Countercultural Conservatism

No, Jim Morrison was no conservative. But because I automatically associate “The Doors” with my mother’s stories of childhood dances, Morrison’s music is infused with a kind of cultural memory that doesn’t even belong to me.  Call it nostalgia, once-removed.

Janis Joplin is probably as hard-hitting as my sister and I got in the backseat of our mom’s minivan. Mostly we stuck to cheesy pre-Woodstock pop tunes like Monkee’s “Daydream Believer” or the Four Top’s “Baby I need Your Loving.” My first exposure to Tudor history may have been “Henry the VIII, I am” by Herman’s Hermits. Gripping my Walkman in 4th grade and humming along to the Beach Boys, I was 50 years behind what everyone else was playing on the school bus. To paraphrase Buckley, I stood athwart the modern music industry shouting “Stop”!


Surely, the decade of Kennedy’s assassination, Vietnam, and Charles Manson doesn’t exactly represent a conservative cultural highpoint. But the tunes of the 1960’s–always my default playlist–trigger my conservative aesthetic. By that, I mean I am able to temporarily leave my 20-year-old existence and imagine the generations that have preceded me. I subtract the sex and drugs and just enjoy the the rock that gave voice to other young people in another era.

Having the option of muting my own age-group’s music in favor of the 60’s was my way of acknowledging that I wasn’t the only teenager to have ever graced the planet. Plus, I could find “Grazing in the Grass” catchy without ever having to actually graze in the grass. It was a cross-generational move: vicarious, experimental, but safe. The so-called “oldies,” I believe, helped me transcend self-obsessed teenage time and place. My first MP3 player, a light blue iPod mini which I received for Christmas in 7th grade, was loaded up with Leslie Gore and Gary Puckett. I was not a hip middle-schooler, that much goes without saying. Yet my peers, strangely enough, accepted my odd penchant for oldies. My tastes were quirky but honest–and I think my friends secretly enjoyed a lot of the tunes too.

Gradually, I’ve rebelled my way into the 1970’s–mostly because Connecticut’s oldies radio station (WDRCfm) realized that, as the Baby Boomers age, Jefferson’s Starship and the Grass Roots now capture more of the market than Chuck Berry. I distinctly remember a friend in high school homeroom asking me if I’d made it into the 80’s yet. I didn’t even have to answer. Another friend interjected (correctly) that I only made exceptions for Billy Joel.

russell-kirk-pipe-caneRussell Kirk (a self-described “Bohemian Tory”) reminds us we are dwarfs atop the shoulders of our ancestors. And, the irony of Time is, even hippies and Beatniks eventually become “ancestors.” The 60’s may have been a countercultural decade of youth, but I didn’t  understand this when I first turned to the Beatles. I just liked the songs. For me, they offer something more traditional, more wholesome and far superior to present day rap and hip-hop. Traditionalizing the anti-traditionalists reminds us that Time is a sobering  force.  Subverting the subverters is a subtle conservative game–and we get awesome music in the process.

  • Jackson K. Eskew

    Incredible. The race to the bottom on all sides continues at full speed. We’ve now reached the point when “conservatives” shamelessly declare their love not only for rock music, but particularly for its uber-toxic ’60s variety. This is but one small indication of the putrefaction suffusing today’s “conservatism,” which in no small part includes a lust for “relevance,” and consequent near total victory of the Revolution of the last 500 years.

    Real conservatives and traditionalists thoroughly reject every species and spawn of rock music. And recognizing that pleasure is no part of the calculus of goodness, they reject it even though some of it may bring them great pleasure. They do so because they recognize and reject the philosophical, political, and theological rot that spawned rock music itself.

    There can be no “traditionalizing the anti-traditionalists.” Get into bed with the devil and he WILL rape you. He’ll then convince you that YOU seduced him.

    What I’ve said will of course be anathema to today’s pseudo-conservatives. This repulsion will be yet further proof of their processing by the Revolution, part of which includes creating blindness to that very processing. As they drown in the shallows they can only murmur: “Water? WHAT water???”

    Others will be interested in the following essential reading:

    Revolution and Counter-Revolution, by Plinio Correa de Oliveira.

    Also search for these essays:

    “Modern Music’s Harm for Youth” by Lyle J. Arnold, Jr.

    “The High Moral Damage of Rock Music” by Christine Fitzgerald

    The measure of your rejection of such critiques is the measure of your processing.

    Age, thou art shamed.*
    O shame, where is thy blush?**

    -Shakespeare, Julius Caesar,* Hamlet**

    • Jeremy Thompson

      “Real conservatives and traditionalists thoroughly reject every species and spawn of rock music.”

      “Nay, madam. All ideologies work mischief,” says Mr. Kirk, and I would add, even the form of ideology (fundamentalism) you are espousing. I completely disagree with you. You have essentially taken on the attitude of Dicken’s Mr. Gradgrind, except that you wouldn’t use the term “facts.” You would say morals.

      It is very destructive to the moral imagination.

      • Jackson K. Eskew

        The “fundamentalism” grenade is thrown. Of course! Given the processing of the myth of progress, the chronological snobbery it breeds, and today’s dogmatic relativism, it was inevitable.

        I’m reminded of this:

        “Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine’ (Eph. 4:14) seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”

        – Mass «Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice», Homily of His Eminence Card. Joseph Ratzinger, Vatican Basilica, 18 April 2005

        Users of sonic crack will resort to every rationalization to defend the continued use of their drug, as their fundamental law is this: “Do what thou wilt.” Their embrace of rock music is just one manifestation of their adherence to this law. Much more could be mentioned. They’re the real fundamentalists, as their lives are in every respect guided by this fundamental law.

        Astute readers will recognize the infernal origin of this law, or rather, antinomianism.

        “Do what thou wilt.” This is also the fundamental message of rock, not only in its lyrics, but even more so in its music. “Seek pleasure. Seek release. Gratify your concupiscence. You. You. You. It’s all about you. The true trinity? Me, Myself, and I. Bite that apple. Yes indeed, do what thou wilt.”

        Rock music, along with television, tops the list of the most toxic cultural acids ever concocted. More could be mentioned. For example:

  • Chris Mendros

    According to Danny Sugerman’s bio, No One Here Gets Out Alive, Morrison was pretty much a political conservative. After his experiments with psychadelics, he pretty much settled in as a drinker, eschewing pot because it made him paranoid, and a lifelong carnivore who only drove American cars. He was in no way a hippie, and I always found it interesting that almost everyone I knew who opted for military service after high school was a Doors fan.

    While there is much melody and harmony in the music that Danielle talks about, Mr. Eskew’s concerns are significant. I personally still enjoy rock music, in small doses, but have no doubt that it is, as Bart Simpson once observed, “affiliated with Satan.” The visceral pleasure that it brings is just a lure. Ultimately, true redemption lies elsewhere.

    The Doors were an integral part of my development. Morrison was a troubled soul who somehow managed to self-medicate himself from shy youth to pop star on his way to self-destruction. Just because he cancelled his subscription to the resurrection, however, doesn’t mean I have to. He was no martyr and no savior, and no rock star ever has been or ever will be.

  • B. James Thomas Will

    I’m a strange duck from the looks of things. I grew up listening to Oldies rock (my dad was born in ’48, so I had to bear with him and his memories-not a bad thing) but can’t stand the 70s and 80s or, shudder, the 90s. I much prefer present-day rock and metal, but also country and Christian rock. But my favorite will always be classical music.

  • Chase Padusniak

    While I spend much more of my time listening to A$AP Rocky, 2Pac, and OFWGKTA, there is a ton of wisdom in this post. Time heals all wounds, but it also does a lot of other things, like turn Allen Ginsberg into a conservative (or something like that).

    In sum, I really enjoyed your post, Danielle. And if it’s any consolation, in 7th grade I refused to get an I-Pod because I thought it was making us all too lazy. I was such a little Luddite.