Vital Signs

Train of Fools

In the 30 years since it first gained broad popularity, rock 'n' roll has put on some show; it has been by turns entertaining, grotesque, energetic, absurd—and always "successful." There were even times when it had a good beat and you could dance to it.

But since the 60's, the decade of pervasive Relevance, an even better show has taken place off-stage, around the kids-turned-writers-turned-critics who early hitched a ride on the big Rock Train, struggling ever since to appear in control while hanging on for dear life. Within this group, no one has struggled harder than Dave Marsh, "America's Best-Known Rock Writer," as he is described on his own book covers. Marsh stands alone in this crowd of freeloaders for one reason: he has decided he owns the railroad.

Dave Marsh is a critic with an agenda propped up by a cause. The agenda calls for a political union of "rock star, steelworker, [music] industry professional, welfare mother, and just plain fan," all responding to rock 'n' roll "as a potent vehicle through which what's right and wrong about America and the world is expressed, discussed, and analyzed." His cause is the "intrinsic value" of rock 'n' roll, its "fruitful cultural tradition," and its political potential for dragging "the unwanted and faceless, the pissed-off and brokenhearted into the spotlight."

Marsh's...

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