To what should we attribute the death of Rock and Roll?
Is it the rise of dj (lowercase deliberate) culture and its insipid use of prepackaged sounds?
Perhaps we could blame the phenomenon of live music venues closing due to poor attendance, and the pesky noise complaints of apartment owners with their gym memberships?
Maybe music itself is no longer popular unless it encourages people to have sex?
Perhaps all of these are in some way true. But I would venture to suggest that the main reason rock and roll has suffered a significant loss in appeal (at least in popular culture) is less to do with the menacing forces of external enemies and more to do with the fact that it has become a victim of its own cliches, and everyone just kind of got bored as a result.
We are all probably familiar with the sex, drugs and rock and roll maxim, so I don’t need to go over it here in too much detail. What I find curious is how the aesthetic elements of Rock and Roll have come to be considered its essence, and its essence (i.e. the music) as only of secondary importance. If you can’t write a good song that’s cool, provided you have the arrogance of someone who can. If you can’t write a good song, that’s cool, provided you can get smashed with the best of them every weekend. If you can’t write a good song, that’s cool, provided you can bang heaps of chicks at gigs. If you can’t write a good song, that’s cool provided you have tattoos. I could go on.
I have been to countless gigs (I can’t name names, but would love to do so) in which band members and punters alike swagger around the venue in a vain attempt to out-rock everyone else. It is an incredibly interesting thing to watch, both comedic and more than faintly pathetic. This is particularly the case with older rockers, who have somehow subscribed to the idea that if you are a rock and roller you can’t really be interested in pursuing anything else, and therefore have to cling to the dregs of some rock star fantasy that may have only been faintly possible some 20 years ago. If rock music was around in Kierkegaard’s time, he may well have used one of its representative musicians as a case study in the often ridiculous nature of a life built on the aesthetic; the external. Even Pete Townshend- always one to believe in the transforming power of rock- knew by the late 70’s that the theatrics and indulgence of the rock star persona he had helped create needed to morph into something else were he to survive and evolve as an artist. He has written frequently of the disgust he felt at gigs when a well-meaning punter would constantly yell for him to smash his guitar, as if this was the sum total of what his compositions were designed for,.
None of what I have written here is new or in anyway enlightened, and I guess this piece functions more as a lament for me, because the power of Rock and Roll music to inspire deep feeling, as opposed to the posturing it seems to have become, appears to have been lost. And this makes me profoundly sad. This is not always the case, of course. There are many exceptions. I suspect that what has happened in the world of rock music also mirrors wider societal trends of a bizarre inversion of values, whereby the mediocre is considered the exceptional (or at least the normal) and vice versa. I also sincerely acknowledge the deeply subjective nature of such opinions. However, in a world in which Nickelback are one the top selling ‘rock’ acts in the world, one can at least ask some searching questions….