So, I recently read Jan Jagodzinski’s Music and Youth Culture (2005) and was exposed to more psychology than I ever knew existed. After a vigorous reading (and subsequent re-reading) of some of Jacques Lacan’s terminology and Jagodzinski’s application of these terms to music, I figured the best way to see if “I get it” is to apply what I think I have learned to our classes recent topic of cock rock and heavy metal.
For starters, Jacques Lacan’s version of psychology continues in the vein of Sigmund Freud (and anyone who knows anything about Freud knows that everything subsequently revolves around the male signifier: the phallus). Lacan furthers Freudian psychology with his ideas of drives and desire: our biological urges vs. our subconscious needs. I will discuss “cock rock” and heavy metal using one of Jagodzinski’s main theses from his work: post-modern music is characterized by a perversion of male pre-Oedipal drives into “pure desire” and a hysterizaion of female post-Oedipal drives into “pure demand.” Jagodzinski does not discuss “cock rock” specifically in his text, which is an obvious oversight, so I’m going to do my best instead.
For this posting, I will focus on idea’s primarily from Robert Walser’s chapter “Forging Masculinity” from Running With the Devil (1993) in regards to his strategies of gender and power: exscription, misogyny, romance, and androgyny.
EXSCRIPTION: why are no girls allowed? “Cock rock” and heavy metal seem to be an all-boys club, so what is the Lacanian psychological reason for taking women out of the picture? Walser claims “Feminine intimacy …produces a dependence on the other that threatens masculine independence” (115). Jagodzinski would counter that then “perversion inverts the struggle of separating from the Mother and establishing masculine authority….Rather than being the phallus…he attempts to have the phallus” (52). A man can therefore only be a male because he is independent of the female. Walser continues, “Metal shields men from the dangers of pleasure—loss of control—but also enables…images of…metalized male bodies” (116). Jagodzinski supports this notion with “becoming metal” and the “death drive,” describing a “Body without Organs” that is machine-like and free of desires, especially the death drive, which is the pursuit of pleasure to excess which leads to death (18). It makes sense that the male would want to protect himself from the “anxiety about the vagina” and distance himself from as much temptation as possible (54). Walser’s interpretation of “women as sex objects” is supported by Jadogznski’s idea of the hysterization of the scopic drive, which makes women a demand of the male gaze (Walser 116; Jagodzinski 54).
MISOGYNY: why do men hate women? Maybe “hate” is strong, since both male authors seem to prefer the term “anxiety:” Walser claims to “assuage male anxieties about the sexuality of females” whereas again Jagodzinski claims a more general “anxiety about the vagina” (Walser 117; Jagodzinski 54). Again, both authors seem to agree about the mysterious dichotomy of the nature of the female: Walser’s angel/witch and Jagodzinski’s virgin/slut. Yet again, this all returns to Lacan’s notion of the female Otherness and her eternal “lack” of a phallus. Jagodzinski points out the source of misogyny being this angel/witch or virgin/slut dichotomy, since this is the way in which the “castrated” female is able to pursue her pleasure (without the need for a phallus) (54). The fear of the phallus becoming insignificant would be enough to make any male potentially anxious.
ROMANCE: is this just a silly girl thing? As according to several of the other authors from this weeks reading selection, apparently it is commonly held notion that men are interested in sex and women are interested in love. So where does romance fit in to “cock rock?” Walser cites Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet (1986) as the first instance of commercially successful romantically-themed metal songs. This album’s biggest hit, “Livin’ on a Prayer” was responsible for Bon Jovi’s increased appeal of female fans. Jagodzinski would posit this as a perfect representation of perversion in postmodern music. In Lacanian terms, a perversion is the inverse of a normal fantasy model (12). A fantasy: I need capital to acquire the object of my desire. A perversion: someone’s object of desire can bring me capital. Thus, Bon Jovi adopted a more commercially appealing style (jeans and no make-up) in order to sell more records and attract more female fans. As Walser states, “To offer such a pay off, [a band] must break away from metal” (122).
ANDROGYNY: why do men want to look like women? This is perhaps the most baffling trend in heavy metal; a male-dominated genre where men dress like hyper-females. Walser argues that glam metal represents “the dissolution of the ego in the flux of musical pleasure,” and briefly cites the castrati as a historical counterpart (124, 126). Jagodzinski also discusses the interesting disposition of the castrati, giving them the unique status of the “disembodied voice” from a castrated body (either male or female) that is pure, and free of death and desires (56-57). Thus, the glam metal bands also become free of desires as they to, in there grotesque “feminine” appearance are able to become disembodied and free of their perverted desires. (On a side note, I would like to laugh at the ridiculousness of this interpretation, seeing as the members of the quintessential glam-band Poison were all notorious womanizers and/or coke-addicts).
In general, Walser and Jagodzinski have similar interpretations for the psychology that makes “cock rock” tick. Of course, one would have to buy into this psychology in order to believe it. Gender is a social construct, and somewhere along the way, American society decided that the guitar was a phallic instrument that boys should play in order to impress the pants off of girls. Of course there is no natural significance to the guitar; it is simply an extension of male-dominated/phallocentric notions. I would wonder if Freudian/Lacanian theory would pan out in a vaginocentric culture. As Freud would say, sometimes a guitar is just a guitar.
PS – I may have completely butchered Lacan’s psychology. I’m not even 100% for certain which aspects of Jagodzinski’s book are based on Lacan and which are based on Deleuze (i.e. “Becoming-Metal”…which I don’t really understand anyway). But I did my best, and please any comments are welcome.