I’m a Man: Sex, Gods and Rock ‘n’ Roll

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‘Ruth Padel’s brilliant, wide-ranging I’m A Man makes the connections between rock and myth absolutely plain,’ Ian Sansone, London Review of Books

‘She has earned a place on the high table of rock criticism alongside the likes of Greil Marcus. Eureka,’ Daily Telegraph

Published in 2000, this is a study of the complex influences of Greek myth on the development of rock music.

I’m a Man: Sex, Gods and Rock ’n’ Roll suggests that the maleness of rock and roll has its roots in Greek heroic myth. Ruth begins with the statue of Eros in London’s Piccadilly Circus, and ends with the myths of Eros and Psyche, Narcissus and Echo, Orpheus and Eurydice. In between, she investigates the complex love affair of white America with blackness and the blues, Greek imagery of inner darkness, the Fifties’ creation of teenage culture, the impact of Dionysus on the Sixties, differing attitudes in America and the UK to violence and to nature; and the effect of all this on the misogyny and the development of rock.

In Ian Rankin’s thriller A Question of Blood, this book provides the clue to the murderer. 

From reviews:

‘A personalized, vivid critique, written with mule-kick style and researched with obvious passion, of the history and meaning of popular music and the darker psychological suburbs of rock ‘n’ roll. The book spins round an intellectual axis; chapters on “cock in rock” are amusing; passages on the science and poetry of the bizarre rock rituals we all take for granted are original and beautifully expressed.’ Observer

‘Like Greil Marcus’s Mystery Train, Padel’s dissection of rock is an account of paradise lost. Her impassioned intelligence is admirable. She believes that “pop song is sung myth”: her mythological readings are startling and often revelatory.’ Times Literary Supplement

‘Bizarre as it sounds, Padel brings a poet’s insight and the training of a classicist to a book which examines why rock ’n’ roll and aggressive sexuality may be interdependent, and how this can be explained, in part, by ancient cultures. You think “Hang on Ruth, don’t be daft”, but you only have to conjure the Dionysian hysteria of girls at rock concerts to take her point. With imaginative ease, Padel leaps the deep ditches it pleases some people to dig between strands of our culture. Her analysis is never strident; she confronts the sex and violence in rock, more interested in how and why than denunciation. She describes how white music exploited black, scattering insights all the way like a rock diva blowing kisses at the crowd. On my shelf of rock criticism there are no books by women. Witty and intelligent, I’m A Man now takes its place beside Greil Marcus, Lester Bangs, Tom Wolfe and the rest – but it sends you back to CDs and the bookshelf with an excitement they cannot match.’ Bel Mooney, Times

‘A fascinating and provocative thesis: rock culture, whose discourse is normally controlled by insiders, viewed from the outside by someone fully capable of seeing the wood without getting too hung up on the trees. Padel uses classical mythology as the key to open the Pandora’s boxes that contain rock’s dirty secrets of race, class, nationhood and gender. Rock is a series of borrowed identities: Odysseus stands revealed as the prototype of the travellin’ man with ramblin’ on his mind, the archetypal rocker is unmasked as a plugged-in Prometheus, ‘Huck Finn with Jim inside’, the white thief of black fire.’  Charles Shaar Murrray, Independent

‘Dazzling on the misogyny at the heart of Sixties hippiedom and the difference between primitivism and racism, she has earned a place on the high table of rock criticism alongside the likes of Greil Marcus. Eureka.’ Caspar Llewellyn Smith, Daily Telegraph

‘Rare indeed is the book which retells the story of Aphrodite’s birth in the foam around Heaven’s castrated penis and interviews the editor of Mojo. One of the nice things is how Padel passes from Bob Dylan to Ronan Keating of Boyzone without a crunch of gears. The effect for rock is rather ennobling. You might have thought Mick Jagger was just a big wet narcissist. It turns out he’s a big wet narcissist with ancient roots. His narcissism really goes back.’ Giles Smith, Evening Standard

“From Orpheus with his lyre to Liam Gallagher and his leer, in 358 pages flat. Impressive? You betcha. Padel’s enthralling argument leaves you in no doubt that the ancient Greeks and modern rock stars did indeed emerge from the same primordial psycho-cultural swamp. Her thesis is devilishly simple. “Rock music began as phallus worship, is one of the most male arts of all time, and its stars embody the cultural values of Greek gods and heroes.” Jimmy Page, come on down – you’ve been sussed, and by a chick at that. It would be a mistake to interpret this as gender politics. Clearing up the role of women early on, Padel frees herself for her real quarry, the male rock star. If it all sounds a bit ever-so-clever, joining up the dots between Greek myth and rock music, there’s much more to it than that. Whether quoting the Iliad or Nick Hornby, Theseus or Springsteen, Padel has done both Greek myth and rock music a great service. You might think you don’t want to know how rock music “deals in Greek mythical ideals of relationship and quest, triumph, danger, and impersonation, but after a few chapters you’ll be sold.’ Irish Times

I’m A Man started out as a book about Greek myth, opera and women, and ended up as a book about Greek myth, rock music and masculinity. Let’s hope one day she’ll write the opera one, too,’ Hampstead and Highgate Express