The Death of Rock and Roll?

Green Day

By Alan Weeks, howiGit Contributing Music Writer, Boston, MA

While I skimmed through the channels not so patiently waiting for the premiere of Anthony Bourdaine’s 100th episode of the Travel Channel’s “No Reservations,” I stopped at the Palladia Channel. Palladia is a shoot off of MTV, made to appear as a channel that caters to a more musically inclined crowd, and not one that is preoccupied in the many interesting life issues that face Terrell Owens on a weekly basis. On this particular night, the show highlighted was England’s Isle of Wight Festival, and the band performing was the ever more popular Kings of Leon. The “Kings” of Leon are a mediocre band from Tennessee, whose band members draw inspiration from Eddie Vedder — enough said? Did I offend all of you Pearl Jam lovers who still claim that Pearl Jam’s music is original, non-formulaic, and honest? Pearl Jam’s music has about as much integrity as Eddie Vedder’s claims of sobriety. I saw him perform, much to my chagrin, at Bonnaroo in 2008. I am not a fan of this band, but because I was attending a festival, and because I like to be proven wrong, but mostly because of my inebriated state, I decided to show up for their set. This was a mistake. Not only was their performance less than lackluster, bust just as I was getting ready for Eddie to belt into their so called “masterpiece” “Betterman,” Eddie decides to talk about how sober he is — when he is clearly blind drunk, slurring his words, and wishing that it was still 1992.  He goes into a rant about the Bush Administration, and foreign oil, at which point it is clear that he is wasted, and can barely stand. Finally he shut up, the set ended, the pain between my temples gave way, and I was left thinking only one thing: If this band is the inspiration for our up and coming artists of tomorrow, is Rock and Roll Dying? Which lead me to my next realization: This was all Green Day’s fault.

Green Day, once the voice of a misunderstood and lethargic generation, has become nothing more than a blend of Blink-182 chord progressions and Michael Moore like anti-establishment teen angst, with all members now entering their late 30’s. These guys are actually considered rock icons — significant contributing voices in the music community, and not for Dookie, but for American Idiot. They symbolize everything that is cheap and disingenuous in rock and roll. It is almost as though Billy Joe Armstrong received a memo from Robert Smith in 2006, giving him fashion advice and telling him that he could learn a lot from the band Panic at the Disco. What happened to these guys? “Welcome to Paradise,” “Basket Case,” even tracks off of Nimrod were genuinely good, if not at least catchy and fast (thank you Ramone family). I am not entirely sure whether the band sees the irony in calling their latest album “21st Century Breakdown.” It’s like they know they haven’t produced anything resembling art in the last ten years.

Now that I have meandered, and expressed my anger for Billy Joe Armstrong’s eye makeup, which I am sure he stole from Marilyn Manson’s closet, I can get back the “Kings.”  The band has grabbed the attention of 17 year old girls and men with questionable music taste the world over with their “hits” “Sex is on Fire” (what does that even mean?) and “Use Somebody.” Although these songs are semi-catchy, they are by no means an expression of extreme musical talent warranting the high praise that they have been getting from the rest of the music community. But is this the Royal House of Leon’s fault? I’m not entirely sure. If what they have to look up to, as musical mentors, are Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell, I can’t say that I wouldn’t suck either.

The greats that everyone considers great — The Band, Dylan, Hendrix, The Who, Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and the Beatles had rich musical roots to draw on from the decades before them. Jazz and blues greats like Louis Armstrong and Big Bill Broonzy were real pioneers and visionaries, genuine and thoughtful artists that made music because they were musically talented. The Stones were a blues band before being labeled the “Greatest Rock and Roll Band of All Time.” The Beatles sound more like 1950’s Rock and Roll than what we associate their music with, until the mid 1960’s. They could draw on the influence of real talent, not just what pop culture had deemed hip and accessible to teenagers. The very festival that The Kings of Leon were playing once hosted a list of headliners that included Jefferson Airplane, Miles Davis, and Jimi Hendrix. To even have them considered contemporaries is disheartening. The fact that today’s listeners hold the love, respect and esteem for these musicians that generations before had for The Doors would make Jim Morrison spin in his alcohol filled grave.

The musicians aren’t even selling their music, they are selling their image as Rock and Roll stars. Music is becoming a thing that doesn’t even involve music. What is Anthony Followill (front man of the “Kings”) supposed to think when Green Day starts showing up in all black with painted fingernails, and black studded belts, like they were the headliners at hardcore night at CBGB’s. Anthony remembers the little hell raisers wearing plaid and complaining about not having enough weed and hating their parents, not hating politicians and making emo chicks weep. He sees the people that he looked up to, and tried to emulate, prostituting themselves out to remain “cool.”

You cannot remain cool forever unless you have something that is special, timeless, sacred, and genuine, which apparently these Cali boys do not possess, because they have become far too concerned with trying to look like Liza Minelli, and not so much with their sound. Look, I am not ignorant enough to think that artists can’t, and many times need to change to adapt to the culture around them, as even the greats have done. Eric Clapton in 1990 sounds very different at the Royal Albert Hall then he did when he played there with Ginger and Jack in the 1960’s. But Clapton sounds different because HE changed, got sober, lost a son, and Layla, not because he thought that he would be able to sell more albums or become more marketable to a younger demographic. And guess what, he changed, and his music still remains great —  “From the Cradle” is powerful, honest, and straight up Clapton.

Rock’s ancestors are getting old, and soon will be no more. A musical family tree that started with Elmore James, gave birth to Jimi Hendrix, which created inspiration for Stevie Ray Vaughn which produced a very capable John Mayer, will likely be a thing of the past. Musical dynasties cannot sustain themselves when the list goes as follows: Pearl Jam to Limp Bizkit , to Dashboard Confessional, to Panic at the Disco, and ending with Hellogoodbye (who may, or may not know that their name stems from a Beatles song).

My point is this — I am a lover of music, especially of Rock and Roll, and I don’t see any bands that I would consider Rock and Roll bands riding mainstream media bliss, or even enjoying their due respect. Acts like Umphrey’s McGee, who tour 200 days of the year, or Joe Bonnamasa, a blues virtuoso, although mildly popular, have not been given their due from the rest of the music community. Rock and Roll has become less earnest, more about a seven word band name and Chad Kroeger’s locks, than about the gritty, wild, and intoxicated madness of bleeding fingers after mind-blowing guitar shred that could be akin to a religious experience.

If there is to be any hope, there must be a concerted effort on the parts of our younger generation of listeners to reach back to these greats, and follow their family tree, to see what they have been missing. They will also realize that the bullshit that New Found Glory is selling them is simply a less thoughtful, less talented, and more commercialized version of the Velvet Underground.  To Green Day, stay true to your roots — do you honestly think everybody just forgot what you guys used to look and sound like prior to the year 2000? To Pearl Jam and Eddie, go make another Target commercial. To Panic at the Disco, you would have a better chance at musical integrity if you actually made disco music. Is Rock and Roll dying? Yes, but Keith Richards has been dying since Exile on Maine Street, so there is still hope.

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19 Comments

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19 responses to “The Death of Rock and Roll?

  1. Pingback: The Death of Rock and Roll? - Music Forums - Music Forum - The Music Community

  2. j-bone

    There are two issues I think with music today. One is that many of the artist people love and want people to be like; The Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, all had orginal sounds or made something off an orginal sound. It is very hard for a band to do anything original anymore because so much has been done. People want to see those bands but d0n’t want them to exactly copy them.

    The second is something seen in many cultures today but is seen very often in music, once a thing gets popular they are “sell outs” and they get backlash. Kings of Leon had a huge underground following before the most recent cd which really put them on the mainstream. People that liked the Strokes liked Kings of Leon. Then they put out a cd that become very popular and they see backlash in the rock community. It is almost a catch 22 of make music people want to hear, but dont make it that so many people want to hear it because true music fans dont want to like things that everyone likes.

    • I don’t agree with your assertion that there is not much original to do anymore, but I do agree with the catch 22 of once something becomes popular, it is no longer authentic and represents a sell out. Sure, there are tons of sell outs out there. Look at all the ridiculous musical acts with absolutely no talent (think Ke$ha or something like that). But all too often bands become huge because they are in fact awesome. People like them because they are good. And extreme musical talent does not always necessarily mean that a band makes good music, it just means that they know how to play or sing well. Look at some of the best selling artists ever (think Mariah Carey). At the end of the day she’s famous not because she’s a sell out, she’s famous because the lady can sing her socks off.

    • Alan Weeks

      To say that there is no more original material to make music out there is simply acquiescing people like T-Pain and Flo Rida who exclusively sample old hits to pretend like they have something artistically viable and worth listening to today. If you have ever picked up an instrument, or tried to play one, you know that the amount of expression is limitless, if you have the talent, and creativity to make it work. BOOM! So as you can see, these bands do not possess this important foundation. I would also like to add, that I am well aware that the Kings had an underground following, but that does not make them a good band. I happen to enjoy the Strokes quite a bit, but I would never try to pull the wool over someone’s eyes and argue that they bring anything superb to the musical table, but they at least reference The Ramones and Tom Petty as influences.

      • j-bone

        I kinda see music the same way as alot of people see athletes. If you are a fan of an older generation then nothing from the new generations is as good. If you are fan of the new generation every flash in the pan is the best ever. The real test is time. If 15 years from now people are still talking then I fell you have credibility.

      • Agreed. People like what they’re comfortable with. It’s why no old people want instant replay in baseball. But if you never change your tastes or opinions, there can’t be progress.

  3. Kevin Youkillis

    music is like the dunk contest, it has all been done.. there are only soo many chords you can play (do i entirely believe this? no but here is a fantastic video backing up my theory).

    its basically tons of songs using the same chords from pachelbels cannon in d

    • Kevin Youkillis

      starts at like 2:10, but the stuff before is funny

    • Alan Weeks

      The amount of chords you can play in no way correlates with the amount of different music you can create, ask Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, who played their own songs different every single time they played a show. And I am not just infatuated with old music, there are many acts today that are extremely talented, check out Robert Randolph, or Derek Trucks. And do Phish have credibility by this 15 year rule? Because they should.

      • j-bone

        You are looking at bands that have a very small but intense following. I dont think those guys are going to be in commercials and have feelings of nostalgia from the majority 15 years from now.

      • Alan Weeks

        Derek Trucks plays with the Allman Brothers, and I was separately stating that they were good acts in modern music, who knows who will be in commercials in 15 years…Probably Snoop Dogg and Katie Perry.

      • Kevin Youkillis

        someone is a hippie.. not that that’s a bad thing, just based on the bands you listed its easy to tell your into jam bands. Which personally isn’t my thing

        i also asked jerry garcia about chords and he explained that he never had any idea what he was playing and that is why the songs were different every night.

        side notes, im pretty sure i remember a subway commercial with one of derek trucks songs in it.

      • Kevin Youkillis

        sorry i meant robert randolph in a subway commercial. not derrek trucks

      • Alan Weeks

        I was unaware that pedal steel guitar (what Randolph plays) and slide guitar were a sole characteristic of jam bands, and unlike most of the listeners today, my musical taste supersedes one single genre. As for the subway commercial, “Ain’t Nothing Wrong With that” subway is delicious, and I would sing a song for them, if the end product was free subs.

        Lastly, the difference between Jerry playing, and not knowing what he was playing, is that it was fantastic, as oppose to Eddie Vedder who talked about fake American Foreign policy initiatives instead.

      • It would completely depend on what type of subway subs were up for grabs.

      • That was a pretty good point tho Youk. And yes, Phish has credibility having been around forever. Which also means that U2 has credibility. You really can’t span three or 4 decades without being a good act. It just can’t be done on hype alone.

        On a side note, the most famous song of the 90’s in history’s eyes will be “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys. You heard it here first.

      • Kevin Youkillis

        i agree jerry garcia was verrrry musically talented, just wanted to get in a cheap joke at the expense of his drug abuse..
        i don’t know much about robert randolph except that he opened and played a lot of dead covers with dave matthews (i saw him at dave last year in camden and i did enjoy him, better than DMB atleast )

  4. I see your point, and people certainly do look at athletes and musicians the same way, but I think there is one big difference. I think that all things being equal, the athletes of history and today are equivalent. I think Willie Mays is Ken Griffey Jr. But I think if you look at popular music, the music of out parents generation is far superior to ours. Whether you like it or not, you can not avoid the music of the Beatles or Zepplin today — whether you hear it in advertising or at a sporting event, whatever it may be. But 40 years from now how often are we going to hear a Britney Spears song? I don’t think very often. And that’s all the difference.

    So what is responsible for the difference? In a word — technology. Video games and television, specifically. It’s very true that today kids sit in front of the TV and play video games (maybe even guitar hero) rather than picking up an instrument and learning to play it. Fact of the matter is you can get good at video games much more quickly than you can learn an instrument (take it from someone who sucks at both). And frankly I think that’s kind of sad.

    • j-bone

      Who knows what we will hear in ads and other in the future. Elvis was basically an outlaw to parents so he wouldnt be in ads back when he was playing and others were scene as devils so they wouldn’t be seen either. If you are going to target some one who is 40 years old in a car ad you are going to use music that that person has memories of. Will that be Britney Spears who knows?

      There is certainly a possiblity of new music but there have been cases of artists being sued for stealing music that they didnt know they stole. Things may not be exactly the same but the general sound probably has already been done.

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