Or kind of like the way the Rolling Stones trotted out Howlin' Wolf in their early days.

Right! Exactly.

I mean, when the Stones broughtHowlin' Wolf to play with them on Shindig in '65, he wasn't even really that old or bygone, but they presented him as if he was this far-out old man from another planet.

Yeah, totally. And to their audience, he was just this weirdo guy, so they were placating the connoisseurs and the mods who knew the origins of the music, but they weren't threatening their own type from their scene. And you know, the way that they changed the music was such that no one wanted to hear the original. And you still mean people who only want to hear the British covers of old blues songs. And there's a real difference between the two, even when it's hard to pinpoint. It's this real value issue.

Ultimately, rock and roll motivated young people to want to start groups. It's something that you address in your new book, which is ostensibly a guide to forming a group even if it's really more of a warning or a missive of discouragement in disguise. Now, you and I both kind of know the answer, but why do people form groups?

Well, part of it is people's powerlessness and alienation, as corny as that might sound. People feel powerless and our society is totally alienating: we have this absurd political system with this symbolic non-vote every four years for some corporate party that's identical to the other one, and the political system doesn't address any actual issues. Our official art forms, television and film, are completely insane and have almost no relationship to anything anyone would want to see, just a grotesque spectacle instead. And our entertainment is supposed to just be shopping. So rock and roll groups are a way of having a community or something, and that's why a big part of the book talks about gangs.

A group is a descendant of the gang, but it's also a love affair with yourself, a way that you can focus on yourself. People would call it narcissism, but it's not necessarily that, it's more of a romantic thing. It's romantic because it's an idealization of what the world should look like. And it's also part of this conceit of Americanism being outside of the mainstream, a rock and roll group is supposed to be this outsider force, and that once again pertains to this whole gang conceit, you know, "We're outsiders!"

In The Psychic Soviet, you have a chapter that gets into the imperialist nature of the rock and roll band, that you are not a real band unless you have a vehicle and all this equipment and you assault the country with your music. Over various campaigns you conquer this state and that state, and it's hard to actually feel like you exist, as a band, unless you do that. Where did that come from, what's that all about?

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  Topics: Music Features , Ian Svenonius, Nation of Ulysses, The Psychic Soviet
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