taken from Sheffield Doc Fest
“Music is prophecy,” says Jacques Attali, in his book Noise: The Political Economy of Music. “Our music foretells our future. Let us lend it an ear.”
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A history teacher of mine once told me that “it was those damn Beatles that ruined America.” Although he was joking, there was no doubt that he was, in many ways, correct. The Beatles weren’t intentionally creating subversive music, and their goal wasn’t to push forward drug culture or the sexual revolution–no one could be that ambitious. But with the angst broiling under the seemingly genuine “Leave it to Beaver” mentality that lingered from the 50’s, and John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s impulse to push rock music to its limits with every album, the country had no choice but to crumble within its ideals and push the limits themselves.
In the U.S.S.R., however, it was different. The Beatles were not permitted to play in Mother Russia, their records were banned, and the group essentially became a modern legend for the youth of Russia. In the A&E documentary, Paul McCartney in Red Square, viewers are shown Russia’s excitement of having a Beatle visiting their country for the first time, nearly forty years after Beatlemania. Within that documentary, author and former director of the Salzburg Global Seminar, Timothy Ryback provided an explanation as to why the Beatles were forbidden:
Marxism, Leninism–the very foundation for the Soviet system–said that the economic structure, the basis of a society, affected what he called the “super structure”–which is everything: religion, music, the way people think. And there was something called the dialectical relationship, which meant the way people thought affected the way the economy functioned, and the way the economy functioned affected the way people thought, and therefore you needed censorship to control the system.
X-Ray Record–taken from Liverpool Echo
Ryback essentially explained that the Beatles were a major threat to the super structure, and when one effected the super structure, it would bring about change. It can also be assumed that when something is not permitted, the people will crave it more.
Eventually, the Russians figured out ways to distribute the Beatles’ music. According to Leslie Woodhead’s article, “How the Beatles Rocked the Eastern Bloc,” “Beatles tracks [were] copied from illicit tape recordings and inscribed on to old x-ray plates.”
Russian music critic Artemy Troitsky, in the same A&E Documentary, explained that “the Beatles started a whole, huge movement in the Soviet Union.” He went on to further say that the movement “involved millions of young people” who still “lived in the Soviet Union in their body, but mentally and spiritually they were somewhere else.” The foreboding prophecy that the Soviet Union would soon collapse began to loom over the Motherland’s head.
For one group to influence an entire generation to seek beyond the limits, within a country that held an iron shield over itself, is hard to fathom. But it brings up the question, what will today’s music foretell?
In a time where hardly anything makes the Western world blush, I don’t believe music has the power it once had. Simon Reynolds sums it up well in his article “Noise,” writing that:
The problem is that, with any drug or intoxicant, tolerance builds up rapidly. . . As the barriers in the head get broken down, the noise buff becomes kind of a hip vegetable, by a process that paradoxically combines both brutalization and weakening. To be shocked requires that the individual be immersed to some degree in a culture or value system. But noise hipsters have uprooted themselves so successfully from their parent culture, they can cope with absurd levels of outrage/dissonance, and therefore require extreme after extreme in order to feel stimulated/mindblown. Burnout approaches.
Has too much noise been created? Is it possible that society is burned out?