Rebels Wit Attitude: Subversive Rock Humorists

Soft Skull Press
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Rock music has been the principal outlet of youth rebellion for more than half a century, and though rock rebels have been idolized and profiled extensively, their humor has not been at the center of attention. In Rebels Wit Attitude, music writer Iain Ellis throws a spotlight on the history of humor in rock music, and its use as a weapon of anti-establishment rebellion. The performers who are the subjects of Ellis’ study are not merely musicians or comedians—they are artists whose works exude defiance and resistance. Discussing the work of iconic figures as diverse as Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, the Beastie Boys, and Madonna, Ellis reveals how issues of politics, ethics, race, and gender, among others, have energized their expressions of rock (and) humor. Rebels Wit Attitude is an entertaining look at some of the greatest rebels in American rock culture and a fascinating history of humor and dissent.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Soft Skull Press
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Published on
Oct 29, 2008
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Pages
256
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ISBN
9781593763350
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Music / History & Criticism
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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The Sex Pistols. David Bowie. Pink Floyd. Rebel rockers and provokers of the public, vivid in our memories as much for their subversion of the mainstream as for their signature sounds. Yet what very few people realize is that a substantive part of the weaponry used by these rockers and their contemporaries was humor: outrageous onstage antics, coded cultural references, and clever lyrical constructs were all critical to expressions of youth rebellion that could still slip past the powers that be. Focusing on key subversive rock humorists, Brit Wits shows how and why humor has been such a powerful catalyst and expressive force in these artists’ work. Distinguishing rock humorists from rockers who are merely sometimes humorous, Iain Ellis trains his attention on those whose music and persona exude defiance—beginning with the Beatles, the Kinks, and Pink Floyd; and continuing through the Smiths, the Slits, and even the Spice Girls—to investigate the nature of rock humor and the ways in which these groups have used it to attack prevailing social structures. Politics and issues of gender, class, and race are all laid open to ridicule, as is the music industry itself—epitomized by the Sex Pistols’s scathing “EMI.” And although lyrics are foregrounded, Ellis demonstrates that a guitar solo, dissident dance move, or antisocial hairstyle may in context be every bit as subversive and humorous as a song. At once an action-packed look at some of the most notorious rebels of British rock history and a celebration of an underexplored area of humor, Brit Wits compiles essays and critical profiles that look at one of the most effective—and entertaining—means of anti-establishment expression for half a century.
The scandal over modern music has not died down. While paintings by Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock sell for a hundred million dollars or more, shocking musical works from Stravinsky's Rite of Spring onward still send ripples of unease through audiences. At the same time, the influence of modern music can be felt everywhere. Avant-garde sounds populate the soundtracks of Hollywood thrillers. Minimalist music has had a huge effect on rock, pop, and dance music from the Velvet Underground onward. Alex Ross, the brilliant music critic for The New Yorker, shines a bright light on this secret world, and shows how it has pervaded every corner of twentieth century life.

The Rest Is Noise takes the reader inside the labyrinth of modern sound. It tells of maverick personalities who have resisted the cult of the classical past, struggled against the indifference of a wide public, and defied the will of dictators. Whether they have charmed audiences with the purest beauty or battered them with the purest noise, composers have always been exuberantly of the present, defying the stereotype of classical music as a dying art.

Ross, in this sweeping and dramatic narrative, takes us from Vienna before the First World War to Paris in the twenties, from Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia to downtown New York in the sixties and seventies. We follow the rise of mass culture and mass politics, of dramatic new technologies, of hot and cold wars, of experiments, revolutions, riots, and friendships forged and broken. In the tradition of Simon Schama's The Embarrassment of Riches and Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club, the end result is not so much a history of twentieth-century music as a history of the twentieth century through its music.

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