David Brooks Discovers "Dozens Of Niche Musical Genres Where There Used To Be This Thing Called Rock"

Friedman's oblivious egomania, Dowd's insouciance to basic norms of logical argument, Kristof's admirable ambulance chasing: all such other Times op-ed superpowers pale in comparison to David Brooks's truly awe-inspiring, magisterial laziness. Like a frat boy funneling a brew, he sits waiting for ideas to trickle down and, when he's had his fill, spits out a rank, frothy mess whose resemblance to last week's rank, frothy mess he takes as affirmative proof of his unfalsifiable claims about life and stuff. Today, he pretends to write about music. Why?

Best I can tell, because he sometimes reads The New Yorker and Slate, and the former recently published a much-discussed rumination by Sasha Frere-Jones about race and indie rock, a Carl Wilson rejoinder to which was published in the latter. Obviously, David Brooks doesn't know anything about indie rock—or hip-hop or punk—but that's okay, because David Brooks knows how to turn anything into a David Brooks column.

David Brooks also appears to know Steven Van Zandt, of the E Street Band, who he tells us "fell for the Beatles and discovered the blues and early rock music that inspired them." Of course, because cliches and commonplaces aren't ever deducted from the word count or pay check, David Brooks's account of rock music begins with the Beatles's 1964 appearance on Ed Sullivan. To be exact, it begins like this: "On Feb. 9, 1964, the Beatles played on 'The Ed Sullivan Show.'" Then there were the '70s, "a great moment for musical integration." But, then, at "some point toward the end of the 1970s or the early 1980s, the era of integration gave way to the era of fragmentation. There are now dozens of niche musical genres where there used to be this thing called rock."

It turns out that "people have been writing about the fragmentation of American music for decades." Here's where Brooks makes mention of the Frere-Jones/Wilson debate. But really, you see, people like Sasha Frere-Jones and Carl Wilson, who can name music acts besides the Beatles, Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, and U2 (who grew famous long after "the era of integration" ended, but who's counting?), miss the forest for the trees! No, Brooks, explains, what's going on now/happened twenty years ago (whatever!) to music is happening because:"Technology drives some of the fragmentation. Computers allow musicians to produce a broader range of sounds. Top 40 radio no longer serves as the gateway for the listening public. Music industry executives can use market research to divide consumers into narrower and narrower slices."

"But other causes flow from the temper of the times. It's considered inappropriate or even immoral for white musicians to appropriate African-American styles. And there's the rise of the mass educated class." And wait, back to little Stevie: he's starting a high-school curriculum about the history of American popular music. Why? "He argues that if the Rolling Stones came along now, they wouldn't be able to get mass airtime because there is no broadcast vehicle for all-purpose rock. And he says that most young musicians don't know the roots and traditions of their music. They don't have broad musical vocabularies to draw on when they are writing songs."

Alright, so popular music has splintered, and some people believe there are ways to unsplinter it. But, come on, why does David Brooks really care about Van Zandt's music-class plan? Could it be that a deadline is looming?

"It seems that whatever story I cover, people are anxious about fragmentation and longing for cohesion," he concludes. "This is the driving fear behind the inequality and immigration debates, behind worries of polarization and behind the entire Obama candidacy."

There you have it: the David Brooks pivot in all its glory. Basically: 'there are a lot of details and specificities and technicalities to all the things I hear about, but really there's one theme that runs through it all: I heard it.'

The Segmented Society [NYT]