When I was a teen our music was important, it gave meaning to the world and provided a forum of expression. Today’s air waves are but a poor resemblance to the musical revolution of the past that gave meaning for an entire generation.New or original rock’n’roll isn’t made anymore. Yes people are playing rock from every era, and musicians are producing what they think rock’n’roll should be. But, the heart of rock music, the explosive sensation of sound, youth and fury has become a part of history.
Rock music borrowed from the blues/gospel music of the south; they used the twangy flavor of the grand ole opry, adding the rhythmic smoothness of big band swing. From this unholy union burst the new wave of music that not only affected the tunes on the radio, but influenced the beat on the street.
The tunes of McCartney and Lennon ushered us into the psychedelic sounds of that era incorporating eastern mysticism with the drug culture of the 60’s & 70’s.
In unison with the folk poetry of Dylan and his ilk, there was little doubt that young people would be heard. Again music was taking youth to places it had never been before.
Music espoused revolution and spread a new message of coming change. Music now demanded change and acceptance of all philosophies as the voice of a whole generation drove that need right through your stereo speakers. Rock’n’roll had graduated into an art form that spoke for moral concepts and urged mankind to follow a new path. Contemporary music assured us that a new golden age was in the making, one that could eliminate wars, denounce racism and put an end to much of the world’s poverty and suffering. All this and it had a great beat that you could dance to.
The spark of change was kept alive by the sound of The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Police and dozens of faceless punks with instruments accosting us about a system gone wrong. But rock as social catalyst was rapidly running out of steam.
The advent of Grunge rock in the 80’s was a logical follower to punk. The players tried to keep the music alive and socially relevant through their aggressive minimalism and crude relationship to their audience. Unfortunately the tunes, the playing and the lyrics were void, degrading, and often rehashed from various other eras. The social relevance of grunge was raw, loud, but short-lived and out of touch.
The most vital movement of the last 25 years has been rap. Rap music is the music that speaks for outcasts as well as heroes. Gangsta rap is so socially in tune the rappers are involved in as much gunplay as drum play. It’s a further sad commentary that many hip-hop artists have traded on their freshness and parlayed it into symbols for clothing, jewelry, and cosmetics. This does not sing of revolution or brotherhood, but is rather a lullaby to corporate America. Instead of being part of a revolution Rap has been packaged and mass marketed and coopetd from the people.
Now we are at a changed paradigm in music. Often artists just remake songs that young listeners have never heard before showing them off as brand new material, manipulated and marketed by whatever large company has paid for the promotion.
We have worn out the musical cookbook. Our society is too drained to develop a music that represents youth. In the 1970’s Don McClean was right about “the day the music died”. “American Pie” was a couple of decades premature though. Music kept evolving until somewhere in the 80’s when “video killed the radio star”. Around that time, music stopped regenerating and became its own parody. Young musicians line up for a spot on “American Idol”, where performers compete for money and media contracts.
The tastiest tunes of rock have been collected by big business to sell automobiles and espouse the merits of lite beer. These corporate advertisers also present the finest of the new sounds. Is anyone feeling inspired? Today’s rock’n roll has lost its vision and it’s message. Sure there are some great sounds on the airwaves, but they won’t become the classics of tomorrow. Nothing so far in the new millennium has anything fresh. All the rock music has become fodder for the merchandising machine. Good-looking, hard-selling, ear-splitting numbers on a ledger. So bye bye Miss American Pie, I can barely see the chevy in the levee.