Rock Music and the Working Class

Posted Tuesday October 21, 2008 by John Gunders in |

Third in the series of stuff I’ve cut and pasted from my thesis…

One of the important ways in which rock music gains its credibility and authenticity is through an alliegance to the working class, particularly in terms of community and belonging. What these constructions give to the music community is a sense of belonging and solidarity against a common enemy. And the less likely those connections, the more important it is that those myths are mobilised: stadium rock acts from Bon Jovi to Nickelback have relied on narratives about the working-class hero or struggling musician, alone but for his (it is always “his”) trusty guitar, dealing with the trials of life. And the pre-dominantly middle-class audience sing along, sharing in the pathos, and unaware of—or more likely, unconcerned—about the irony of class politics that underlies the production. Even when no real working-class connection is obvious, one can easily be constructed. Consider this quotation from the liner-notes of Melbourne band Jet’s self-titled DVD:

Let’s imagine rock music for a moment, as a natural resource distributed throughout the world. Rare to non-existent in some places, more than abundant in others. And always with the lucky country, Australia fares better than most. Then imagine the coalface of the Australian music scene being situated in the farthermost flung suburban corners of a modern urban sprawl. The cities would be the refineries and the kids, funnily enough, would be the miners.

The resources found are not always consistent with each other. They vary from opaque, delicate and light-driven, to a dirty, commercial bound, industrially-driven commodity. But then, sometimes the ever toiling, always searching dirty-faced sweaty smelly city miners uncover a good old-fashioned four on the floor rock.

JET is such a Rock.


Notwithstanding rock billionaires like the Rolling Stones, the rock myth frowns upon conspicuous financial achievement, unlike (versions of) hip-hop discourse, where bling is the obligatory signifier of success. I know I’m supposed to have written a thesis on this, but I’m still not clear on the place of the working-class and the portrayal of poverty to the myth. I know that rock constantly alludes to its roots in the blues, and the various versions of rock-revival (think 1970s punk, 1990s grunge) always seem to valorise an underclass, but the adherence to misguided belief in the value and authenticity of poverty seems a little weird.

Thoughts, anyone?

Your Comments

  1. Matthew Smith writes:

    Posted: 21 10 2008 - 05:33 | Permanent link to this comment

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    Posted: 21 10 2008 - 09:02 | Permanent link to this comment

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