If Everything Rocks, Does Anything Really Rock?

noah | April 22, 2009 5:15 pm

One thing about being a blogger with a lot of music-related RSS feeds: You see the word “rock” used as a verb a lot. Why, right now the following headlines are popping up in Google Reader for me: “‘The Hills’ Girls Rock The Paley Center Red Carpet”; “John Varvatos and Island Records: Fashion that rocks?”; “Veteran act Dinosaur Jr. to rock Music Farm”; and “Video: Sesame Street Says ‘Earth Rocks’!” I’ve actually thought about calling a wire-wide moratorium on using it in headlines–just for a day!–and Carrie Brownstein reminded me of this impending mini-crusade with an examination of why the word is so used (and abused) these days:

In fact, whether you’ve played an instrument or not — and whether you’re a person, place or thing — anyone and everyone seems to rock these days. And, let’s be honest, we’ve been rocking for years. That tag line you came up with for Coke at your ad agency rocks! Your leather jacket with the hood rocks! Your dog catching a Frisbee rocks! Your new Herman Miller Aeron desk chair? It totally rocks! When you’re thanking your dad for the loan, he rocks! When you score tickets to a playoff game, that rocks, too! Practically the only thing that doesn’t rock these days is music itself. And, if music did in fact rock, to actually say that it did would have very little meaning. Because you’d have to ask, “This music rocks compared to what? Beer? Hawaii? Grandpa?”

Compared to what, indeed. Thanks to overuse–not to mention increased sloppiness with the English language these days–“rock” has evolved into one of those words that is so seemingly descriptive yet empty-slash-versatile that it’s perfect for an idea-strapped headline writer, complimenter, or, well, anyone. Just look at the wide spectrum of nouns in the headlines listed above! Brownstein chalks some of the willingness to overuse “rock” up to people wanting to spice up their lives, but within reason …

I left a business meeting once with the following words of encouragement: “This is rock ‘n’ roll, people!” As we all walked back to our desks, returning to a life of semi-funny email forwards, office shenanigans and coming up with strategies on how to better sell coffee as a lifestyle, I kept wondering, is this really rock ‘n’ roll? Because if it were, it wasn’t exactly how I remembered it. Perhaps equating the mundane with something as exotic and bold as rock ‘n’ roll helps each of our lives feel a bit more important, exciting, even worthwhile. And in the wish-fulfillment triumvirate of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, rock does seem the most transferable and translatable. After all, comparing your day job to heroin — or substituting “You F—!” for “Hey, you’re cool” — might get you in trouble.

Hmm, maybe I should try that sometime! Oh wait, I work at home. Anyway, she has a point, I think: The whole “party like a rock star” fantasy, in order to exist, needs to be bought part & parcel by those who aren’t exactly living in Hookers & Blow world–and it’s hard not to wonder whether or not the notion of the “rock star” pretty much being obliterated by tons of factors (including music’s increased supporting-player status in culture) has made the notion of rocking accessible to anyone who thinks that they can just use a word like a verb in order to make their dreams reality. (That’s pretty depressing, I guess, but part of me thinks that it isn’t wholly unfair.) I Rock! You Rock! We All Rock! [Monitor Mix] [Pic via KevinFrietas.net]