Hole in Our Soul, by Martha Bayles
Martha Bayles, a former television and arts critic for the Wall Street Journal, here tells the troubled story of American popular music. Her title comes from a blues lyric which warns that those who do not have a feeling for this art form must have “a hole in the soul.” Awkward as a title, the phrase captures neatly this book’s essential thesis, which is that the farther American popular music has traveled from the “Afro-American idiom,” the more alienated it has become from the celebration of life and of our common humanity which was once at its core. And indeed, that is the dismal fate Bayles sees: the devolution of a once-vibrant tradition into an atomized, decadent expression of nihilism, narcissism, and violence.
In the realm of (mainly white) rock music, the deplorable trend Bayles explores is seen in the dominance of “heavy metal” and the rise of “grunge”—the noise-laden style of groups like Nirvana (whose lead singer, Kurt Cobain, recently committed suicide) and Pearl Jam, whose lyrics express the empty despair and anomie of “rebels without a clue.” Within the (mainly black) genre of “rap” music—fast, stylized talking over a heavy beat—the leading style has become “gangsta” rap, which celebrates misogyny, the drug trade, gang violence, black-racist separatism, and hatred of traditional society.
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