By Doug Walker, edited by Sierra Christman
“Rock and roll is dead.”
It’s a phrase that gets thrown around a lot. It’s a phrase that gets people riled up. Epic social media arguments start over it. Friendships end over it. It’s an emotionally charged subject for a lot of people.
That being said, if people care enough about it to get upset, can it really be dead? Yes. The phrase is a reference to rock and how it pertains to pop culture. We live in an age where people can stand up on a stage and run playlists off their iPods and be regarded as artists. Guitars and drums have been replaced with flash drives and cloud files. As far as mainstream popularity goes, there hasn’t been a movement based on rock since the late 90s or early 2000s when modern garage had a small heyday. Modern popular music is highly processed. Vocals are Auto-Tuned. Artists are built as brands and not as acts. More effort goes into production than performance.
This is not a rock elitist rant. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with mainstream. Mainstream music has always been a flavor-of-the-month category where artists can be a hit one year and forgotten the next. It’s just the nature of the beast. That’s how it’s always been and how it will always be. The landscape of recorded and live popular music has always evolved to the technology available. The better the technology gets, the more the art tends to rely on its ability to enhance.
For lack of a better phrase with respect to popular music: “It is what it is.”
So what does that mean to the millions of people who still love rock-based music? What does that mean to the thousands of bands that still perform it? When an art form is forced back underground, is it detrimental?
The way the current landscape works, the mythos of the hotel-trashing, do-every-drug-in-the-building rock star is pretty much done. Without a major industry behind it, it’s become something of a labor of love, which is probably the best thing that can happen to an art form. Removing the commercialization starts a process of boiling it down to its finest state. Gone are the days where a group could put together a handful of generic songs with uninspired lyrics and mediocre talent and be in it for a paycheck. The artists who get into the business for the money burn out and retire after five years or so.
Once you filter it all out, you’re left with groups that make music because they love it. You end up with musicians that put their hearts and souls into what they make. You end up with bands willing to do whatever it takes just to be able to come to your town and play an hour of music for you to enjoy. The music gets forced underground and the focus shifts from production back to performance. The money isn’t there, so there’s no budget for the production. Performance doesn’t cost money, it just takes commitment and time.
Once the music is forced underground, it narrows the scope of the field. In the end, you’re left with a small percentage of the bands that keep themselves together and keep going. No matter what. Not for a paycheck. Not for fame. They do it for the love of the craft. When you remove quantity, you’re going to be left with quality.
If you are a fan of rock-based music, don’t bristle when you see the phrase. Look at it like a badge of pride. You’re part of a group of people who love something because of your individual preference, and not because you heard it on the radio five times in one day. You love it because it means something to you, not because someone told you it means something. As a popular medium, it’s dead and gone. As an art form, it’s never been better.
Long live rock.