Save Rock & Roll: The Perils of Rock in 2015
Rock is dead. Long live rock 'n roll.
Those two dichotomies have existed since Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis but they're even truer now. A "generation lost in space", looking for the next rock n roll hero to lead us out of the recession and into happier times, times before parents' basements and tax returns and the unemployment seminar. We're looking, and we keep looking...
Artists like Nikki Sixx implore us to keep our ears open to new rock music, to give new generations a chance. Sixx straddles the line between old and new: as the bassist of Motley Crue since 1981, he knows what it means to live through changing rock trends. But it's clear to most Sixx fans that Nikki's heart lies with his newer band, Sixx A.M. - a band from a completely different sonicsphere than Motley. Sixx A.M. has more of a pop sensibility, a theatricality in tone, thoughtfulness in lyrics, in stark contrast to Motley's in-your-face brand of sex, drugs, and hedonism.
If a true rock star like Sixx can evolve, doesn't that speak to a promising future for rock 'n roll? In the words of Jake Barnes, "isn't it pretty to think so"?
Truth is, rappers are the new rock stars. The concept of a "rock star" has changed, even become laughable, in the era of anonymous, homogenized rock music. (See: Imagine Dragons, Mumford & Sons, anyone who is not Adam Levine in Maroon 5). The oversize egos and hedonistic excess of the past seem quaint today.
The disc jockeys who once threw records on of their own choosing, the "you-just-have-to-hear-this" urgency, the room for personal expression - all are relics of days gone by. Radio stations in 2015 resemble a computer: programmed with the same 30 songs across the country, the robot voice of Ryan Seacrest booming out across the land to announce the pre-selected Top 20 countdown.
It's undeniable that the ClearChannel/iHeartMedia conglomerate isn't exactly rock-friendly. Their beyond-clueless list of the songs they banned from radio play after September 11th, 2001 shows how tone-deaf they are to anything music related. (Seriously? "Bridge Over Troubled Water"? "American Pie"? "St. Elmo's Fire [Man In Motion]"???) With iHeartMedia owning thousands of radio stations nationwide, how is modern rock music supposed to find a toehold in 2015?
It might be better to turn to streaming chart data to see what rock music people are actually listening to - taking it to the people directly and examining what they listen to on their computers and mobile devices. The most recent Billboard Rock Digital Chart shows a compelling story. Eleven out of 50 songs could be found on vinyl before they were ever released digitally: "Sweet Child O'Mine", "Don't Stop Believin'", "Smells Like Teen Spirit". In 2015, nostalgia extends beyond the 1990's.
So this is the part of the piece where I'm supposed to conclude with a solution - proffer up an offering to our culture, pay lip service to the idea that we can form a grassroots movement to change the music industry, that we can take on all the monopoly conglomerates (see: Live Nation, Ticketmaster, iHeartMedia, Apple, Beats, Spotify) and win. I'm supposed to end on a high note. "The future of music is in our hands."
It's not that easy. The solution can't be found in 140 characters or blind fervor.
The good news is the void exists.
Now we need someone to fill it. And we'll continue to wait.