For some time, dating back to its initial introduction on our old listserv – possibly in the midst of perhaps the last beating of a dead Elliot Smith that even those of us in the Halls of Rock could muster – the term Winner Rock – and its cohort, Loser Rock – have been met with great consternation and protest. This is understandable, but the day has come to clarify these terms for use in our discussions here and beyond.
Rock ‘n roll, on the deeply passionate and nerdy level with which it is discussed in places like Rock Town Hall, was not set up for life’s “winners.” Typically, life’s winners have been content to wrap themselves in cutting-edge consumerism and McMansions. In musical terms, we haughtily imagine these folks gathering over cocktails and throwing a CD by Phil Collins or Don Henley on in the background. It’s understandable why Townspeople like us, whose lives have been saved by rock ‘n roll, might object to the introduction of the term “Winner” in discussions of our faith. In the real world, the term has become laden with baggage we’d all like to leave behind. But we’re not in the real world. The connotations of Winner Rock (and Loser Rock, for that matter) are not beholden to real-world connotations. We’re here to transcend, through whatever means necessary.
I’ll leave the Rock Town Hall Glossary definition of Loser Rock to our esteemed colleague, Oats, but to define Winner Rock, let’s first review two main functions of rock ‘n roll: one that is centered around building community and the other that is centered around self-identification. Both points of view are essential to being a well-rounded human, so don’t get the idea that a fan of Winner Rock rejects Loser Rock out of hand, or vice versa. Winner Rock aims to win a community over to a point of view, a big beat, a cause of one sort or another. Winner Rock artists are clear about their objectives and the desire to fill a bandwagon of like-minded listeners.
Winner Rock isn’t about winning itself as much as it is playing to win. In a sense, it’s team-oriented rock. For example, a Winner Rock band that I believe few would feel embarrassed liking is The Clash. The music of The Clash is not made for individual listening. Physically, of course, any one of us can and has listened to the music of The Clash in isolation, yet even when listening to their music alone, we’re being addressed in the context of a group, or team, that has a goal of overcoming the odds. I believe that a lot of folks who have objected to this Winner Rock term feel like underdogs and want nothing more than to be associated with society’s notion of “winners,” but the term underdog assumes that you’re playing the game, that you want to win against all odds. The goal of an underdog is to WIN, so embrace it when the right artist comes along!
The Clash, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and many generally unobjectionable artists have practiced Winner Rock. It can be a great thing. It can also be a horrible thing. Journey might come to mind when you think “Winner Rock.” However, as in real-world sports, just because a team plays the game (to win) doesn’t mean you have to root for them. There are Winner Rock artists who you might feel represent what’s best about rock ‘n roll just as there are those who do, in fact, represent what’s worst. That’s OK. The term itself was created to identify a fundamental view of the role of an artist, the listeners, and their music, same as the term Loser Rock identifies another fundamental view of artists and listeners. When one of us says something like, “I love Winner Rock,” it doesn’t mean we love all bands who play with this mindset, just that we embrace the mindset itself and how it can color our listening experience. I hope this is clear.
When you have finished reading this entry in the RTH Glossary, I encourage you to read and review the official RTH Glossary definition of Loser Rock. As you have done here, please read carefully and appreciate the important role that rock ‘n roll can play in developing the self, apart from society. As I mentioned regarding the near impossibility of listening to the music of The Clash with a solitary point of view, consider listening to the music of The Kinks, especially Kinks Kontroversy-era Kinks, with the aim of feeling more a part of a movement, more a part of the whole. Try as you may, I suspect you’ll find yourself twirling that stray curl as you sit beside the bay window with a lone drop of rain running down the pane. And there’s nothing wrong with that.