I've always thought it's terrible when someone describes someone or something as "punk rock." But maybe it's worse to use "rock 'n' roll" as an adjective? I could see how it could be fun calling someone or something "folktronic ambient slow-ride chamber slop" or "screwed go-go witch house stomp" or anything particular, evocative, and self-consciously ridiculous. Ridiculous because Pitchforking a description of anything is by definition excessive and performative and, by virtue of excess and performance, tends to be imprecise, unclear, and ripe for ridicule. But to call a novel "rock 'n' roll" is really vague, right? The traditional meaning is attitudinal, rebellious, infectious. But "rock 'n' roll" is too general a term to really define in 2011. Buddy Holly? Yes. The Beatles and Stones? Of course. Led Zep? You bet. Yes? Art rock, definitely. Floyd? Space rock, sure. All the varietals through the '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s. Thematically, rock covers more than the just the cliched foci of sex, drugs, and alienation expressed as Satan Worship. So how could an adjective so imprecise it's practically empty at this point be applied to a novel that's basically a linked story collection without much to say?

Something that so got me worked up about all the hype and post-hype awards given to A Visit From the Goon Squad is that the book's cover featured a Fender guitar headstock and the novel was repeatedly described as a "rock 'n' roll novel" and yet when I bought it and read it I was surprised how little there really was that involved good old-fashioned rock 'n' roll as I think of it. There's a not-so-convincing punk rock show early on and some flagging rock business stuff but not enough of this sort of thing to call the book a "rock 'n' roll novel." (See this for a similar reaction.) From a marketing perspective, I understand the headstock on the cover. But it's frustrating when readers affiliated with well-respected venues perpetuate this idea that it's a "rock 'n' roll novel."

The biopic "Control" is a rock 'n' roll novel (in film form). There's rock music in it, first of all. Bass, drums, and guitar, maybe a little keyboard. Music is pretty central to it. There's an ethos of charismatic fuck-all fatally damned innocence to it, not pages in Power Point or safaris. Anyway, all I really wanted to do is list and link to a few instances where a book I didn't love has been called a "rock 'n' roll novel" when I didn't really even think it was even much of a book about music, generally. Here are 92K+ citations -- and here are a few hand-selected examples:

"A Visit From The Goon Squad isn't the great rock 'n' roll novel, but the fact that it's a good one is a small triumph . . . " The Onion AV Club

"Oh, look, a nice little novel about rock 'n' roll … Whoa!" Newyorker.com

"The rock 'n roll-centric book is the literary equivalent of a concept album."

"Time is the relentless "goon squad" in this rock 'n' roll novel . . . " NYT bestseller list


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