Revolting Cocks

The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion and Rock 'n' Roll by Simon Reynolds and Joy Press

"Home is where the heart lies," Hersh sings on "Vicky's Box," emphasizing the poisonous double meaning of "lies." Aptly, The Sex Revolts ends with women making complex music from the very sphere -- the home -- that male rockers have worked so hard to run from and destroy. Along the way, Reynolds and Press raise a variety of interesting questions: Which is more important -- aesthetics or ethics? Should music destroy or caress sexual identity? What kind of double allegiances do women who like misogynistic music experience? Is male femininity subversive or just privileged indulgence? Should meaning take precedence over sound?

Reynolds and Press tend to emphasize meaning, as they only mention listeners' personal responses in the intro. Also, the pair focus on homosocial revulsion toward women, never noting homosexuality's avoidance of hetero power dynamics. Of course, gay sensibility in rock tends to be counterfeit (Bowie, Brett Anderson) or closeted (Michael Stipe) and is still largely invisible. Today, men are increasingly sexualized by the media and therefore prone to all the pleasures and pains -- relentless body consciousness, for instance -- of female identity. As such, masculinity, regardless of sexual orientation, is a ripe area for study.

In The Sex Revolts, male rebellion yields increasingly diminishing returns. Plotting the male rebel's devolution from speedy, stylish mod to crippled, acid-fried biker, from virility to clumsiness (Devo) and celibacy (Smiths), the authors couldn't have found a better symbol of tragic manhood than Kurt Cobain and his fatal "umbilical noose." And the future should only bring more fascinating mutations. Take the brilliant, boundary-smashing character Reynolds analyzed recently in the Village Voice, whose name perfectly captures his identity: Tricky.

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