June 4, 2010

Insurance provider Saga knows exactly how to rock the old folks’ world. Like foreigners, those over 50 respond best when you speak loudly and clearly. It helps of course to throw in slogans like “Doing things properly” (with its implied subtext: not like young people nowadays).

Acutely attuned to old’uns instinctive suspicion of all things modern, the Saga website now features a nostalgic overview of the days when men were men, and cars were cars, and Cliff Richard passed for a rock and roll rebel.

“The 1950’s” Saga recalls in a ‘sentence’ omitting any verb but throwing in an entirely gratuitous grocer’s apostrophe, “the decade that the teenager was born and Elvis Presley rocked the world,” going on to sympathise with older motorists who must surely “remember with fondness when you paid for car insurance in pounds shillings and pence.”

Ah, the cars of that glorious decade, Saga reminds us:

The 1955 MGA, whose “robust little 1598cc engine” propelled it to a “respectable 100mph” and on to an exciting future as an individual or business entity appointed by an insurer to solicit applications from agents for insurance contracts or to negotiate insurance contracts on behalf of an insurer and, if authorised to do so by an insurer, to effectuate and countersign insurance contracts.

Or what about those rock and roll icons the Ford Anglia, the Morris Minor, and the Triumph Herald? What about them indeed! Or the Rover P5, a car named – depending on who you believe – after either a Russian anti-shipping missile or a German pistol, which was capable of achieving a “very respectable 100mph?”

Or the rocking Mercedes 300 SL, Alfa 1900, or Fiat 500? Or indeed the Chevrolet Bel Air, a car so famously rocksome that “it is up there with Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Al’s Diner” – and, no doubt, with other 50s-related people or things young people in marketing seem to recall having heard about at some point.

Say, what you like, but those cars really rocked! So come on, old-timers, now that we’ve established a sense of common values, how about buying some age-appropriate car insurance?

Insurers’ attempts to associate themselves with rock and roll have a long and proud tradition, with Swiftcover merely the latest triumphant instalment. But rock and insurance make uneasy bedfellows and it’s an association that needs careful handling.

The phrase rock and roll derives from censorship-avoiding references in early R&B to the physical exertions involved in the act of sexual congress, as in rockin’ and a rollin’ all night long, my baby likes to rock, good rockin’ woman/mama or man/daddy, love the way you rock me, etc. etc.

As white performers assimilated black musical influences, the identification of rock with another popular Anglo-Saxon word ending in ck tended to become obscured. DJ Alan Freed then appropriated and popularised the euphemism rock n’ roll (later contracted simply to rock) as the accepted label for the musical genre within which its use so frequently occurred.

Whilst artists such as the late Michael Jackson appear to have retained a pretty clear understanding of rock’s original meaning – as in I wanna rock with you, rock the night away etc. (although: Rockin’ Robin?) others fell into using the word as an all-purpose allusion to a lifestyle choice involving some combination of musical performance, dancing, rebelling, being ‘cool’ and generally having a good time.

Substituting one four-letter ck word for another in the titles or lyrics of popular music provides the basis for an endlessly entertaining parlour game. Queen’s we will, we will rock you refrain, for instance, appears in a wholly different light. Rock the Casbah, for those about to rock, crocodile/jailhouse rock?

Was sweaty old Bill Hailey really capable of rocking around the clock? And what exactly do they teach at Rock School? You get the general idea.

So next time you advise an acquaintance: Dude, you rock; rock on, Tommy; car insurance rocks, or whatever – just consider the implications.


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