People are always trying to find a parallel with jazz. Do you see what happened to jazz, happening here?
No. Jazz totally absoutely boiled down to a different kettle of fish. Because of the audiences. Audiences were a different breed entirely. If you're talking about the days when the people used to do the Blackbottom, then maybe you're getting nearer to what pop music is equivalent to today.
Pop is more than the Blackbottom; pop is more than short skirts. The effect pop has on society is incredible. It's a power thing. It's now in a position that if everyone that was thinking in pop music terms were to stand end to end, they'd go around the world ten times. This is what pop music is about. Pop music is basically big. It concerns far more than the 20-year-olds. It concerns everybody now. It's lasted too long.
Jazz, in it's entirety – modern jazz, progressive jazz – hasn't had the effect on the world in fucking 25 years that pop has had in a year today. Geniuses like Charlie Parker are completely unrecognized by the world and yet groups like the Rolling Stones – very normal, very regular guys – are incredibly well known. This is true of everything. The whole system is a different thing entirely. The audiences then were smaller, they became snobbish, racist. They were pompous jazz audiences. They became slow to catch on to new ideas. They became prejudiced, dogmatic, everything bad. While pop music is everything good.
Pop is everything; it's all sugar and spice, it really is. Pop audiences are the cream of today's music listening audiences. They're not the classical snobs who sit by their poxy Fisher amplifiers and listen to Leonard Bernstein conducting. Not knowing that Leonard Bernstein is completely stoned out of his crust and grooving to high heaven, thinking "What a fine, excellent recording this is, what a fine conductor Leonard Bernstein is, really fine" and not knowing what the fucking hell is going on.
This is what the jazz listener was like. Okay, he'd have a few beers and he'd go down to the fucking Village Gate and shout out one "yeah" in a night, when he thought that someone had played something quite clever. But he didn't know what they were into. I just about know what they're into today, listening to some recordings that Charlie Parker made nearly 25 years ago. God knows what people thought then.
Pop's audience is right alongside; they know what's happening. Pop hasn't yet confused anybody, it really hasn't. It's kept with the people, it's kept in time with the people. It's going out now; the panic now is that the people feel it going out of step. They felt it go out of step in England and completely rebelled.
People just felt that pop was getting out of their hands; groups like the Pink Floyd were appearing, scary groups, psychedelic. So they completely freaked out. Nothing like the down-home Rolling Stones who used to have a good old-fashioned piss against a good old-fashioned garage attendant. This Pink Floyd – what were they all about? With their flashing lights and all taking trips and one of them's psycho. "What's this all about? That's not my bag."
So they all turn over to good old Englebert Humperdink who is a phenomena of our age in England. Yet it's a sign of the revolt; it's a sign of the fact that the music got out of step with the people.
Why did it happen in England?
Europe is a piss place for music and it's a complete incredible fluke that England ever got it together. England has got all the bad points of Nazi Germany, all the pompous pride of France, all the old fashioned patriotism of the old Order Of The Empire. It's got everything that's got nothing to do with music. All the European qualities which should enhance, which should come out in music, England should be able to benefit by, but it doesn't.
And just all of a sudden, bang! wack! zap-swock out of nowhere. There it is: the Beatles. Incredible. How did they ever appear then on the poxy little shit-stained island. Out of the Germans you can accept Wagner; out of the French you can accept Debussy and even out of the Russians you can accept Tchiakovsky. All these incredible people. Who's England got? Purcell? He's a gas but he's one of the only guys we've got and Benjamin Britten today who copies Purcell. There's so few people.
And all of a sudden there's the Beatles, with their little funny "we write our own songs." "Don't you have ghost writers?"
It's difficult to talk about rock and roll. It's difficult because it's essentially a category and a category which embodies something which transcends the category. The category itself becomes meaningless. The words "rock and roll" don't begin to conjure up any form of conversation in my mind because they are so puny compared to what they are applied to. But "rock and roll" is by far the better expression than "pop." It means nothing.
It's a good thing that you've got a machine, a radio that puts out good rock and roll songs and it makes you groove through the day. That's the game, of course: When you are listening to a rock and roll song the way you listen to "Jumping Jack Flash," or something similar, that's the way you should really spend your whole life. That's how you should be all the time: just grooving to something simple, something basically good, something effective and something not too big. That's what life is.
Rock and roll is one of the keys, one of the many, many keys to a very complex life. Don't get fucked up with all the many keys. Groove to rock and roll and then you'll probably find one of the best keys of all.
This story appeared in the September 28, 1968 issue of Rolling Stone.
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