I care about rock n’ roll, perhaps too much. Like Pete Townshend said, “Rock is very, very important and very, very ridiculous.”
Look at the charts now, read a magazine, or flip through the radio, and you’ll see that rock is done as a cultural force. Totally dead.
Sure, there’s Rolling Stone, but what young people really care about that?
Guitar-based groups are niche old-people music at best, and I lump myself into this group. Rock is just kinda-sorta still here because of nostalgia. Rock is an Anglo-American thing, so we’ll keep it around for tradition’s sake.
No one cares about it. It doesn’t capture the imagination anymore. Kids aren’t growing up dreaming of playing guitar. They want to rap or dance or sing pop stuff. And that’s fine. Everything changes. But it still makes me sad.
Of course rock is still there. And of course there is still “good”‘stuff. The barriers to entry are low and, thanks to the Internet, you can find whatever kind of music it is that you’re into. So it’s there, but it doesn’t matter.
Aside from the legacy “bigs,” who cares?
Why? How’d it get to this point?
I contend that it died from self-inflicted wounds. Like many forms of entertainment, a stultifying combination of political correctness, commoditization, and technological disruption ruined it. The freewheeling, anything goes 60s and 70s gave way to the slick 80s, the faux-rebellious 90s–reeked of manufactured authenticity–to the pretension-soaked indie 2000s and now the the whatever-you-call-them 2010s (the dead zone?).
Every big movement came from the ground-up: Acid rock. Punk. Prog. Hardcore. Grunge (at least, the Melvins). Hell, even the much-derided emo thing.
But one thing rock couldn’t do was escape its own ass.
The more mainstream it got, the more it got bland. With big money came the need to use it for something other than drugs and buy houses. Enter being “socially conscious.”
That is, pedantic.
That is, annoying.
That is, boring. A word that should never be associated with rock n’ roll.
Perhaps no decade exemplifies this more than the 90s. This 1991 awards show, featuring one of the two high-priests of rock pretension, R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe (the other being Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder) says it all:
Smarmy. Self-righteous. Lame.
Yes indeed, rock suffered from the same virus that’s choking sci-fi/fantasy, comic books, movies, and now video games: Cultural conformity, typically in the leftward direction.
I don’t need my music to be one way politically or the other. I’d just like it to not all be the same.
Read Pitchfork, for example. Music is judged on its socio-political impact as much, if not more, than the notes involved.
Radiohead has been ass for over a decade, but they’re still “vital” and “important.”
Rock music needs something like the Pulp Revolution that’s going on in sci-fi and fantasy.
No, not the band Pulp, though I wouldn’t mind seeing them come back as well. Now there was a band that thought for itself. Sneakily subversive. Just listen to “Common People” for a taste of what I mean:
Anyway, I think rock needs to go back to the anything-goes attitude that made it fun and rebellious and exciting in the first place. Skewer sacred cows. Shatter musical constraints. And crank up the fun over the “importance.”
You’re running around playing power chords and acting like you’re the next Beethoven or whatever while spouting PC-approved taking points. Get a grip.
What about fun? What about the things that made us human? What about poking holes in the establishment, instead of being establishment?
What about optimism?
What about weighty topics discussed intelligently?
And what about getting rid of the rules?
Maybe then it’ll have more of a cultural impact again.
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