By Anuj Kapoor
“Stick it to the man”-said Jack Black in the classic comedy ‘School of Rock’. Among many phenomenally funny quotes and ideas in that film, the sequence when Jack Black is delivering an introduction to Rock Music to school kids, is perhaps the most informative and entertaining. The idea that Rock music is a means to ‘stick it to the man’ is explained in great detail there. He explains that whoever is the top authority figure, dons the crown of ‘the man’. Jack says to the students that in his classroom, he himself is ‘the man’ and encourages the students to voice expletives against him and satirize him. He defines Rock music as art that raises a voice against ‘the man’ no matter who that is.
The beauty of rock and roll is that its ‘violence’ is insanely peaceful even when its energy is extremely disruptive. As you zone out at a performance and hear the drums roll, the base resonate, the vocals scream and the lead guitar weave a long fast paced path through the tempo into intricate detail, you feel your rebellion stretch against the bounds of your decency. You scream in tone, you strike to a beat and you strain within the laws of music that control the overall structure of the performance. It is this creative violence bound by the discipline of the beat and the notes of the raag that makes this genre beautiful. You feel, you learn, you create, and when the lights are out, everyone goes home. The stretching, expressing and ‘sticking to the man’ is just as important as the adhering to the law and the discipline that the principles of music and cultural aesthetic allow. This is true of rock more than that of any other genre. There are rules to expression, but it must stretch, pull and challenge within those limits as much as possible. The same should perhaps be true of all forms of expression that seek to reform and create. Just like in music, the discordant note must always be struck deftly and in place, or else it sounds out of tune. In music as in society, even the untrained can tell when the note jars off key or the rhythm goes out of step. It becomes plain to the listener whether it’s the drummer beating too hard out of step, limiting the music or the other way around.
Most of us in India are raised on a feed of pop music, Ghazals and Bollywood songs. The romantic imagination and escape that these genres provide, adds enormous value to the creative process and to feeling in society. Many leaders can be inspired and driven by these forms to great ideas and great action. But this still leaves the space and the need for a more confrontational and disruptive genre. Such rupture is a phenomenal experience and incredible growth can come from it. Among the many examples of this is the role rock and roll played in the civil rights movement and in giving expression to tensions in race relations in America. Something very similar seems to be true of society. The discord, dissent and contrarian views and the social & legal systems that contain these views need to move in step. The overall aesthetic of society must be maintained. Just like developing one’s musical sense and the ability to appreciate energetic and rebellious tunes, one can develop a sense of the aesthetic in society that doesn’t either jar or limit expression.
Rock music is one genre that tests an individual’s ability to appreciate an extreme form. Can you appreciate an extreme form of music and tell when it goes out of tune even when the form is by definition disruptive? The current debate on nationalism in India seems to be quite similar in some regards. It is a strenuous test of the meaning of nationalism and what the defined aesthetic of society is. How capable is Indian society of stretching and allowing disruptive styles? And how capable are dissenters of knowing how to strike the discordant note without spoiling the overall aesthetic? Such debate isn’t the stuff of romantic songs. It is far more testing than that. It is the stuff of rock. India could use more rock and roll. If all sides view the current debate around dissent in this context, it might be a more pleasant process. The specific case of the JNU student might just end up being resolved by simply establishing the facts of the event rather than having to establish the framework for dissent and expression.
The rebel like the performer needs to acknowledge the overall aesthetic of the performance and the rules of music. She must also however fill each beat to the brim with as much creative expression, energy and disruption as it can hold. There is an inherent calm to this balance and a deep catharsis through such performance. It is a phenomenal space for energy to challenge and create.
Such rupture is found everywhere in nature. Not least in our own biological and social evolution. Those who somewhat understand and accept evolution, know that the purpose of a mutant isn’t to be right or wrong. It is simply to be different. Conforming to an existing system is inherently non evolutionary and is therefore devoid of new possibilities and growth. It is for this reason that ‘sticking it to the man’ no matter who it might be, Obama or Putin, is important. They may be doing the best they ‘think’ they can, but the future will be different to the present and therefore questioning the status quo and showing new and different possibilities for the future must be done by some if not all. Repressing those with new ideas or with ideas different to the one’s held now, only makes the process painful rather than the joyous experience it can be. Change will happen, resisting it might seem natural, but in the end it is an exercise in futility. Seeking brighter options and evolving solutions to current problems is the soundest way to have a say in the direction of the future.
“I’m gonna take this town turn it around
I’m gonna roll roll roll…
That’s the way, that’s the way, that’s the way I wanna rock and roll, that’s the way I wanna rock roll.” – AC/DC
Anuj is the Founding Director of Himalayan People (www.himalayanpeople.com) a start up based in the Himalayan region. He holds an MSc. from the LSE and has worked in banking in London prior to becoming an entrepreneur.