The Rock Band as a Nation State

5 Mar

I’ve had a lifetime obsession with Rock and Roll. From my I discovery of it in 1994 at the age of 12, and my parents immediately forbidding it the same week, to my founding a week later of Radio Free Walkman, hidden in the inside pocket of my jacket, with earbuds running up through one of my sleeves to the cuff, to teaching myself to play guitar at 15, and ultimately moving out over the B-side of a Nirvana single at age 16, I have been obsessed with Rock and Roll. You might say driven.

Yeah, I’m in a band, too.

But I have another, much more horrible obsession. Politics. Foolishly reasonable about the booming economy upon my high school graduation in 2000, Rock and Roll was of course just the back up plan. So off to college I went.

But why politics? Funny story, (or is it sad?). I grew up in a home with parents who were fairly prominent in the Christian Coalition. In 1988 at the age of 6, I was “helping” at Pat Robertson’s local 1988 presidential campaign headquarters. In the following years I met Ralph Reed, Jesse Helms, and pretty much every conservative candidate and elected official from North Carolina.

(A note of personal satisfaction – a distant cousin of mine is the superintendent of Oakwood Cemetery where Senator Helms is buried, and the Senator’s massive headstone is right outside my cousin’s office window).

2000 was the first time I ever voted. And despite my typical teenage angst combined with uninspiring candidates resulting in me wearing my SupPop tshirt with the word “Loser” printed in all caps on the front to the polling location, I was pretty excited about the whole thing. But when the polls closed, I still didn’t know who my president was. And I had to know. And thus the political seed planted long before finally began to bloom in the fertilizing menure that 24 hour cable news had become.

Finally after a few weeks, we knew not only who we’d elected, but we also knew who the Supreme Court had appointed, and we also had a pretty good idea of how big Florida Secretary of State, Katherine Harris’ breasts were, as she preferred to stand sideways with her chest puffed out whenever she was on camera – especially when Sean Hannity was interviewing her.

But having nothing to do with Katherine Harris, (my news crush was on Norah O’Donnell), I was hooked. There were so many other unresolved news stories I had become intensely interested in, and I had to find out how those were going to turn out too, god damn it. And with all the overlap, there was always something new to find out about. I couldn’t stop, and didn’t want to.

And so I decided to major in Political Science. And that’s when I was forcibly compelled by syllabi to learn about nation states, and then by my own interests to learn of the existence, and then nuances of Social Identity Theory.

If Rock and Roll isn’t an excellent indicator of social identity, I don’t know what is. I’m obsessed with Rock and Roll. I told you that already. And though it’s been nearly 10 years since I walked out of UNC Chapel Hill with my Poli-Sci degree, I still think about these things, and I’m still addicted to cable news. And though my record buying habits are mostly digital now, I still get excited about “new record Tuesday” when I remember how that used to be a thing.


I was talking to my girlfriend about local Rock and Roll politics in my hometown scene. She recently moved here from her hometown, Berlin, where she worked a several years as a professional club DJ. Now she’s a couple hundred pages shy of a doctorate in history, and finishing it up here in the states. It just so happens her concentration (broadly speaking), is 20th century Europe, and I liked 20th century history so much, I all but minored in it – you needed 7 credits – I had 9, but they were plugged in the wrong way for me to get the minor.

Or was it you needed 5 and I had 7? Aren’t I supposed to be good at history…?

Our conversation was about the seemingly strange stagnation in the success of a local band I’d long since departed, that by any local barometer should be pretty successful in the scene by now. But they’re not – at least not as successful as they should be. They have the sound, the songwriting, the look, good shows at the right bars on the good nights, and the connections – they’re all even door guys or bartenders.

I explained their situation thusly, in the context of the more academic historical and political interests my girlfriend and I share – the band is too isolationist. And then, very satisfied with myself over this explanation, I took a long drag off my cigarette and realized that Rock and Roll bands are a lot like nation states. And so here we are.

Hey, you like Wikipedia, right? Yeah, me too.

The nation state is a state that self-identifies as deriving its political legitimacy from serving as a sovereign entity for a nation as a sovereign territorial unit. The state is a political and geopolitical entity; the nation is a cultural and/or ethnic entity.” (


The Rock and Roll Band is a group that self-identifies as deriving it’s musical legitimacy from serving as a defined, cohesive unit. The Rock and Roll Band is a musical and social entity.

Is everything about a nation state applicable to a Rock and Roll Band? No, of course not. But then, not everything about a nation state is applicable to a lot of nation states, either.

So it’ll do.

To repeat my premise: Rock and Roll bands are a lot like nation states. I’m going to try to explain how, as well as how this comparison might be usefully applied by any given band whether they’re seeking Rock and Roll hegemony, or just a good time in front of people other than their bored friends on a rainy Tuesday night downtown.

You say you want a revolution, indeed.


One Response to “The Rock Band as a Nation State”

  1. all4autotelic March 7, 2013 at 2:16 am #

    Totally thought provoking and interesting! Rock on.

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