Years ago I blogged some commentary on war from Randall Collins’ “Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory”. Since Agnostic recently wrote a post on music being inextricably linked to dance (Kevin Simler postulated an evolutionary origin of that, which I blogged here), it seemed like a good time to quote from a section near the end of chapter 7 (“Violence as Fun and Entertainment”) which followed a discussion of slam-dancing.

In conclusion, let us put this development in historical context. The surrounding audience focuses their attention upon the moshers, who become the Durkheimian sacred object at the center of the group’s attention space. This is one of a series of shifts in the center of attention in public entertainment events. Before the 1950s or 1960s, bands existed primarily so that male/female couples could dance to them. Dancers paid more attention to each other, and secondarily to who else was on the dance floor, than to the band; in the dance etiquette that prevailed until the rock n’roll revolution of the 1950s, there was a status hierarchy as to who was dancing and who was not (low status “wall-flowers”), and who would cut in on whom (marking the most popular dance partners). Even quite famous bands of the swing band era were treated merely as hired help who made the dancing possible, receiving their attention mainly in polite applause at the end of each dance tune.

As bands rose in status during the 1960s, couples dancing died out. Audiences clustered around the stage to get as close to famous bands as possible; or attended huge outdoor concerts where most sat on the ground or in distant seats. At most, a minority of individuals might stand and dance alone in their place, dancing consisting almost entirely of body swaying and arm movements, but without moving from place to place (which necessarily makes dancers pay attention to each other in order to avoid collisions). These solo dancers were not the centers of attention for the audience, and they all danced facing the band. (In contrast, during the jitterbug era of the 1940s, especially good dance couples would be given the entire floor, while the audience gathered around them and applauded.) Although records of popular bands were sold from the 1920s onward, it was in the 1960s and thereafter that bands and their star musicians became known above all as media figures, dominating their audiences in money, honor, and in the situational attention space.

Slam-dancers and mosh pits, appearing around 1980, revived dancing at concerts as a primary center of attention. They used the appearance of violence as a sure-fire attention-getter, trumping the bands’ rise to centrality.

Because this discussion focuses on 20th century American pop music, it doesn’t go into what Agnostic calls “divine” music, which I’d note is closely tied into classical. Classical music has been a source of pop music (including disco, as West Anthony pointed out in an attempt to argue against prog-preferring rockists like me), and fits more with Collins’ model of high-status musicians being appreciated by an audience which is not the center of attention. Aside from classical, another strain of music which went into progressive rock was jazz, but specifically in the more musician over dancer focused form which developed around the rock era. I could link to different examples of jazz, but instead I’ll use one of my favorite examples of blending an existing piece of “divine” music with an original rock song*, and fitting with Agnostic’s discussion of instruments it is partway through the latter that they switch from being a trio of guitarists to a duo with a drummer.

*I like long instrumental intros, and as that’s one of their few songs to have actual singing, it was also one of the few to have an “intro”, which here has yet another intro via the hymn.