Rebels Wit Attitude


Iain Ellis

Publication Year




Soft Skull Press

Rebels Wit Attitude: Subversive Rock Humorists Paperback – December 1, 2008

by Iain Ellis

Rock music has been the principal outlet of youth rebellion for more than half a century, and though rock rebels have been idolized and profiled extensively, their humor has not been at the center of attention. In Rebels Wit Attitude, music writer Iain Ellis throws a spotlight on the history of humor in rock music, and its use as a weapon of anti-establishment rebellion. The performers who are the subjects of Ellis’ study are not merely musicians or comedians—they are artists whose works exude defiance and resistance. Discussing the work of iconic figures as diverse as Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, the Beastie Boys, and Madonna, Ellis reveals how issues of politics, ethics, race, and gender, among others, have energized their expressions of rock (and) humor. Rebels Wit Attitude is an entertaining look at some of the greatest rebels in American rock culture and a fascinating history of humor and dissent.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Ellis, academic and avowed arrested adolescent, traces the history of humorous rebellion in American rock from the 1950s (Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins) to the 1990s (Eminem, Nirvana, Marilyn Manson), in sections on “Bawdy Women” (e.g., Big Mama Thornton, Wanda Jackson), rap, and sundry other designations. The anecdotes and insights are rich and plentiful, but with those come such tidbits of rumination as, “Post-irony . . . is not a fixed determinant but a broad field with gradations of humor,” and similarly scintillating declamations—despite which, Ellis knows his rock humorists. His distillation of Frank Zappa’s integration of “scathing humor and sustained satire” into all aspects of his music cites the time Zappa invited some stateside marines on stage to dismember dolls during the Vietnam War. They enthusiastically obliged. Madonna, Dylan, the Ramones, and bubblegum as a precursor to punk are among Ellis’ other specific subjects. Despite the occasional dreary academic expostulation, good enough for general-interest rock lit collections, excellent for episodic reading. –Mike Tribby

Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Soft Skull Press (December 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1593762062
  • ISBN-13: 978-1593762063
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces

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