Thursday, January 10, 2013

Between Rock and A Hard Place

When I have a few too many diet root beers, I tend to get sentimental about rock and roll.  I lament the fact that there is a noticeable lack of popular rock and roll these days.  Back in my salad days in the '80s and '90s, rock (and even hard rock and metal) permeated the airwaves next to pop, hip hop, rap, and R&B.  In fact, here in Chicago, there was even a radio station called Z95 that played it all.  Even as recently as the '90s, grunge, post-grunge, metal, rap metal, hard rock, and regular rock and roll were Top 40 staples.  I'm not exactly sure what happened, but if you listen to popular radio these days, about the hardest thing you'll hear is Gotye.  To hear rock music, you have to listen to classic rock or alternative/indie rock station.

Maybe it was MTV's transition from pandering to suburban teens by playing music videos to pandering to suburban teens by convincing them that, if they get pregnant, they will get their own reality show.  Musicians used to make music (and videos) to get on MTV, and videos were the great equalizer.  If you watched an hour of MTV in the late '90s, you could see videos by Limp Bizkit, Ricky Martin, Marcy Playground, R.E.M., Notorious B.I.G., Metallica, Britney Spears, Collective Soul, and R. Kelly.  Then MTV decided to remove the "M," and one of rock's biggest avenues of exposure to the masses was closed.

The downfall of the music video combined the rise of YouTube, digital music, and the fact that you can make music on your computer means that "musicians" are now discovered online rather than in clubs and that making music has become more individual.  You used to have to form a band and actually play live music to get discovered.  Now, you don't need to find a group of dudes (or chicks) who can play guitar, bass, and drums because you can just press a button.  Then you post it to YouTube and hope it goes viral.  Without the need for a band, people necessarily make less music that rocks.  And let's not forget American Idol.  Simon Cowell has done his best to ruin music over the past decade.

Thankfully, there is a site more verbose than this one that has taken upon itself to analyze why rock is apparently dying.  Steven Hyden has started a seven-part series on Grantland analyzing seven bands -- Led Zeppelin, Kiss, Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Metallica, Linkin Park, and The Black Keys -- to try to figure out why they became popular, why rock has fallen by the wayside, and what rock can do to reemerge.  Here is a link to the first installment, which is about Led Zeppelin.  Thanks to DBH for the link.  Enjoy.

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