Did rock and roll pacify America?

Larner saw it as exactly the opposite—rock as the sound of mass complacency. He attributed the genre’s rise to the fact that black jazz musicians after World War II ditched big band for bebop, an aggressive and experimental style that “the teen-age set found … nearly impossible to dance to.” Rock filled the sock-hop void through its defining feature: the beat. “When the listener submits himself to the beat, he loosens his mind from its moorings in space and time; no longer does he feel a separation between himself and his surroundings,” Larner wrote. “Rock ‘n’ roll is the only form in modern music which deliberately seeks these effects and no other.” Jazz could sometimes hypnotize an audience, he said, but not like rock could—to lose your mind to music, you need repetition, not improvisation.

So powerful was the rock beat that all other attributes of the music were presented as secondary, or totally inconsequential. “‘Positive’ lyrics are mostly a sop to minds that do not want to know what they are thinking,” he wrote, before describing a rock-gospel vocalist futilely singing praises to God even as the “the music itself rocked on and out away from the words into a new wild night of nihilism.” This nihilism, he said, allowed rock to placate adolescent angst, not by channelling it toward the outer world but by making it a pleasure in itself: “Through exposure to rock ‘n’ roll, teen-agers learn to handle their aggressions and discontents—not through understanding, criticism, and self-conscious social rebellion, but through surrendering them to manufactured purgative.”