You might be a rockist if…

By Eric Kelsey

Chances are you are a rockist, were a rockist at some point, or will forever be a rockist. Do these symptoms sound familiar to your taste in music? Do all the artists you love have at least one guitar? Do you clench your teeth any time a song that would never be construed as rock music is played? Have you never enjoyed a hip-hop song?If this sounds like you, and probably a good chance at one point in your life it has, you’re a rockist.

Rockism doesn’t mean much to anyone outside of the small circles of music critics, the pseudo-critics, like yours truly, and those who populate the weblogs and chatrooms of the Internet. As a term, “rockism” is as much a buzzword to the music community as “meta,” “neo-liberalism,” and “heteronormism” are to academia.

The definition of rockism is as enigmatic as its origins and as amorphous as its author wishes it to be. In the most simple of terms, rockism is the unofficial theory that popular music of the rock ‘n’ roll persuasion is inherently more authentic, worthwhile and better than others. It’s the mindset that whatever is recorded on a primitive eight track is inherently more valid and worth of serious criticism than the lip-synching pop star supported by a corporation.

Rockism got its start sometime in the late 1970s, or early 1980s when the new romantic movement of the London club scene rebelled against the entrenched punk and post-punk movement. Later morphing into new wave, the new romantics forsake guitars and most any traditional rock instruments led by the campy clubber Steve Strange and his band Visage. The implicit gesture put forth on their 1980 self-titled album argued that the “authentic” pretensions of the rock ethic was pretension and nothing more.

If you’re a rockist you love the band live and hate the album. Bruce Springsteen unplugged holds affirmations of truth for the rockist while Christina Aguilera can only hold contempt. The paradigm of rockism disregards disco as culturally invalid while presupposes the inherent worth of a three-chord sprint.

Rockism is at once anti-corporate and exclusive to the point that for any music to be worth a listen it cannot be tainted by any executives or by production equipment. The quintessential rock band can never truly exist, or even play a song or show for that matter. Rockism as an ethic is forever on the search for the Holy Grail of music blind to the world.

The fuss about rockism is that no pop music criticism can escape the trappings of rock. It mirrors the “out-of-the-gallery” ethos of the visual arts in the 1950s, where high art was “trapped” in a gallery; only rockism has taken the liberation of lo-fi and the bard poet and imprisoned it into its own self-modeled authenticity.

For these reasons rock music has never been very open to outsiders, those wishing to work outside of the model set before. Even a band like The Rolling Stones were able to write a few disco tunes as long as they stayed true to their roots. I mean, no one likes a sell-out, right? After 50 years, rock music seems nearly dead by its own guitar-clutching hands.