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Both accounts of the music of the Rolling Stones offered in nlr 47 seem to evade the question of how good the songs are as music, by evaluating them according to external, non-musical values. Both adopt different kinds of moralistic approach towards them. Beckett’s a psychological one, Melton’s a political one. Speaking, for instance, of the Stones’ ‘celebration’ of sexual exploitation, Merton writes: ‘Nakedly proclaimed, (sexual) inequality is de facto denounced.’ What can de facto mean here, and who does the denouncing? Merton seems to mean that by presenting us with a blatant and undisguised statement of male domination and exploitation, which is usually expressed only in confused or concealed ways, the Stones give it to us in a form in which we can recognize it clearly for what it is, and so denounce it. There does not seem to be any grounds for assuming the Stones themselves, in their performance, adopt a critical attitude towards it. Merton’s interpretation of his experience of listening to the music according to his own perspective—in terms of a critique of the values of advanced industrial capitalist society—is quite extraneous to the music itself.
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