But is it Garbage?: On Rock and Trash

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University of Georgia Press, 2004 - Music - 272 pages
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Trash has been blowing across the rock ’n’ roll landscape since the first amplified guitar riff tore through American mass culture. Throwaway tunes, wasted fans, crappy reviews, junk bins of remaindered albums: much of rock’s quintessence is handily conveyed in terms of disposability and impermanence.

Steven L. Hamelman sums up these rubbishy affinities as rock’s “trash trope.” Trash is an obvious physical presence on the rock scene---think of Woodstock’s littered pastures or the many hotel rooms redecorated by the Who. More intriguingly, Hamelman says, trash is the catalyst for a powerful mode of rock composition and criticism. It is, for instance, both cause and effect when performers like the Ramones or Beck at once critique junk culture and revel in it.

Hamelman guides us across five decades of rock to explore the trash trope in all of its audible, visual, and emblematic power. He offers up a personal top-forty list of songs that engage the trash trope at many levels, including “Yakety-Yak,” the Coasters’ lament about taking out the trash, and Radiohead’s “No Surprises,” in which the singer’s persona likens his heart to a landfill. Drawing extensively on Lou Reed’s Berlin, Hamelman gives the “Is rock dead?” debate new meaning by pondering death themes in the music and the morbid romanticism of the best “wasted” recordings. Finally Hamelman looks at rock’s “saving” powers---at how a medium steeped in tropes of uselessness and inconsequence can mean so much to countless people.

But Is It Garbage? spills over with challenging insights into how rock’s creators, critics, and consumers transform, and are transformed by, trash as a fact and a concept. In the music’s preoccupation with its own trashiness readers will perceive a wellspring of rock innovation and inspiration---one largely overlooked and little understood until now.

 

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Contents

Its Now or Never
3
Its Still Rock and Roll to Me
10
Do It Again
13
Give the People What They Want
18
Isnt It a Pity
26
Reflections
29
Big Yellow Taxi
31
Over and Over
35
Take It as It Comes
91
Those Were the Days
97
Rip It Up
102
Theres a Place
104
Rock Show
105
Rock and Roll Music
109
The End
134
WASTED
139

Bad Boy
38
Its All Too Much
42
Graceland
47
Tell It Like It Is
53
Total Trash
60
Vicious
64
Fame and Fortune
66
Torn and Frayed
70
Junk
77
How Long
82
Catholic Boy
84
Sunny
86
Another One Bites the Dust
141
All Things Must Pass
144
Shattered
148
The Last Time
178
SAVED
185
Rock and Roll
187
The End
211
Section Titles
215
Notes
219
Works Cited
237
Index
253
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About the author (2004)

Steven L. Hamelman is a professor of English at Coastal Carolina University.

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