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How Rock Music Affects American Teens

The mass media is always looking for a new subject to sensationalize and create attention-grabbing headlines in order to sell more papers. One of the frequent targets for this hype machine has been youth culture, and specifically, the music that goes with it. The press has always been fascinated with how rock music affects American teens. When rock and roll first burst onto the scene in the mid-1950’s, much was made of the fact that the music had its origins in the blues, a genre that middle-America associated with African-American culture. Given the heavily segregated state of many parts of the union, this association had church leaders and civic-minded adults alike proclaiming that rock and roll’s ‘base origin’ would cause teens to sink into a world of excess and debauchery. Their outrage was further fanned by the inventive new dances that teens were busting out all over the country. The gyrating hips and rear-ends of dances like the Twist and the Mashed-Potato were branded as ‘suggestive’ and were indicative to many conservative parents of the corrupting influence of rock and roll.

While Elvis’ sexuality and the lightning energy of Chuck Berry might have inflamed public opinion at the time, it was nothing compared to the wave of change that would accompany the 1960’s. Political involvement would drastically alter how rock music affects American teens, and suddenly it was no longer the dancing that scared the silent majority, but rather the ideals that were professed in the lyrics of this rapidly evolving music. Songs by the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and the Byrds protested the war in Vietnam, called into question the social mores of the time and espoused a disbelief in the basic principals of America. Teenagers were quickly seduced by the freedoms they felt this music offered, and they began to turn on, tune in and drop out, in the words of the hippie idols of the time. While the counter-culture movement didn’t burn for long, it did burn bright and seared a permanent new direction in rock and roll, one that would see the music assume a greater role in social advocacy and political change.

Rock and roll has largely been construed as a youth movement, but all teenagers have to grow up someday. Many of these new adults carried with them the ideals that they had learned at the knee of their musical heroes, but an equal number were unable to reconcile the lessons of their past with the sudden responsibilities of their new lives and futures. Rock and roll may have failed to change society as a whole, but it has certainly impacted millions of individual lives in a way that will last forever.





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