Friday, January 28, 2011

Music Notes: Cultural Extrapolation

"...Elvis was a hero to most
But he never meant ---- to me you see
Straight up racist that sucker was
Simple and plain
Mother---- him and John Wayne
Cause I'm Black and I'm proud
I'm ready and hyped plus I'm amped
Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps..."

-- Public Enemy "Fight the Power"

A few weeks ago, I was watching the Kennedy Center Honors and as I watched Paul McCartney receive his honor along with several artists paying tribute to him and the Beatles, a thought popped into my head about popularity of certain artists. Worldwide, the Beatles are known as one of the most popular bands in Rock 'n' Roll history; some even go as far as saying that they are the best band or most influential band of all time.

However, my problem with this when some think that everyone feels that way. For instance, I like the Beatles, but I do not think that they are the best band of all time. Yes they were great songwriters, but as a band, they were sometimes too bland. Also, I know that there are a lot of people who do not like the Beatles and worse, cannot stand them. And that is okay with me. As a culture, we tend to put artists on a pedestal and portray them as gods. But the truth is cultural icons are not everybody's heroes.

We cannot automatically assume that just because an artist is popular, everyone loves them or puts them on the same level of cultural significance. Our different cultural, racial and social backgrounds and experiences influence who we consider our cultural icons and heroes to be. A white person from the Midwest may see Elvis as a Rock 'n' Roll icon, while I see Chuck Berry and Little Richard as more important Rock 'n' Roll icons. An artist may be a hero to one group of people and an adversary to another group based on different group backgrounds and experiences.

Moreover, racism, classism and sexism has had an impact on who is considered more popular or more of cultural icon. It is not a coincidence that the Beatles were idolized more that the Rolling Stones (the relatively wholesome image of the Beatles vs. the "bad boy" image of the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin), even though they were friends, or how Elvis is considered the "King of Rock 'n' Roll" instead of Chuck Berry or Little Richard. As Chuck D said "Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps..." and most people in the dominant society never heard of my heroes.

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