Money Changes Everything

Theodor Adorno on the Progressive Potential of Rock Music

Disillusioned words like bullets bark As human gods aim for their mark Made everything from toy guns that spark To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark It's easy to see without looking too far That not much Is really sacred. -Bob Dylan, It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding), 1965

Anthony Cushman – b00412384 Contemporary Studies Program - Honours Thesis Thesis Advisor – Prof. Steven Boos March 2008

Table of Con ten ts

Introduction Theoretical Framework Theodor Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory Case Study The History of the Music Industry Conclusion Epilogue Digital Downloads and Industry Decline References



14 25

27 29

Introducti on
“The reality is, to me, I don’t really see it as a business. I’m still one of those people that see music as art, and maybe it’s really naïve, but maybe I’m the future”. -M.I.A., Singer-rapper Theodor Adorno’s skeptical conception of modern consumer society- dubbed ‘The Culture Industry’- is captured poetically in Bob Dylan’s It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding). The epic tune has been referred to as ‘the ultimate protest song’ because it expresses a general disapproval of the modern world. The lyrics are vigorously nihilistic, claiming that “It's easy to see without looking too far/ That not much/ Is really sacred” (Bob Dylan, It’s Alright, Ma, 1965). The narrator’s prime target is capitalism, specifically the way in which the system’s pragmatist ideology neutralizes all other values. Dylan suggests that instrumental reason subjects absolutes such as beauty to financial calculations, describing businessmen that “cultivate their flowers to be nothing more than something they invest in” (Ibid). The culture industry’s amoral manufacturing has “made everything from toy guns that spark/ To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark” (Ibid). Dylan is “disillusioned” (Ibid) by the “phony” (Ibid) commodity form that traditional values are reduced to and “Advertising signs that con you” (Ibid) by diverting from this fact. Adorno argues that the whole of culture is consumed by administration in this way. Like Dylan, he suggests that the problematic inherent in the culture industry is so deeply rooted that “there is no sense in trying” (Ibid) to displace it.

Adorno’s aesthetic theory is alternately hopeful and despondent: he is a strong believer in the social potential of art yet markedly pessimistic about its realization in

modern society. It’s Alright, Ma is a testament to the progressive content that Adorno believes to be inherent in aesthetics: the song steps back from society and offers a holistic critique of it, offering possible solutions to suggested problems. “By appearing to have a life of [its] own, [the work] of art [calls] into question a society where nothing is allowed to be itself and everything is subject to the principle of exchange” (Cook, 114). Dylan’s song is consistent with Adorno’s aesthetics because it is “autonomous, critical, and antithetical” (Culture and Administration, 118).

In so much as It’s Alright, Ma is essentially artistic, it also represents that which is threatened by the culture industry. Adorno describes modern society as a victim of a vicious cycle of conservatism: the delimiting of art is both a cause and symptom of the culture industry’s malady. Adornian theory dichotomizes society into two necessary elements- culture and administration. He suggests, however, that the latter’s inherent tendency towards expansion and domination renders the structure ultimately selfdefeating. For Adorno, the absence of art in society is the emblem of the culture industry.

Adorno has proven himself to be a prescient thinker: though his theory on massculture was composed early in the twentieth century, its contemporary relevance is becoming increasingly apparent. The intimate relationship between popular music and commerce is an ideal manifestation of Adornian theory. Though rock music was in its infancy at the time of the philosopher’s death, its growing connection to bureaucracy and simultaneous shift in content is consistent with the aesthetic lifecycle that the thinker illustrates.

Dylan’s It’s Alright, Ma is a quintessential example of the rebellious folk music that was being performed in a growing number of coffeehouses around Boston and New York in the early 1960s. By the 1970s, administrative interests transformed the art into a standardized collection of rock clichés. This thesis will argue that the history of rock music is a direct manifestation of Adornian aesthetic theory, providing examples of the way in which its aesthetics were radically compromised by industrial involvement. In doing so, the case study will suggest particular answers to Adorno’s questions concerning the potential for art within the culture industry.

Theoretical Framework Theodor Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory
“Decisions are made with the aim purely of serving a big company’s financial interests… It affects everything”. -Chris Martin, Coldplay Frontman “[Administration] is completely unrelated to the creative process, yet it imposes itself upon the artistic process”. -Win Butler, Arcade Fire Frontman

As a rule, critical theorists like Theodor Adorno do not make the most gracious of houseguests. Upon fleeing 1930s fascist Germany with a group of fellow Frankfurt School thinkers and arriving in the United States as an exile, the social philosopher immediately turned his shrewd eye on the consumerist culture of modern America. Adorno was greatly affected by the National Socialist’s systematic upheaval of Europe- a feeling evident in the strong sense of disillusionment and deep-rooted pessimism that pervades most of his philosophy. In his later work, Adorno stressed the lasting significance of the Holocaust, writing that “extreme situations are in themselves inseparable from the substantiality of everything cultural down to the present day” (CA, 120). Adorno viewed the atrocities as a betrayal of the metaphysical tradition’s search for rational totality. “Auschwitz”, he wrote, “confirmed the philosopheme of pure identity as death” (Negative Dialectics, 362). It was with this disposition that Adorno encountered an entirely distinct form of oppression in his new home in what he famously deemed ‘the culture industry’. “While Adorno nowhere identifies the culture industry with the political triumph of fascism, he does imply… that [its] effective integration of society marks an equivalent triumph of repressive unification in liberal democratic states to that which was achieved under fascism” (The Culture Industry, Introduction, 4). Though the

root and severity of oppression differed, America was akin to Nazi Germany in its subjugation of ‘integral freedom’.

While Adorno’s critical theory is relatively holistic, he is most interested in aesthetics. Accordingly, many of his most involved works are concerned with defining the social role of art and assessing its potential to produce social change. The thinker’s pessimism can be traced back to a central theory he developed- a problematic inherent in the capitalist system that threatens art’s autonomy: by virtue of its extreme organizational power, the corporation threatens to subsume not only its competitors but also the aesthetic realm itself. The phenomenon is a double-edged sword: not only is the culture industry oppressive in its own right, but its structure also undermines attempts at progressive social change.

To come to terms with Adorno’s case against capitalism, one must first examine the thinker’s aesthetic sensibilities- particularly his definition of art. Adorno’s aesthetic investigations are primarily concerned with Modern Art. As such, his conceptualizations are rooted in socially-minded expressionism. The thinker adopts the Kantian notion of art, evaluating it in terms of its ‘formal autonomy’. “In addition to being relatively independent of the market, a cultural good will also have to exhibit certain internal characteristics or features in order to be considered truly autonomous… Products of the culture industry would themselves have to undermine reification from within” (Cook, 113). Adorno’s conception of aesthetic independence is clarified in Culture and

Administration. As the essay’s title suggest, the thinker constructs a dualistic model in which modern society is demarcated by two opposing ideologies.

Administration- the first of the two elements- is essentially bureaucratic. As such, the realm is concerned with applying instrumental reason and intensive planning in order to produce what is most ‘useful’. In this sense, it relies on a ‘means-based’ rationality. Culture, on the other hand, is the title of that which is often referred to in modern society as ‘The Arts’. In contrast to its opposite, the cultural realm can be defined as that which exists as an ends in itself. If administration aims at producing that which is ‘useful’, culture rejoices in its ‘uselessness’. By taking on this role, “works of art recall the human purposes of production that instrumental rationality forgets” (Cook, 114). “Culture is viewed as the manifestation of pure humanity”, Adorno writes, “without regard for its functional relationship within society” (CA, 108). The philosopher goes on to argue that “[culture] stands in contrast to everything which serves the reproduction of material life, the literal self-preservation of the human being in general, and the needs of his mere existence” (CA, 108). As such, it is related to spontaneous activity, inherent in the creative process. Culture, Adorno writes, “would like to be higher and more pure, something untouchable which cannot be tailored according to any tactical or technical considerations” (CA, 108). The thinker suggests that culture and administration are diametrically opposed and fundamentally incommensurable.

Adorno argues the existence of a natural tension within society. Such “a twisted feeling of irreconcilability” (CA, 108) is a logical manifestation of the fundamental

difference between the two realms: “culture is opposed to administration” (CA, 108) and vice-versa. Ironically, this friction is a key indicator of social harmony.

Ideally, administration and culture should exhibit a complementary, self-sufficient relationship. The former is the necessary basis for a sustainable society, providing an organized system in which the basic needs of the citizen are met. In this sense it is the basis of society. Culture, on the other hand, makes life meaningful. Administration gives society form and structure whereas culture creates and implements social values.

Art takes on great significance in light of the above conception of culture. Adorno boldly casts art as that which is “autonomous, critical, and antithetical” (CA, 118). Aesthetic independence allows the artist to establish an objective critique of that which has been administered and the opportunity to challenge the status quo in his artwork. Art’s revolutionary potential fosters Theodor Adorno’s dedication to aesthetic theory. “That better things will make their way by virtue of their own power”, he writes dismissively, “is nothing but an edifying gingerbread slogan” (CA, 119).

While Adorno spends a great deal of time establishing art’s revolutionary potential, he is markedly pessimistic about its realization in modern society. While culture and administration can theoretically support one another, the inherent tendency of the latter towards expansion suggests that such a structure of society may be ultimately self-defeating. In his The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, founding sociologist Max Weber argues that “bureaucracies, following their own law, are destined

to expand” (CA, 109). The dominance of administration is directly related to the highly advanced level of organization and “purely technical superiority” (Weber, CA, 109) that drives the business model. “A fully-developed bureaucratic mechanism” Weber argues, “stands in the same relationship to other forms as does the machine to the nonmechanical production of goods” (Weber, CA, 109). Adorno takes the sociologist’s theory to its radical extreme, arguing that the natural proliferation of administration threatens to make culture obsolete. “The more firmly integrated [organizations] are”, he writes, “the greater is their prospect for asserting themselves in relation to others” (CA, 110). Adorno believes the culture industry to be an anomalous case of administrative domination.

It is in Adorno’s belief in art’s progressive potential that one can ascertain the real sense of tragedy inherent in its dissolution. In the idealized social structure offered by the philosopher, culture is the antithesis of administration. Among all of the opposing elements that exist between the two social spheres, the most pivotal exists in culture’s ability to construct counter-culture. For Adorno, the ‘truth content’ of a particular work of art exists in its relative ability to challenge unjust social norms and offer potential modes of change. “[Art]”, he writes, “involves an irrevocably critical impulse towards the status quo and all institutions thereof” (CA, 116). In so much as art is a critic, it is also a renegade- a revolutionary force with the potential to betray a given set of principles. Without culture, society lacks a meaningful sense of value and viable means for change. All that remains is a highly structured network of utilitarian calculations: The demand made by administration upon culture is essentially heteronomous: culture – no matter what form it takes – is to be measured

by norms not inherent to it and which have nothing to do with the quality of the object, but rather with some type of abstract standards imposed from without, while at the same time the administrative instance – according to its own prescriptions and nature – must for the most part refuse to become involved in questions of immanent quality which regard the truth of the thing itself or its objective bases in general (CA, 113). Adorno argues that, on a basic level, the absence of culture amounts to a fundamentally shallow existence. An even greater danger, however, lies in one’s subsequent inability to critically analyze and challenge potentially tyrannical forms of government.

The expansion of Administration does not result in the liquidation of culture, but in a clearance sale. As Adorno is quick to point out, bureaucratic forces are eager to mold art into ‘useful’ products: the culture industry systematically co-opts and commoditizes cultural artifacts, forcing them into the rigid framework of their opposite. They are “granted the space in which to draw breath immediately by that power against which [they] rebel” (CA, 118). Such devaluation preserves a hollow representation of art that is void of its defining characteristics: the products lack the autonomous, critical, and antithetical mark of aesthetics. “What are emancipated from formal law are no longer the productive impulses which rebelled against conventions. Impulse, subjectivity and profanation, the old adversaries of materialistic alienation, now succumb to it” (Regression, 32). Art is preserved by virtue of its ‘exchange-value’, namely its entertainment value. Adorno suggests that such devaluation is critical because it not only strips the work of its progressive potential, but also makes the consumer complacent by way of intoxication. Most strikingly of all, the customer is left with the illusion that artistic integrity is still intact. “In an effort to preserve a feeling of contrast to contemporary streamlining,” Adorno writes, “culture is still permitted to drive about in a

type of gypsy wagon; the gypsy wagons, however, roll about secretly in a monstrous hall, a fact which they do not themselves notice” (CA, 118).

In many ways, Adorno’s account presents artwork as a microcosm of society as a whole: a work of art must internalize a holistic account of complex social structures if it is to do them justice in its critique. Accordingly, autonomous artwork will exhibit the same ‘tension’ manifested in a dynamic social structure. While social friction is a reflection of the naturally opposing forces of culture and administration, the antagonistic core of Modern Art is reflective of its antithetical character: “it bears witness to the continuing antagonistic character of a world which is growing ever more unified” (CA, 113). Adorno argues that such unification is a mark of the homogeneity and subsequent loss of identity that logically follow the rise of the culture industry. Just as autonomous art expresses social tension, when subsumed by bureaucracy, it produces the same hollow echo of standardization as that which resonates across the whole of society.

The rise of the culture industry is a direct result of “the neutralization of culture” (CA, 117). Artwork is ruthlessly reified, stripped of any metaphysical significance, until all that remains is an aesthetic shell. “That which is so provokingly useless in culture”, Adorno explains, “is transformed into tolerated negativity or even into something negatively useful – into a lubricant for the system, into something that exists for something else, into untruth, or into goods of the culture industry calculated for the consumer” (CA, 117). Adorno argues that most ‘artwork’ consumed within modern society lacks aesthetic content. The thinker suggests that once a work of art is exposed to

the instrumental reasoning inherent in modern capitalism it surrenders its artistic integrity.

Herein lies a paradox- one that Adorno is painfully aware of. He acknowledges the fact that the modern artist (and perhaps art in general) depends on various administrative institutions to convert his abstract creation into a work that may be accessed by a particular audience: “Yet, at the same time, art denounces everything institutional and official” (CA, 117). While Adorno does not wholly discount the potential for a society in which art is reified without sacrificing its autonomy, it is clear that modern America is by and large incapable of achieving such a feat. Instead, Adorno would argue that citizens of modern consumerist society are fed a continuous barrage of romantic comedies and celebrity gossip until they are too stuffed to fathom that anything is even missing.

While Adorno’s critical theory is comprehensive enough to be applied to any number of media (and has been by his many followers), the German philosopher was known for his great passion for music and focused his aesthetic inquiry accordingly. The philosopher came from a wealthy German family that shared a common love for music. His mother and sister were both accomplished musicians and offered the young pianist encouragement and training. Though Adorno spent much of his adolescence focused on academics, his fascination with music grew as he continued to develop as an amateur musician. After completing his doctorate in Philosophy, he leapt at the chance to study under renowned composer Alban Berg. He later wrote that his teacher’s music “is

without force, tangible and fatal like a wine; that comprises its true modernity” (Adorno, Alban Berg, 29). Adorno would go on to acquaint himself with Berg’s mentor Arnold Schoenberg. The composer would become the thinker’s greatest influence, both in music and philosophy. Schoenberg is best known for his atonal expressionism and pioneering of the ‘twelve-tone system’- a progressive compositional method consisting of the manipulation of all twelve possible notes into a variety of formations. A musical genius that challenged aesthetic and social boundaries, Arnold Schoenberg is considered to be one of the most influential musicians of the twentieth century. For Adorno, the composer’s work was the example par excellence of Modern Art. Not only was Schoenberg’s music the source of profound philosophical inspiration; his compositions represented a glimmer of hope that the modern artist could survive in the culture industry.

While Adorno wrote extensively on the popular music of the early-to-mid nineteenth century, the dramatic transformation of pop-music that has occurred since then- a technological and administrative shift that the thinker could scarcely have imagined- complicates modern application of his theory. Among his most notable essays on the subject, On the Fetish Character of Music and Regression in Listening was published in 1938 and concerns itself with classical music. Though the piece elegantly expresses the ‘regression’ that Adorno claims to have taken place within the particular genre, other styles of music are arguably affected by the same phenomenon in radically different ways. Accordingly, when applying Adorno’s ‘regression’ to a contemporary context, his critique of musical form is less relevant than his investigation into a perceivable change in content: while differing historical and technological conditions

have dramatically altered the particularity of compositions, the concerns of the listener (and society as a whole) remain relatively constant. Adorno opens the essay by remarking on the innate appeal of music in its variety of forms: “Complaints about the decline of musical taste”, he writes, “begin… [with] mankind’s twofold discovery, on the threshold of historical time, that music represents at once the immediate manifestation of impulse and the locus of its taming” (Regression, 29). This universal conception of music will be presumed in this paper when discussing its divergent forms.

In the context of the rise of Rock and Roll- a musical movement that was blossoming at the time of the philosopher’s death- Adorno’s critique offers an astoundingly articulate manifesto for the music’s infantile progressive aspirations. Furthermore, the awkward relationship between culture and administration that Adorno constructed is fully realized in the bureaucratic force that has threatened rock music’s authenticity since its birth. This paper will use the collision of rock music and commerce as a case study to argue the profundity, modern significance, and far-reaching application potential of Theodor Adorno’s aesthetic theory. At the same time, Adorno’s prescient theory offers compelling insight into the modern musician’s continuous struggle for authenticity in the culture industry.

Case Study The History of the Music Industry
“There’s something about music when it’s on the street level. It’s the only way you can build up subcultures and have manifestos to believe in and lifestyles and ideologies… It’s going to make me sound old, but music had more in it back in the day, and it was more open and reflective and interesting. Now it’s one dimensional and market driven”. -M.I.A., Rapper-singer Bob Dylan’s melodic proclamation that ‘the times they are a changin’ became the manifesto of a cultural revolution. Echoing the political disillusionment shared by a growing number of young Americans, the enigmatic poet directed a barrage of rhetorical questions at his audience: “How many years can a mountain exist/ Before it's washed to the sea?/ Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist/ Before they're allowed to be free?” (Bob Dylan, Blowin’ in the Wind, 1963). The concerns struck a chord with the bohemian crowd. They responded in an overwhelming wave of political activism that expressed their dissatisfaction with modern society and intent to provoke social change.

But the burgeoning counter-culture of 1960’s America was not only convinced that ‘a change was gonna come’, they shared the Adornian notion that “the productive [impulse] that [rebels] against convention” (Regression, 32) could manifest itself in their music. Deborah Cook writes that “Adorno insisted very early in his work that the task of music as art was to express… the exigency of the social situation and to call for change through the coded language of suffering’” (Cook, 109). The belief had been exemplified in the music of the previous decade: the birth of Rock and Roll had advanced the Civil Rights Movement, its Blues-based style provoking the integration of Black artists in popular music (and by extension, stimulating racial integration throughout society).

Inspired by the progression that had already been made through popular music, 60’s youth were optimistic that their music could do the same. In the local coffeehouses of Boston and New York, college kids started a folk-revival that transposed its traditional aesthetic to reflect modern political concerns: “For fifty cents you could buy a mug of coffee and hang out all night talking, reading, playing chess, or listening to the students who brought along their guitars and banjos” (Mansion, 3). Their protest songs expressed liberal concerns like the war in Vietnam and the nihilistic elements of modern capitalist society. In accordance with Adornian theory, the movement was relatively detached from administration, giving it the independence necessary for rebellion: “[The] approach and message held a growing appeal and veracity for many young intellectuals and middleclass college students who were increasingly uneasy with the country’s postwar consumer society” (Mansion, 4). The movement was epitomized in 1969 at Woodstockwhen half a million likeminded fans gathered at the festival to celebrate a shared belief in the revolutionary potential of their music.

As the decade drew to a close, however, a cynicism began to overshadow the peace movement: while Hendrix was jamming at Woodstock, newly elected President Richard Nixon was expressing his lack of sympathy for the counter-culture’s aspirations. Under the new leadership, police brutality at political protests escalated and an increase of troops were sent overseas to Vietnam. The developments made many hippies wonder whether their dream of peace had actually been a hallucination: while the 60’s had seen an unprecedented outcry for social change, the counterculture seemed as though they were further than ever from achieving their goals. The changing mood was present in the

music, which no longer contained the same progressive messages: “Nothing in the street looks any different to me” (The Who, Won’t Get Fooled Again, 1971) sang The Who’s Pete Townshend, reflecting upon the naiveté and sense of betrayal that overshadowed the ‘flower power’ of the previous decade: “Pick up my guitar and play/ Just like yesterday/ Then I’ll get on my knees and pray/ We don’t get fooled again” (Ibid).

While a divergence in pop-music’s content became blatantly obvious as the 70s progressed, one could argue that the change had less to do with the new political climate and more to do with the increased industrialization of the music itself. The notion is the central thesis of Fred Goodman’s book The Mansion on the Hill, a historical account of the rise of the music industry. “The power of the music and the broad, romantic appeal of the underground scene”, Goodman writes, “was… transformed into a marketable commodity… [that] had nothing to do with promoting counterculture” (Mansion, 183). The author argues that by the 70’s, Rock and Roll had been appropriated by industry and remodeled as a highly specialized mechanism designed to produce commercially successful music: Monetarily, the marriage of the music and the business was an extraordinary success. But artistically and socially, it was a complete reversal of the values that had spawned the music. The underground scene started in earnest when rock assumed the mantel of meaning and intent from folk music, and it was founded on a search for authenticity and an explicit rejection of consumerism and mainstream values. But the resonance and appeal of that message had proven broad enough to supply the impetus for a new business- and that business had taken on a life of its own (Mansion, 306). For Adorno, the expanse of administration that Goodman describes necessarily results in the impotence of music: culture is the essence of social reform. When its formal

autonomy is violated by administrative expansion, it is stripped of its progressive potential. Adornian theory thus suggests that pop-music’s general disengagement from progressive ideals following the 1960’s was not a response to an increasingly oppressive political climate. Instead, Adorno would argue, oppressive political conditions are indicative of a society in which art, and by extension culture as a whole, is obstructed by administration. For Adorno, a lack of progressive music suggests that no music is being created at all. He would argue that contrary interpretations are based on the misconceived notion that commoditized products contain the essential properties of the work of art. Goodman’s account is consistent with this Adornian notion.

The modern music industry serves as a strikingly faithful microcosm of Theodor Adorno’s culture industry- in fact, it was a manifestation he often referenced to exemplify his theory. The culture industry, Adorno suggests, “has developed formulas… [for] musical entertainment” (Mansion, 105). Goodman spends much of his book expounding this theory, going into great detail about the high level of forethought and organization within the music business. “In all [the culture industry’s] branches”, Adorno writes, “products which are tailored for consumption by masses, and which to a great extent determine the nature of that consumption, are manufactured more or less according to a plan” (Culture Industry Reconsidered, 98). In doing so, the system fixes its gaze on precisely that which is non-essential to the artwork: “The entire practice… transfers the profit motive naked onto cultural forms” (CIR, 99). For Goodman, this is precisely what unfolded in the popular music of the 1960s, as musicians were hired by record labels that were admittedly “concerned not just with the question of whether a recording [is] good,

but why it [succeeds] or [fails] with the public” (Mansion, 275). The book chronicles the intensifying affinity of popular music and industry, the awkwardness and complexity of their relationship, and the effect it has on the music itself.

Goodman’s anecdotes about musicians struggling with their managers’ agendas substantiate the Adornian notion that “the autonomy of works of art… [are] tendentially eliminated by the culture industry” (CIR, 99). While the form of the product tends to mimic its former self, its aesthetic content is dissolved: “It does not strictly counterpose another principle to that aura, but rather… it conserves that aura as a foggy mist” (CIR, 102). Goodman believes the same to be true of the modern music industry. He cites numerous examples of artists whose integrity was compromised by commercial interests, altering progressive content in accordance with the status quo. The author reduces this conformity to the listener’s preference for that which is familiar, a symptom of Adorno’s ‘regression of listening’. “The blending of aesthetics… leads art… not to its rightful position [of] opposition”, Adorno writes, “…but rather in a variety of ways to the defense of its baneful social consequences” (CIR, 102). He argues that a depreciation of artistic content is analogous to a standardization of its form. All things considered, Goodman’s The Mansion on the Hill is a strong exemplification of Adorno’s theory, particularly its detailed account of the way in which the industrialization of music degrades its aesthetic content.

Overtly commercial music is the object of ceaseless satirical pop-culture references: “Jesus, man, could you change the channel?” The Cohen Brothers’ The Dude

memorably pleads from the back seat of a cab before being forcefully ejected by its offended driver. “…I had a rough night and I hate the fuckin’ Eagles, man!” (The Big Lebowski). The Eagles have become synonymous with the spiritually void ‘Corporate Rock’ of the 1970’s. The band’s music was the product of meticulous standardization. Adorno would have found The Eagles’ commercial success to be symptomatic of a regression to a homogenous musical wasteland. “Everything [in the music industry] is so completely identical”, Adorno writes, “that preference in fact depends merely on biographical details or on the situation in which things are heard” (Regression, 30). Standardization is positively correlated with record sales because “the familiarity of the piece is a surrogate for the quality ascribed to it” (Ibid). Adorno argues that commoditized music is simplified in much the same way so that it makes for easily digestible consumption.

Record executives of the 1970s based their business model on Adorno’s theory, gradually perfecting a formula for producing profitable acts that necessarily lacked progressive content. In the case of The Eagles, Atlantic Records carefully constructed a model for success, including a pre-planned image that adopted cliché rock aesthetics: “The songwriters honed a metaphor The Eagles would use to great advantage in their career: rock and roll as an outlaw lifestyle” (Mansion, 238). The extensive role of administration in manufacturing Corporate Rock- relatively extreme in the case of The Eagles- is an explicit product of Adorno’s culture industry. For proof of the music’s resulting banality: play Desperado.

The Eagles are just one of many bands that illustrate Adorno’s theory on the tendency of commoditized artwork to masquerade as its virtuous counterpart. “By concealing or disguising their reification, some modern artwork also subverts it; they undermine the reifying effects of standardization, pseudo-individualism, stereotypes and schemata” (Cook, 114). This administered deception further complicates matters, as it becomes quite difficult to identify prevailing authentic works among a wash of corporate imitations. “The scope and reach of the business often make it impossible to tell what is done for art and what is done for commerce- which calls into question the music’s current ability to convey the artistic intent that made it so appealing and different to begin with” (Mansion, xii).

Then again, some cases are more obvious than others. Adorno argues that typical commodities fail to disguise their entanglement with administration and “do not pretend to have any value apart from that of exchange” (Cook, 114). “If the album [The Eagles’ Desperado] struck many critics as contrived, coming as it did from a group that was straightforward about its commercial aspirations, the view eventually found great resonance with fans” (Mansion, 238). As Adorno writes, public reaction was “split between the prescribed fun which is supplied to [fans] by the culture industry and a not particularly well-hidden doubt about its blessings” (CIR, 103).

By the 1980’s, rock music had splintered into so many disparate yet uninspired subgenres that incessant journalistic claims regarding the ‘essence of rock’ became increasingly obscure. “These rapid stylistic changes reflect an essential feature of

modernity itself - all that is solid melts into air- and are reinforced by the vicissitudes of musical production in the capitalist marketplace” (Cook, 43). That being said, growing administrative involvement within ‘the music industry’- a new colloquial term whose prevalent usage implied the two were now inseparable- had left a definite imprint on the content of music and the corresponding image of the musician. While Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman made a conscious decision to refer to his client as an artist, and with good reason, one could not apply the title to the bulk of modern ‘pop-stars’ without evoking a sense of irony. While the folk singers of the 60’s were epitomized by their poetic reserve, progressive aspirations, and disdain for mass-culture, the modern ‘Rockstar’ is a caricature of greed, excessive consumption, reckless abandon, and ambivalent attitude towards social issues. “By the late seventies… the record companies had succeeded to such an extent that the modern rock scene became the antithesis of what it had originally aspired to be” (Mansion, 306). The tendency of commoditized art to take on administrative qualities is a double-edged sword: not only is it stripped of its progressive potential, it now serves to reinforce the status-quo. Adorno argues this subversion of content to be symptomatic of the culture industry.

As Goodman astutely deduces, “the problem [is] that the music no longer [drives] the business, the business drives the music” (Mansion, 306). The quote reads as an expression of the danger that Adorno described in Culture and Administration: while art requires the limited involvement of administration in order to be produced and distributed, there is an inherent threat that presents itself when culture and administration come in contact with one another. Adorno argues that the organizational model will

necessarily expand to the point at which it violates culture’s aesthetic autonomy, eventually swallowing it up, and then spitting it out as commodity- a pitiful parody of its former self. Such is certainly the case for the music industry Goodman describes in The Mansion on the Hill: rock music was originally independent of commerce (in the 60’s folk-revival) but was harnessed by entrepreneurs as soon as its mass appeal became evident. Popular music was then subjected to an increasing level of standardization and organization, until many artists became too overwhelmed by foreign commercial interests to retain their artistic aspirations.

“It’s okay as long as it stays out of the way and it helps” Bruce Springsteen once said reticently. “Otherwise [it’s] got me freaked out… I get upset sometimes, you know- I just don’t wanna go and get lost in a bunch of stuff that don’t mean nothing to me” (Mansion, 302). A musician whose professed ambivalence to business led him to sign contracts without even reading them, Springsteen was acutely aware of the conflicting interests pervading the music industry. When he first started playing, his absolute refusal to compromise authenticity for commercial success frustrated pragmatic record execs to no end: when attempting to choose a final cut of his song The River, Columbia A&R man Peter Philbin explains, the rocker played him 17 different mixes of the song. “And then Bruce goes, ‘Now which one is better?’ Which one is better? Hey, flip a coin!” (Mansion, 333). The anecdote fits well into Adorno’s account of the awkward relationship between culture and administration. “[Administration] lives parasitically”, he writes, ”without regard for the obligation of the internal artistic whole implied by its functionality, but also without concern for the laws of form demanded by aesthetic autonomy” (CIR, 101).

Springsteen’s delicate relationship with record executives is reflective of Adorno’s notion of the irreconcilability of art and business. The realms are based on two fundamentally distinct ideologies, incommensurable modes of thought, and opposing value systems.

The foreign logic of administration persistently nags the artist to surrender himself: “We’ve got at least five big records here” Springsteen’s manager Jon Landau insists. “Now all we have to do is cleverly stage them, the sequence of them, the touringand nobody tours better than [you] Bruce- and basically put together a two-year plan” (Mansion, 342). Born in the U.S.A.’s title track- profound disillusionment with the American dream, juxtaposed with a hauntingly patriotic refrain- expresses Springsteen’s ambiguous relationship to American consumer culture, its inherent tension, and the paradoxical pursuit of authenticity: “You end up like a dog that's been beat too much/ Till you spend half your life just covering up” (Bruce Springsteen, Born in the U.S.A.).

Goodman’s cynical portrayal of the modern music industry evokes Adornian critical theory. Using Springsteen as a prime example, the author argues that even the most grounded artists will eventually become worn-down by a barrage of bureaucratic demands. Goodman suggests that Springsteen eventually compromised his artistic autonomy. Born in the U.S.A. (1984) marked a departure from the rockstar’s earlier work: the tracks were shorter, less experimental, and dealt in rock cliché rather than social critique. “Born in the U.S.A. wasn’t undertaken to question authority or the supremacy of commercialism but to achieve it. It now spoke for the aspirations of rock” (Mansion, 351).

While Springsteen’s capitulation could simply lead to his being discarded amongst fellow victims of the culture industry, his prodigious devotion to Adornian aesthetic ideals raises far greater questions: Can the artist survive in the culture industry? Is it still possible to create genuine art in modern society? While Adorno does not explicitly deny the potential for art within the culture industry, he is decidedly pessimistic about the prospect of creation within the given context. Goodman shares a similar belief: “It is possible to both achieve commercial success and rise above it”, he maintains, “but… it requires an absolute faith and focus in the intrinsic value of the work itself rather than smart career moves” (Mansion, xiii).

“The authenticity, originality and truthfulness of music is not like it was. The big corporations… [aren’t] concerned with discovering the revolutionaries and poets that I [have] admired. In today’s commercial radio and recordings, there’s no risk, there’s no sense of discovery, and people are trying as much as they can to sound alike”. -Perry Ferrel, Jane’s Addiction and Satellite Party Frontman

‘Songs can't save the world’ Bob Dylan once said. ‘I've gone through all that’. Popular music has gone through it as well. As Goodman argues in The Mansion on the Hill, the content of rock is drastically different than it was back in the 1960’s. By presenting the history of the genre from the point of view of the industry- an angle fans hardly ever get a glimpse of- the extreme level of planning, organization, and administration that is involved in modern musical production is revealed. By contrasting the folk-revival with Corporate Rock, Goodman is able to persuasively argue that the tangible shift away from progressively-minded music that has occurred is directly related to its escalating integration with business. The author’s case is reinforced by Adornian aesthetic theory. For Adorno, the rise of the music industry is synonymous with the dilution of the modern work of art.

The question of whether Adornian art can exist within modern consumer society remains unanswered. Both Adorno and Goodman passionately believe in the revolutionary potential of music but are pessimistic about its ability to remain authentic in the culture industry. Goodman suggests that if anything, the problem is getting worse. Adorno, who argues that administration has a tendency to expand at an exponential rate, supports his position. Accordingly, music is now a billion-dollar industry churning out

popular music that exhibits a whole new level of standardization. “I think it’s happened and nobody knows the difference” (Mansion, 352), says Dylan. “The great folk music and the great rock & roll, you might not hear it again. Like the horse and the buggy” (Ibid).

Epilogue Digital Downloads and Industry Decline
“It seems like [the music industry is truly dying], and I don’t find it particularly sad”. -Jeff Tweedy, Wilco Frontman. “I don’t think the love of music is thanks to the record industry… I guess what I mean is I don’t think we’re going to lose music”. -Dave Matthews, Dave Matthews Band Frontman

Since Goodman’s book was published in the late 90s, the music industry has undergone yet another dramatic transformation- a revolution that has the potential to authenticate art in the culture industry. For the first time since the emergence of Rock and Roll, the business has faced a significant decline, largely the result of technological advancement. While digital downloading has arisen as a popular medium for purchasing music, it fails to offset the loss inflicted by non-commercial ‘file-sharing’ over the Internet. The contentious development offers an interesting scenario to examine in terms of Theodor Adorno’s critical theory.

Whereas 60’s youth rebelled against consumerism through the content of their music, the present generation is taking a more direct approach. Studies estimate that over 60 million people have downloaded songs illicitly, the major offenders being tech-savvy youth. Industry representatives have stated that rampant ‘piracy’ is not an ideological protest against materialism but rather a case of individuals exploiting an opportunity to steal. While this may very well be the case, file-sharing has already proven itself to be an effective means of resisting the industrial production of music. Whereas political activism may have served this function in the past, downloading is a much more forceful course of

action. While the ethics of file-sharing may be debatable, the effect on the music industry is certain.

Music downloading is reversing the expansion of administration that Adorno references in his theory: the commoditization of music relies on the presumption that music is a ‘useful’ product that can be exchanged in the marketplace. Basic economic theory states that if there is no longer consumer demand for music it will cease to be produced commercially. The decline of the music industry would directly affect the form and content of popular music: while record executives caution that downloading could ultimately lead to the extinction of the musician, Adorno would make the opposite claim. He would argue that artists that continued to make music would necessarily be those genuinely concerned with the creation of art. The survival of modern poets and authorsstarving artists that create as an end in itself- is living proof of Adorno’s claims. Furthermore, the decline of the music business would see that commercial interests are no longer challenging the musician’s aesthetic values. Adorno would conclude that the death of the industry would greatly increase the potential for the creation of art within the culture industry.

The decline of the industry of music, many conclude, is essentially based on a generation’s belief that ‘music should be free’. And while most teens downloading the new Kanye West album will certainly never have heard of the Frankfurt School, the credo seems to be consistent with Theodor Adorno’s critical theory.

1. Dylan, Bob. "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)." Bringing It All Back Home. Perf. Bob Dylan. Columbia Records, 1965. 2. Cook, Deborah. The Culture Industry Revisited: Theodor W. Adorno on Mass Culture. Maryland, USA: Roman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1996. 3. (CA) - Adorno, Theodor, "Culture and Administration." Bernstein, J. M., ed. The Culture Industry. New York, NY: Routledge, 2006. 4. Adorno, Theodor. Negative Dialectics. USA: Continuum International Publishing Group, 1983. 5. Bernstein, J.M., "Introduction." Bernstein, J. M., ed. The Culture Industry. New York, NY: Routledge, 2006. 6. (Regression) - Adorno, Theodor, "On the Fetish Character in Music and the Regression of Listening." Bernstein, J. M., ed. The Culture Industry. New York, NY: Routledge, 2006. 7. Adorno, Theodor W., and Alban Berg, "Alban Berg." Lonitz, Henri, ed. Correspondence 1925-1935. USA: Polity, 2005. 8. Dylan, Bob. "Blowin’ in the Wind." The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Perf. Bob Dylan. Columbia Records, 1963. 9. Goodman, Fred. The Mansion on the Hill. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1998. 10. Townshend, Pete. "Won't Get Fooled Again." Who's Next. Perf. The Who . MCA Records, 1971. 11. (CIR)- Adorno, Theodor, "Culture Industry Reconsidered." Bernstein, J. M., ed. The Culture Industry. New York, NY: Routledge, 2006. 12. Cohen, Ethan, and Joel Cohen. The Big Lebowski. Dir. Joel Cohen. DVD. Polygram Filmed Entertainment, 1998. 13. Springsteen, Bruce . "Born in the U.S.A." Born in the U.S.A. Perf. Bruce Springsteen. Columbia, 1984. 14. Header Quotes: "The Future of Music." Rolling Stone, Issue 1039 10 Nov. 2007.