Frye ‘n’ Rock ‘n’ Roll


AC/DC, “Highway to Hell” — which is not the same as going to hell in handbasket.  There’s a reason that guitarist Angus Young always wore a school uniform onstage.  At bottom, it’s a myth of deliverance, as the lyrics here make clear: “Look at me / I’m on the way to the Promised Land”

It’s a somewhat  guilty pleasure that I regularly post pop music videos on a Saturday night, but I justify it with, “I’m a Frygian; I cover the waterfront.”  However, all of sudden I’ve got back-up.

Thanks to Bob Denham’s canny selection from the notebooks in Northrop Frye Unbuttoned, there are gems to be found that not only enrich any given moment but leave you wondering if there was anything that Frye didn’t think and write about.

For example, under the entry “Literary Education,” the issue of popular culture, including rock ‘n’ roll, makes an unexpected appearance:

Twenty-five years ago, when I started expounding my views, I met with the most strenuous resistance from my students; today I have the feeling of battering down an open door. . . Educators seem to be as silly & ignorant as ever. . . . [But] young people educate themselves today, partly through films and television, media that are capable of great symbolic concentration, partly through listening to folk singers and rock & roll & music that introduces them to what is, for all its obvious limitations, a more normal poetic idiom.  As a result mythical  habits of thought seem natural to them.  (169)

For what it’s worth, that’s what I see among my students.  Even though they’ve been cheated at every level by underfunded education (and face years of indentured servitude while they work off the debt incurred by the post-secondary education we tell them is mandatory), they are still quite enlightened and decent individuals whose sense of social concern and duty seems to exceed that of their parents and grandparents.  It’s got to be coming from somewhere, and it appears to be derived from a popular culture that, “for all its obvious limitations,” is still managing to put them in a much more liberal state of mind and expectation.

The kind of artists who represent that trend here.

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