In 2004,an annoyed Alice Cooper labelled bands promoting John Kerry in the US presidential elections treasonous morons because he regarded rock n roll the antithesis of politics.
The ageing glam star was definitely entitled to his opinion,but chances are he was just shooting his mouth off. Because the phenomenon that is rock n roll (and the genres of music that shaped it),is definitely not only about a teenager banging on the electric guitar so he can distract himself from the evening news. Whether it was John Lennon singing for American poet and radical John Sinclairs release in the 1970s,Lynyrd Skynyrd taking on Neil Young through Sweet Home Alabama (1974) or the Mamas and Papas crooning along to San Francisco at the height of the hippie revolution,this brand of music has always been affected by circumstances,and then risen to change them.
The History of Rock n Roll,culled from 10,000 hours of archival footage and concert videos featuring numerous rock legends,proves just that. From Chicago blues star Muddy Waters performing Got My Mojo Working in a grainy black n white video to Green Day playing Basket Case,it describes the origins of the phenomenon and its subsequent branching out into sub-genres with the legends themselves explaining each step of the way.
They tell you what rock music is all about,and how it cannot be restricted to a single stream of thought. As Graham Nash of CSN puts it,just after the opening credits,Sure,we loved the music we wanted to express ourselves,but anybody who says he didnt get into rock n roll to get laid is lying.
Even U2 frontman Bono,who would be the first to say that politics is as important for rock n roll as air is for breathing,nods. Mystery and mischief are the most important ingredients of rock n roll, he says,and you couldnt agree more.
From there,the five-volume documentary takes off. Eric Burdon,Jerry Lee Lewis,Bruce Springsteen,Ric Ocasek,Ozzy Osbourne and Mick Jagger trace the influences that touched the genre from jazz and Chicago blues to country,and,its immediate predecessor,rhythm and blues.
One of the most significant sections in the documentary is dedicated to the arrival of the King,who stepped on the gas to take rock n roll a few light years ahead in a little over a decade. It follows Elvis and his gyrating hips as he captures the youth consciousness in the 1950s,making girls swoon and parents swear with disapproval through numbers like Heartbreak Hotel and Jailhouse Rock,till his untimely death a couple of decades later.
By then,the foundation of rock n roll had been laid,to be exploited by the British invasion,marked by the arrival of The Beatles. They took the United States by storm in 1964,and soon,bad boys Rolling Stones and The Animals came along. Local bands like The Byrds and Beach Boys floundered,looking for ways to put up a show.
The footage and tracks span five decades,making brief halts at significant junctures the emergence of Jimi Hendrix,his guitar-burning antics and longstanding rivalry with The Who; the flower power days,of which Bob Dylan,Joan Baez and Lennon were
a significant part; the late 60s and Woodstock; the emergence of punk and glam rock,and modern legends such as Kurt Cobain and Aerosmith.
Finally,after the show is done,there is a line by Eddie Van Halen that sums it up: Every 10 years,everything breaks down to the lowest common denominator. Then it builds back up,but the only thing that survives is rock n roll.