Monday, August 16, 2004
Milwaukee Miller Brewing is celebrating the "50th Anniversary of Rock 'n' Roll" with eight commemorative beer cans that feature Rolling Stone cover shots of Elvis Presley, Blondie and others.
What's missing, some say, is a black artist.
Robert Thompson, a professor of pop culture at Syracuse University, called the absence "beyond conspicuous," because black artists often are credited with inventing rock 'n' roll.
"It would be like doing a set of cans of six great Impressionist painters and not including any French people on it," he said. "It leaves out an enormous amount."
The promotion, which ties rock's anniversary to Presley's debut at Sun Studios, also depicts Alice Cooper, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and Willie Nelson, as well as the guitars of Eric Clapton and Joe Walsh, on cans being issued this summer by the brewer and the magazine.
Gary Armstrong, chief marketing officer for Rolling Stone publisher Wenner Media, said race wasn't a consideration.
"We didn't even consciously think pro or con, the same way that the only woman on there is Blondie. We just went with the people that we thought were appropriate," he said. "We went through (the covers) and said these people we don't think are appropriate, or wouldn't appeal to Miller drinkers."
Miller spokesman Scott Bussen said the company started with a broad wish list, but its choices were limited to Rolling Stone covers.
"I'm sure that our objective was to get as diverse a representation of musical acts as well as diversity," he said.
Armstrong noted that Rolling Stone wasn't around for the birth of rock 'n' roll -- it debuted in 1967. And some artists who appeared on its covers balked at being associated with a promotion involving alcohol.
"These are the artists that gave us approval to use their images on the beer cans," Miller spokeswoman Molly Reilly said.
Six of the initial 10 inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland in 1986 were black, including Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles and Little Richard.
Todd Mesek, the hall's senior marketing director, called African heritage "critical" to rock's development.
"Arguably all rock 'n' roll came from, or at least was greatly influenced by, African culture," Mesek said. "Rock 'n' roll came from R&B;, jazz, folk. All those genres before rock 'n' roll came together to birth rock 'n' roll."
William McKeen, chairman of the University of Florida journalism department and editor of the book "Rock and Roll is Here to Stay," called the list strange.
"I look at rock 'n' roll in racial terms. Rock 'n' roll is black America meeting white America," McKeen said. "It's about the merger of white people's music -- country -- with black people's music -- rural blues.
"I mean, sure, you can argue that Elvis opened the door, but then Chuck Berry and Little Richard and Bo Didley came through," he said.