40 / CHRONICLESnit quickly took over the plot (leavingnothers to fight for their survival—nanybody remember Eddie Fisher?).nRock suggested to its large and readynnatural audience—adolescents (not tonbe confused with mythical Teenagers)n—an outline of their own special disposition:nit was spontaneous, funseeking,ndeliberately but not dangerouslynprovocative, and naive — angood-natured blufiF, an inside jokenshared by millions. Because the musicndid not concern itself with issues ofntaste, good or bad, it avoided bothnpretenhousness and vulgarity.nThe result of this insouciance was ancoarse sensibility matched with a stylisticnintegrity, a combination that notnonly characterized early rock ‘n’ rollnbut was its reason for being. Rock sentnback the message it received: Stylencould be valid without having to benrelevant. (It could also be invalid withoutnbeing relevant, but that wouldncome later.) The music did not createna moment, it ran into one. And then”preachers and politicians” never laidna hand on it.nIf rock ‘n’ roll’s initial success wasninevitable, so was its eventual mutation.nThe one assault to which thenmusic was not impervious found itnsoon enough. The assault was intellect,nbrought on the scene by critics fornthe self-promoting purpose of Explain­nLetter Fromnthe Lower Rightnby John Shelton ReednDeath of a CommunistnLook elsewhere for amusement thisnmonth. This is not a lighthearted letter.nIt is a reflection on the life of anman who was once a friend of mine, anman whose life and work demonstratenthat meaning well is not enough.nAl and I were graduate students atning Things. Would-be rock critics tooknone look at the galloping weed (a nicenenough weed, but a weed) and decidednthat by calling the thing an orchid theyncertified themselves as botanists.nThat decision brought with it thenpomposity and affectation that hang tonthis day over the big Rock Train like anbad smell. One whiff brings the discoverynthat USA for Africa is not a rockncharity project but is “part of a profoundlynpolitical process, whether ornnot its participants are aware of it.” (It’snamazing how often Marsh knows morenabout people than they know aboutnthemselves.) If you think BrucenSpringsteen is a popular Americannrock star whose music is open to thenpersonal interpretation (or noninterpretation)nof the fans who foot the bill,nyou’d best snilF again. This is Marsh’snSpringsteen, busy spitting “into theneye of a bleak land that destroys otherncountries in preposterous wars andndevastates its own citizens by refusingnthem even the simple dignity of a job.”nMove further downwind and catch anwaft of Prince, doing his part for traditionnby “hump[ing] the speakers.” Ornthis: “Most American listeners concludednthat ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Madenof This)’ was just another pop record.”nBreathe deeper, if you dare: “Withoutna grounding in socialism or any othernkind of systematic thinking about po-nCORRESPONDENCEnColumbia in the 60’s. For a short timenwe worked together in an informalnstudy group preparing for comprehensivenexaminations. But our politicsn(construing that word broadly) madenus poor harness-mates. Al was ferociouslynbright, very well-read, and extraordinarilynhardworking, but we justnhad too littie in common even to studyntogether.nIf Communists still carry cards,nsurely Al carried one. He was, by hisnown description, an orthodox Marxist-nLeninist. I would say that his politicsnnnlitical life and events (a groundingnAmerican education rarely offers), thenoblique references and criticisms madenin songs like ‘Sweet Dreams (ArenMade of This)’ fall on ears of stone.”nThink of it: rock fans are being toldnthey need a grounding—in systematicnpolitical thinking, no less—beforenthey can approach the Top 40. Thisnfrom a man who wouldn’t know systematicnthinking in any variety if itnleaped fully formed from his Big Mac.nNo wonder these people are “pissed-offnand brokenhearted.”nIf this situation were worthy of ironyn—which it is not—the irony would benthat by willfully misinterpreting thenthing he sought to defend. Marsh hasnhopelessly fouled up what he professednto love. Along the way, he has demandednaffirmation of rock’s valuenfrom the very people he mocks as unfitnto speak its name.nTo that demand, perhaps the appropriatenresponse may be found in thenwords of Jimmie Rodgers, representativenof America’s fruitful musical tradition:n”Get off, get off, you railroadnbum.”nJanet Scott Barlow has written fornMusic & Sound Output, Parentsnmagazine, and Commonweal.nwere more important to him than hisnacademic work, except that he saw nondistinction between the two: his “socialist”npolitics were his life. He wasnalways dashing off to civil rights demonstrationsnin Mississippi, or to supportnstriking miners in Harlan County.nIn ordinary, nonpolitical discourse, henwas a good-natured, sensitive soul, butnsuch discourse with Al was rare. Hentook politics very seriously indeed, andnwhen the subject came up (far toonoften for my taste) he displayed anblinkered sort of humorlessness. Forn