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Rock ‘n’ Roll & The European Soul

[1]

Pink Floyd in 1968

4,096 words

“White culture is Family Ties and Led Zeppelin and Guns N’ Roses – like, this is white culture. This is all we have.”
–Christian Lander[1] [2]

Rock music’s descent mirrors the recent late-stage decline of confidence in the West.

Yes, rock music is complicated – cue the liberals retorting with, “It’s all just black blues, man!” and certain conservatives contesting, “But it’s degenerate!”

Yes, rock music as a term denotes a very large tent, a river with many tributaries and streams. Warning: Your favorite artist may not be mentioned in this article.

Nevertheless, large swaths of rock ‘n’ roll transmitted threads from prior manifestations of the European temperament: the thunderclap of marauding berserkers, the bittersweet longings of the troubadours, the earthy whimsy of the Romantics, and indeed, the exploratory reach for “infinite space,” the prime symbol of Western man as described by Oswald Spengler. This last notion is expressed in the sheer vastness and enormity of sound in rock music.

It’s said that the Yule spirit sneaks in and peeks through even the most commercialized aspects of the Christmas season, and so too with a European disposition in rock music – even if it drew influence from other cultures, and even if it carried along with it subversive elements of late twentieth-century popular culture.

Much of rock’s structures draw from the blues, of course a product of early twentieth-century rural black culture in the American South. However, to say that all rock is just louder, amplified blues can be easily dismissed in one sentence: if this were the case, all rock music would sound exactly like the electric blues of B. B. King.

Rock music also draws from European folk music, such as the music of the Celts who came to America: dual fiddle harmonies (to say nothing of dueling fiddles) becoming the dual lead guitars of Country and Western music, later influencing rock music. Harmony itself comes from European music. Generally, varying types of white country and folk musics form rock’s DNA alongside the blues.

The 1950s saw an explosion of (marketing to) youth culture, and with this the term “rock ‘n’ roll” came into mainstream use. For the purposes of this article, I will use “rock” and “rock ‘n’ roll” interchangeably and base my understanding of the genre upon authorship. I thus begin my considerations when rock became solidified as an “artist’s genre,” in the 1960s, where an individual or band had something to say. The best of the lot often wrote their own songs and crafted their own sound, working with producers to utilize recording technology itself as an instrument of composition.

For the conspiratorially-minded, the 1960s “cultural revolution” may indeed have partly resulted from nefarious and hidden machinations; this doesn’t change the fact that in sum, white rock artists (or whoever wrote the songs) made music and recorded productions that bore the markers of European peoples.

To invoke another black bluesman aside from the aforementioned B. B. King, in 1968, Muddy Waters’ record label convinced him to record (with much help from producers and a new band) a “psychedelic” record. Seeking to court a “rock audience” (read: whites), Electric Mud and the marketing around it demonstrated that a different rock sensibility had already been well-established by that point.

Indeed, by the time of Electric Mud’s release in 1968, we’d already heard The Rolling Stones make overtures to their inner ancient European minstrels in songs like “Lady Jane,” “She’s A Rainbow,” and “Play With Fire.”

The Doors had released “Light My Fire,” an era-defining song that opens with a keyboard figure based in the circle of fifths, a motif long-established in Western classical music. “Light My Fire” also incorporated a Latin rhythm in the verses and jazz elements (more on appropriation below), but the sound is all rock, expansive and deep. Doors tracks like “When the Music’s Over,” full of guitars and organs that sound like the raging fires of magical rites seesawing with the near-perfect silence of a moonlit night, take the listener into the abyss and back. The Doors’ singer/lyricist, Jim Morrison, studied and revered old Romantic poets like William Blake and Charles Baudelaire.

Also by 1968, Pink Floyd, in its first incarnation, had released the album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, named after a chapter from The Wind in the Willows, which itself features a cameo from the old nature god, Pan. And Scotland’s Donovan had given us songs with titles like “Guinevere” and “Atlantis.”

The Kinks and The Who had pushed forward with a tough and immediate sound that mixed in a dash of English panache. The latter in particular experimented with echo effects to give their records large and lush sounds, techniques that would develop even further during the 1970s.

Jimi Hendrix’s vision and brilliance certainly helped define the era as well. However, to invoke his presence in an attempt to negate rock music as being culturally white would be like attempting to use Eminem – respected as he is in the rap world – to demonstrate that rap is not culturally black. Rap largely developed out of early electronic music, recording techniques, and oftentimes actual recordings of white musicians in the form of sampling. We can say that these white antecedents of rap have parallels with rock’s black blues antecedents.

Again by 1968, when Muddy Waters’ Electric Mud was released, The Beatles had completed most of their trips around the Sun as a band, taking us on a kaleidoscopic tour (magical mystery or otherwise) of varying genres and styles, steeped in Anglo and Celtic sensibilities (between them The Beatles had a good deal of Irish ancestry).

Speaking of The Beatles, a key to understanding the impact of rock music lies in remembering that it’s not only a live art form, and not even just about songwriting, but it’s also a recorded art form. The innovations of The Beatles came not just from their creative melodies, harmonies, and chord voicings, but in the production of the records – the way the recordings actually sound – thanks in large part to their record producer, the “fifth Beatle,” George Martin.

Starting in the mid-1960s, an artistic arms race emerged to make rock records sound bigger, heavier (or airier when needed), more dramatic and dynamic, and sonically richer. Recording became an art form in itself. Like the painters of old searching for new palettes, rock artists and their recording producers searched for ways to make their creations sound “warm” or “hard,” to add shade and nuance, to cause explosions and ecstasy, and to discover aural equivalents of the vanishing point.

Upon deciding to record a piece of music, the myriad options for manipulating sound become themselves an aspect of the composition. A layman would marvel at the endless choices music producers can make in the recording studio.

Can one really separate The Beatles’ songs “Rain,” or “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” from the sound of these recordings – the audio treatments of the voices and instruments? You can get the sheet music and play the notes on an acoustic guitar or piano as you sing the lyrics, but it’s not the same (though there’s greatness in the songwriting nonetheless).

Armchair dilettantes often miss this sonic aspect of rock music (to say nothing of non-blues influences) by going for the lower-hanging fruit of – again – solely arguing that since many rock riffs are formed from pieces of the blues scale, rock must just be a ripoff of the blues. A friend of mine once swatted away one of these barstool pop-culture critics by stating, “Look, the guy who invented the wheel can’t also claim he built the Ferrari.” It’s what you do with the raw materials.

The notion of “cultural appropriation” falsely equates learning or influence with stealing. Cultures, just like individuals, have inputs – outside stimuli they observe and ingest – and outputs, how they churn out something new from what they have observed and ingested. The new outputs bear the distinct character of the individual or culture that produced them.

Claiming “appropriation” also necessitates cherry-picking frozen moments in history. Any honest person would concede that the development of black blues music itself relied on European instruments, European tuning scales, and European technology.

As rock distinguished itself from its roots (varied though they were), it blossomed into a genre where the artist functioned as auteur – one where bands became not just performers of songs written by professional songwriters, but where they increasingly pushed the envelope in terms of unique song structures, styles, and record production.

Large passages of Pink Floyd’s albums in the 1970s indeed sound like something from Outer Space, sliding and echoing tones which paint not a landscape, but something vaster still, a radio transmission from a higher dimension, a cosmic whisper that exploded into Earth’s atmosphere, somehow captured and archived by man’s recording instruments.

Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” or “In The Light,” or the introduction to “In the Evening,” places the listener inside Ginnungagap, the void at the beginning of time in the Norse creation myth, where the first vapors of potentialities began to mix and mingle, coalescing into the initial forms and phenomena of the universe. The space created around the opening guitar strumming in “Gallows Pole” or “The Battle of Evermore” wafts in like the mists covering the rolling hills of the British Isles, at once familiar and mysterious.

Joni Mitchell’s “Songs to Aging Children Come” from her debut album arrests the listener, a benevolent siren song, a signal shot across to us from the fairy folk’s side of the veil.

The instrumental outro of “Starship Trooper” by Yes is a wordless stairway to heaven, an ascension device, the sound of angels on a temporary leave from Heaven, allowed to experience the bliss of human lovemaking for just one night, a tantalizing ache suggesting that the ability to know everything there is to be known lies just around the next corner.

This music looks just as far upward and outward as it plunges downward with abandon into the deepest folds of one’s inner life.

We also must consider the more driving, wild stomp of riff-laden hard rock. Bands who barnstormed their way through the ‘70s – Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Who, James Gang, and Deep Purple, to name only a few – often pummeled their listeners with sounds raw, immediate, and heavy (a buzzword of the era, before it was quite fully metal).

This music moves the body, makes you drive faster and lift heavier; it has energy, vigor, testosterone. The name “rock ‘n’ roll,” after all, came from a slang term for sex.

And without getting too sidetracked here: yes, we live in an overly sexualized society, and that causes problems. Yes, other peoples exhibit their own particular expressions of sexuality and life’s primal elements, sometimes at odds with our own, which are often more modest in public – something I support. While it’s embarrassing for whites to fetishize these others, it’s also embarrassing to act like we don’t have our own sexual and primal life – the suppression and denial of which leads to fetishizing and falsely equating authenticity with the “Other” to begin with.

Does anyone seriously think our ancestors didn’t blow off steam with bawdy songs and vigorous dancing, whether in halls or around outdoor fires?

If good music is sex, great music is “I can see God – and God is us!” lovemaking. The experience is one of totality, and thus the best hard rock tracks still induce a motion towards the ethereal, the body electric, providing a visceral poetry, as the listener’s heart swells and eyes roll into the back of one’s head.

This is the experience of rocking. All of your glands are activated, all human drives are engaged. Such music manages to make you want to move and think and subsume yourself into the infinite wisdom of the cosmos all at the same time.

The amplified electric guitar contains a crunch of urgency, but its scope of frequencies and resonance conveys sheer vastness. Rock drums can sound like they were recorded on faraway mountaintops as they simultaneously rush you along toward a meeting with your destiny.

Speaking of mountains, sounds of related genres that overlap with rock, like the sweet reverberance of pedal steel guitar in Country and Western music, suggest an appreciation of enormity and distance as well. In my own mind I can’t decouple the sound of pedal steel guitar from the vastness of the Rocky Mountains and American plains.

Rock music, then, can be a sonic thumos, the passion and far-looking vision of the ennobled and ecstatic warrior and explorer embedded in waves of sound.

This tallies well with Oswald Spengler’s definitions of the restless and striving Western soul – “Faustian Man,” as he called it. Ricardo Duchesne discusses Spengler in his book, Faustian Man in a Multicultural Age, stating that for the Western music composer, “harmony and polyphony bring him to images of utter beyondness . . . a form feeling of pure, imperceptible, unlimited space.” We see this reflected in the “spaciousness of Gothic cathedrals . . . the heroes of the Grail, Arthurian, and Siegfried sagas, ever roaming in the infinite” (p. 157). This urge would later express itself in Europe’s explorations around the globe.

These energies, as always, are transmitted by the artist or priestly caste: In recent times, this included skinny, spaced-out, creatively-tempered rock stars, who could be seen as contemporary, imperfect shamans. Naturally, we must walk a tightrope between considering the art and the people who made it. Granted, I wouldn’t posit too many rock stars as models of heroic behavior in their personal lives. But I would argue that rock musicians can act as antennae for strands of the European character and experience. Acting as an antenna requires a certain state of receptivity and ecstasy. Of course, such ecstasy and sensitivity often gets coaxed out and amplified by ingesting certain substances. Sometimes, drug use can cross over into selfish hedonism instead of being employed as an intentional tool. Drugs are also often pushed on artists by business interests in order to control them.

A full consideration of this topic would bring us beyond the scope of this article, but it does bear a brief mentioning. I don’t advocate for or engage in drug use, but I do understand the fundamental drive behind psychonautics – exploring one’s inner life, looking into the abyss, playing with the delicate fire that can create or destroy – and how it relates to poetry, music, art, performance, and the like.

I, too, eschew contemporary degeneracy and use words like “wholesome” unironically. But I don’t believe that, even without alleged CIA projects spearheading 1960s counter-culture, we European peoples would have always and only been satisfied with the more “fun,” teenybopper, superficial 1950s music, of, say, Bill Haley and the Comets.

We’re a dynamic and exploring people, and as the generations turned, our music would have eventually moved into more dramatic territory one way or another. Indeed, we need that again, perhaps having learned lessons from the indulgences and selfishness of the rock stars of the past, but unafraid to continue to mine the complex depths of what the Western soul can sound like.

Again, to invoke Ricardo: “it was a highly energetic, goal-oriented desire to break through the unknown, supersede the norm, and achieve mastery. The West was governed by an intense urge to transcend the limits of existence by a restless, fateful being, an ‘adamantine will to overcome and break all resistances of the visible.’” (Faustian Man in a Multicultural Age, p. 160)

Spengler, according to Duchesne, provided:

. . . the best framework for overcoming the naïve separation between a cultured/peaceable West and an uncivilized/antagonistic West. His image of a strikingly vibrant culture driven by a type of Faustian personality overflowing with expansive, disruptive, and imaginative impulses is a more accurate rendition of the West’s immense creativity and restless soul . . . such things as Rococo art, differential calculus, the Crusades and conquest of the Americas were all expressions of the same soul. (p. 160)

Projecting your own personality onto all other peoples demonstrates a lack of boundaries and maturity. While I agree that discipline and order is severely needed right now, we must realistically acknowledge that not every Westerner is enamored of crew-cuts and marching in file. We possess our own brands of both stoicism and passion.

Our history consistently shows us waves of poets, artists, and musicians. While they may function as outliers, living lives most people can’t or wouldn’t want to live, their work still stirs and inspires a great many people, and reflects parts of their folk’s spirit back to them.

This isn’t purely the domain of artists, though. Many pioneers, explorers, and, yes, even warriors were free men, sometimes long-haired (cowboys come to mind), banding together to create, find, and change things. Here we see the male bonding aspect of the Indo-European makeup that Ricardo Duchesne so poignantly describes.

Rock bands were indeed one expression of these male groups, the Männerbunde. Some claim the Männerbund as the primary social unit in Western civilization rather than the family, although this is perhaps an unnecessary indulgence and perhaps projection on the part of those who espouse such views. I don’t see why we can’t acknowledge the primacy of both. Certainly, both male bonds and the traditional family are under attack these days – which speaks volumes.

The virile ethos in rock music indeed began to dwindle as wider social narratives changed with the ascendancy of political correctness in mainstream culture. The rock I speak of here really began to coalesce in the 1960s, which obviously bore the poisoned fruits of a Leftist agenda. However, in both artists and audiences alike, enough stores of white lifeblood still flowed at that time to allow preening, cocky, strong, multi-layered, searching, relentless, and deadly-serious-yet-ridiculous rock ‘n’ roll to flourish.

In future decades, it would lose its chemical balance and largely became either too ridiculous (‘80s hair metal) or too serious (‘90s grunge, which also had a ridiculous element but sullied that in layers of irony). Both eras gave us their more complete artists as well, of course, but overall, tendencies had shifted.

Certain ingredients would be extracted and amplified to form metal, which carries European man’s thumos in its own way: a tributary of rock that became a river of its own.

A few rock artists and bands have carried the torch as best they could in recent decades, and I’m sure many little-known smaller bands are chugging along. But for new sounds and styles to emerge that nonetheless convey the same spirit of what I have described above – for a new movement and its music to enjoy a power and hegemony similar to that of rock in the ‘60s and ‘70s – we need a culture, ecosystem, and demographics in place to receive and sustain it.

One telling sign is that rock doesn’t thrive in an overly corporate environment. Rock ‘n’ roll stands apart from and resists schmaltzy “showbiz.” As the trappings of “the biz” pushed further into mainstream culture, aspiring rock musicians had to either lose their teeth or become marginalized.

Think of rock as a “folk” music in that it is most effectively learned and passed on informally, peer to peer, and by playing along with records – by young musicians often figuring things out by ear.

This organic element also manifests thusly: rock music, even the hard and loud variety, sounds better in nature than do many other popular music forms. You can play a rock record around a campfire, or more easily place a rock song in a medieval fantasy film along with forest and mountain settings. Much jazz, dance, and rap suggests – and therefore requires – a cityscape.

On a similar note, while rock has its fair share of Left-wing lyrics, don’t too hastily dismiss any sentiment that defends the natural world (a notion that can and should transcend the Left-Right divide as it is). In “Shapes of Things,” The Yardbirds sing, “Please don’t destroy these lands, don’t make them desert sands.” Ozzy Osbourne’s “Revelation” paints a picture of man breaking nature’s rules and exploiting and polluting the Earth, which itself is presented as a living being, the message wrapped in a Gothic sound.

Rock musicians often retreated to the countryside to compose new material, and much rock influence in the late 1960s and ‘70s drew from the search for a purer, pre-industrial past. Bands like Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, the aptly named Renaissance, and many others tapped into European classical and folk music influences – but also often looked to an older, pre-modern mode of living.

As such, Tolkien’s work figured into this milieu significantly. The Allman Brothers’ guitarist, Duane, named his daughter Galadrielle, an alternate spelling of a Lord of the Rings character. Led Zeppelin is likewise well-known for their Tolkien references. Lord of the Rings is now being posited as a European meta-myth that can help guide us back from the brink.

The fact that any medieval/old-timey European element in rock now gets lambasted as lame and silly, or even as a source of shame, gives us yet another example of the psychological number that’s been done on whites.

In still-confident 1975, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant sang in “Kashmir:”

I am a traveler of both time and space
To be where I have been
To sit with elders of the gentle race
This world has seldom seen
They talk of days for which they sit and wait
All will be revealed.

Today, it’s difficult to imagine a band of that level of popularity presenting such lyrics without a hint of irony, to say nothing of the ambition behind the music.

Rock, like any artistic movement, was bound to have a life cycle, but its waning parallels a little too closely with the decline in white confidence and energy.

Raw instincts and robust character ultimately cause renewals in artistic and philosophical movements. Changing times and circumstances will stimulate different expressions of this inner character. Thus, instead of attempting to recreate the trappings of bygone eras, we must turn back to the spirit that originally animated the art. This is our wellspring.

What we do going forward – how we mix past inspirations with new forms and ideas – depends first on our finding confidence again, and placing the locus of our own morality and orientation on the world within ourselves. We’re the heroes of our own story. And the music we go on to create will reflect this once again.

Please see four playlists of music on my YouTube channel [3] presenting songs that complement this article: Sonic Thumos, Reaching for the Transcendent, The European Folk Soul, and Country Leanings.

Jared George runs The Great Order [4] and a YouTube channel of the same name [3].

Sources for Further Reading

  1. Country Roots of Rock’s Dual Guitar Harmonies [5]
  2. How the Irish and Scots influenced American folk music, which in turn influenced rock & roll [6]
  3. Country music overview, a genre that influenced rock [7]
  4. Celtic music in the United States and its influence on American bluegrass and folk, which influenced rock [8]
  5. The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Website acknowledges Celtic folk music in Europe, “hillbilly music,” Country and Western, folk, and bluegrass as parts of rock music’s formation [9]
  6. Development of harmony is unique to European music [10]
  7. Muddy Waters’ album, Electric Mud [11]
  8. Rolling Stone magazine’s 2016 retrospective on Led Zeppelin’s third album, their “most English – steeped in traditional folk music and ancient history.” [12]
  9. Thorough video series by Loralee Scaife, showing The Lord of the Rings as a summary of Western myth and a story containing powerful symbols and meanings that can help save the West today [13]
  10. Oswald Spengler, tr. Charles Francis Atkinson, The Decline of the West, Volume I: Form and Actuality (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988 [1923])
  11. Ricardo Duchesne, Faustian Man in a Multicultural Age (London: Arktos, 2017)
  12. An article delving into the Western, “Faustian” spirit [14]
  13. A deep exposition of fetishizing “the other” and appropriation within the rock/blues paradigm. “We ought to prioritize the generative aspect over the governing one.” [15]
  14. A wild articulation of the metaphysics of mixing the ridiculous with the serious, a notion largely foreign to the modern bourgeois mindset, that describes the rock ‘n’ roll spirit without being about rock ‘n’ roll itself. [16]
  15. Discussing the complexities of Western exploratory souls searching for their own roots in a multicultural world, via the story of the tragic Rolling Stone, Brian Jones. It’s the kind of deep dive you won’t find in mainstream journalism that always takes the one-dimensional “white bluesman” approach. [17]
  16. Conspiracy theories concerning the creation of the 1960s counter-culture. [18]
  17. The Poetry Foundation on The Doors’ Jim Morrison, an example of rock’s strained intersections with higher-brow culture. [19]

Note

[1] [20] Hua Hsu, “The End of White America [21],” The Atlantic Monthly, January/February 2009.