FEVER: How Rock and Roll Transformed Gender in America

Tim Riley, Author
Tim Riley, Author . St. Martin's $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-312-28611-8
Reviewed on: 05/17/2004
Release date: 06/01/2004
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-312-42495-4
Open Ebook - 256 pages - 978-1-4668-7656-9
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When Elvis walked onstage and sang "Love Me Tender" or "Hound Dog," he changed and challenged more than just popular music. According to Riley, his gyrating hips and his invitations to nights of lusty love and rock and roll altered his audience's thinking about sexuality and gender relations, challenging their parents' more circumspect ideas and opening up new ways of freely experiencing their sexual selves. In this rather simplistic study of the impact of rock and roll on sexuality and gender, Riley opens with a comparison of John Wayne's and Elvis's sexual personas. Of course, Elvis shakes the foundations of male sexuality with his openness, his eagerness for experience and his dynamic and forthright declarations of the pleasures of love. While Elvis is shaking up the males, the girl groups—the Chantels, the Ronettes, the Crystals, the Shirelles—are providing a similar experience for the women. Perhaps sex could be saved for marriage, the songs said, but the singers insisted in their lyrics that women could experience plenty of sexual pleasures outside of marriage and that they should. Riley weaves this thesis through the history of rock and roll, tracing its development through Tina Turner, Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen, Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, among others. Whether or not rock and roll played the largely positive role in changing ideas about gender remains questionable, for many listeners—and many women in rock, such as Grace Slick—would contend that men's view of women has not changed much since John Wayne. Moreover, Riley's view is very selective, for much of rock music reinforces gender stereotypes, encouraging its audiences to do the same. While Riley's book contains some interesting moments, it fails to go far enough in looking at rock's more checkered history of gender relations. (June)

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