Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Thursday, November 01, 2007

People have been discussing college rock, and in honor of that I want to talk about college pop.

I want to talk about Rudy Vallee, the original collegiate popster of the 1920s.

Bing Crosby partisans say that his more relaxed, demotic, masculine croon wiped out the appeal of Vallee’s more silky stilted style. Commercially, at the time, that is true: Vallee didn’t disappear, but Bing was ascendant and a huge influence on subsequent singers.

I dig Vallee though. He had a lovely voice and a capacity for joyful winking irony one song and straight-up, unflashy, yearning romanticism the next.

There’s an undercurrent of class embarrassment in the college rock discussion. Middle-class college grads are still embarrassed about their privilege. Yes, if you’ve been to college, you have been privileged. If your family had middle-class comforts when you were growing up, you have been privileged. Being embarrassed about it is likewise a privilege, and pretending that you haven’t had your privileges is the greatest privilege of all. Your embarrassment is not going to make social inequities go away. It’s not going to do anybody the slightest bit of good.

I worked with homeless people for about 8 years. Very few of them resented middle-class people for being middle class. Most of them wanted to be middle class, and a whole lot of them thought of themselves as middle class. A significant percentage of them came from the middle class, but a lot of them from a background that a white-collar person would call a "working class" background called themselves middle class; and, in fact, a large percentage of blue-collar Americans have been in the economic middle class, though that class has declined hugely since the early '70s.

In the most memorable scene in Hunter Thompson’s book Hell’s Angels, college-educated, gay Allen Ginsberg charms the blue-collar, macho bikers by being unafraid: Unafraid to be himself, unafraid to speak his mind, unafraid of the bikers, unafraid to treat the bikers straight up respectfully.

Like the homeless thieving drifter in “Streets of Bakersfield” says, “Hey I’m not trying to be nobody / I just want a chance to be myself.” Being a middle-class college kid is OK if that’s who you are. Just ask Rudy. Or Allen.

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