"In But Is It Garbage?, Hamelman brilliantly explains the centrality of the trash trope to rock music aesthetics. It's a significant new approach, and the author's rock 'n' roll sensibility will be refreshing not just to scholars of rock music and pop culture, but also to the serious fan."
—Thomas Kitts, coeditor of Living on a Thin Line: Crossing Aesthetic Borders with the Kinks
Steven L. Hamelman sums up these rubbishy affinities as rock’s “trash trope.” Trash is an obvious physical presence on the rock scene—think of Woodstock’s littered pastures or the many hotel rooms redecorated by the Who. More intriguingly, Hamelman says, trash is the catalyst for a powerful mode of rock composition and criticism. It is, for instance, both cause and effect when performers like the Ramones or Beck at once critique junk culture and revel in it.
Hamelman guides us across five decades of rock to explore the trash trope in all of its audible, visual, and emblematic power. He offers up a personal top-forty list of songs that engage the trash trope at many levels, including “Yakety-Yak,” the Coasters’ lament about taking out the trash, and Radiohead’s “No Surprises,” in which the singer’s persona likens his heart to a landfill. Drawing extensively on Lou Reed’s Berlin, Hamelman gives the “Is rock dead?” debate new meaning by pondering death themes in the music and the morbid romanticism of the best “wasted” recordings. Finally Hamelman looks at rock’s “saving” powers—at how a medium steeped in tropes of uselessness and inconsequence can mean so much to countless people.
But Is It Garbage? spills over with challenging insights into how rock’s creators, critics, and consumers transform, and are transformed by, trash as a fact and a concept. In the music’s preoccupation with its own trashiness readers will perceive a wellspring of rock innovation and inspiration—one largely overlooked and little understood until now.
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