“The Comparative Discourses of The Hives and Bruce Springsteen as Markers for What Phenomenologically Comprises ‘Punk’ and ‘Rock and Roll,’ Respectively”

It’s been nice, lately, by the way, to see both of these musical styles have their identities emphatically stamped with approval in new music, with BEANS compiling a rich album in All Together Now that brings the psychedelia of the Beatles to an updated, tense and Enon-approximating indie territory, and Portland’s Era Bleak bellowing out this streamlined, unruly rant of hardcore punk on their self-titled album.

I turn back the time in this post to two albums you wouldn’t typically think to lump together — Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A., which will represent the “rock and roll” hemisphere of my discussion, and The Hives’ Tyrannosaurus Hives, which will represent the punk. I’ve chosen Born in the U.S.A. because it features “Dancing in the Dark,” which will be my primary focus, and I’ve chosen Tyrannosaurus Hives because it to me represents the primary lyrical case of Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist’s utmost proliferation of spiny, antagonistic rancor hurled verbally at anything and everything in its path. From a glance at The Hives’ prior work, too, we will see a precedent for this, with their breakout single “Hate to Say I Told You so” as well as the excellent album track “Outsmarted” and its varicose quip of “I’m selling you for scrap”. Anyway, Tyrannosaurus Hives as a collection is given authoritative status by Pitchfork’s Nick Sylvester and his mention of the line in “No Pun Intended” of “So you look for authenticity / Well I can’t see why that’s bothering me”. Sylvester’s gut reaction is “Pelle, man, relax, this is garage rock… We’re not looking for some new sound here… We’re looking for energy.” The synopsis is obviously then that even the Pitchfork critic, who by and large enjoyed the album and gave it a 7.5 out of 10, thought Almqvist should have toned down the antipathy and been a little easier on people. So Tyrannosaurus Hives as a whole represents a full-bodied cluster of neurotic human backlash and in the excess of this backlash veers toward disconcerting, just as punk rock, though often cathartic and rewarding, can in its more simplistic grind come across as juvenile or petulant. 

Actually, to me, the even more glaring case of Pelle Almqvist’s overboard ranting is “Dead Quote Olympics.” Within the overall mode of the album, it takes on a second-person subject and basically vocally obliterates it, this time choosing as its victim, in a sense, anybody who makes an effort to become or appear erudite or intelligent by way of reading the words of authors or poets who are deceased at the time of the reading. To me, that is, it’s really not that bad to try to find wisdom in authors of yore, unless I guess the person ends up rubbing the knowledge in another’s face in some really haughty sort of way, which I suppose is a possibility here. The Hives are Swedish and maybe it’s over there more chic and prevalent to possess literary expertise and what’s more flaunt it. I can say that in the States, at least the Midwest where I live, a person exercising a pedantic understanding of Romantic or Renaissance discourse would just look so foolish that the retort against them would just go without saying, and therefore wouldn’t pi** anybody off. My suspicion is that over in Sweden, yes, perhaps there is some pretentious sneering with one’s intellect going on, but also that Almqvist is overreacting to it, probably not without some cognitive waft of the general anti-intellectual trend in America (the band by this time would have toured the States and probably gotten a sense of the personalities of American managers, promoters, club owners, fans and the likes) active at the time and certainly now, to at least the extent. 

But what we’re talking about here is a modicum. It’s a singular item that’s in a way indicative and microcosmic of the larger whole, which of course would be, in this case, the concept of punk, or the concept of rock and roll, depending on which you’re presently discussing. Almqvist’s almost unmitigated rejection of humanity’s inclinations, strategies and behaviors is “punk” in discourse as well as it is in musical style, if punk is to be thought of as an aggressive, rude reaction the pretention of art rock, thereby probably mitigating and taking for granted, erroneously, a lot of the sophistication, expansiveness and genuineness that art rock indeed did have to offer [1]. 

The same rule is true if we examine “Dancing in the Dark” as a modicum of rock and roll. Actually, too, the reason has to do not with simply one, singular expression, but rather a combination of elements. There’s a confluence of two things present in any authentic swatch of rock and roll and these two things are struggle and triumph. 

Now, phenomenologically speaking, the “triumph” in rock and roll can technically just come in the way of chord progressions that feature stylish, undulating changes of major chords, such as in “Oh Babydoll” by Chuck Berry, which ultimately maintains a very melancholy lyrical template. It seems to be the dominant trend, though, nonetheless, to want to conjeal to an actual movement toward an ostensibly victorious act, as would be the case in the prevalent gospel [2] message of “We shall overcome” and certainly in “Dancing in the Dark,” as well, a song of tremendous verse anxiety and insecurity that then comes to a classic ’80s-rock denouement around the ebullient original act spotlighted within the memorable chorus. This dichotomy, then, of desperation and accomplishment, serves to in tandem inform, and enlist the authenticity of, any development which for which an epithet of “rock and roll” is sought after, by an artist, executive or miscellaneous interested party. 


[1] For the record, I’m a huge fan of Yes and Jethro Tull, and maybe not Emerson, Lake & Palmer, so much. 


[2] I’m treating, perhaps licentiously, the inherent, undeniable connection between gospel and rock and roll as something that should be active in the knowledge of readers already, and so am choosing to circumvent explanation of it, partly on account of time constraints. 

Leave a Reply