Against the Machine, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, to name but a few.

There’s rock music that questions authoritarianism, sexism, crass materialism, social injustice and racism; brings to public attention the pressing issue of environmental destruction and air pollution; and promotes religious messages and good moral values, etc.

To be sure, there are also other genres of music that raise similar and other concerns, such as rap, reggae, heavy metal, funk, etc.

Of course, not all rock music and other kinds of popular music make social commentaries. There are those that entertain through stories of love, broken heart, unrequited love, etc.

But at times, even in love songs there is potental for their original meanings (about love) to transform into something quite different and political even in a particular given social context.

Take, for instance, the popular song ‘Every Breath You Take’ by The Police. Its original meaning revolves around the issue of love, but this meaning changed dramatically in Malaysia in the wake of the 1987 political clampdown, codenamed ‘Operasi Lalang’. This love song instead reminded politically inclined Malaysians of the omnipresence of the police in Malaysian society.

Another example of a song that can change its ‘complexion’ under a different circumstance is the love song ‘Azizah’. Played at the height of the Reformasi movement in 1998, the song was given a new reading that had political undertones. From a ‘simple Azizah’ to ‘Azizah the wife of Anwar Ibrahim’.

The point here is that popular music, particularly rock music, cannot be simply and generally dismissed as an opiate of the young, the catalyst for moral decay, and the satanic work in an idle mind.

That is why local rocker Amy Search, when commenting on Pas Youth’s recent call for a ban on rocker Avril Lavigne’s gig on August 22 in Kuala Lumpur, was right in saying that ‘we must remember there are positive sides to it (i.e. rock music and band) too’.

And in this regard, it is heartening to learn that politicians, such as Perak Menteri Besar Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin, are not averse to rock concert.

Surely there’s time and place for rock fans to chill out.