Is Rock and Roll Dying?

I first thought Don McLean about “the day the music died” when Milli Vanilli lost their 1990 Grammy for duping their vocals. I was wrong. Rock and Roll was born and is slowly dying with the regress of the blues. Buddy Guy has been wailing about this for years. Three years ago January when Buddy holds court in this Legends bar, he proclaimed artists like friend John Mayer needed to keep the art form going forward after the founding family of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Wilson Picket etc. have all moved on. The reality—original blues artists played because they were wired to, they had to, they lived it, breathed it, loved it. And British admirers like Keith Richard, Brian Jones and Mick Jagger copied it from respect for the art form. In fact, in Keith’s book called “LIFE” he describes how jammin’ was priority one, followed by eating and screwing.

Here’s the catch—when you do something because you love it, you don’t have an A&R manager, conglomerate media moguls and MP3 distribution giants like Apple determine who and what will be stars. In Chicago, WBBM will simulcast on August 1 its all news format on WKQX-FM—Q 101 starting August 1. This means the very last alternative rock format will bite the dust in Chicago. Much worse, rock radio in general is retreating. WDRV-FM (97.1) is part of a national format for Drive Stations is number five in station ratings. The Loop, WXRT-FM (93.1) and WLUP-FM (97.9) are the only others in the top ten. According to Chris Huff, a ratings historian for listenership in Chicago reached its peak in 1992. Robert Channick states in his Chicago Tribune article that listeners would rather listen to Lady Gaga than Led Zeppelin. HELLO! Robert Plant is sixty four years old. “Would you still need me, would you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four.”

Realistically, Rock and Roll is dying because of four reasons:

1. It started as a rebellion in social morays and culture clashes. Society has changed in the nearly five generations that have spawned since rock and roll’s early roots. America and American culture, as widely diverse as it is, is still homogenized compared to the cultural stirring pot that existed with radically chiseled cultures in the sixties.

2. It evolved over the past decades with changes and improvements in technology with regard to guitars, amplification, keyboards and sound synthesis, recording techniques, sampling, but perhaps it didn’t evolve enough from its primitive raw states. The listeners still flocked to Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin because it struck a primal chord in listener hearts. Maybe newer music isn’t primitive enough.

3. It’s not lucrative anymore. In the “old” days, a start-up band could get a DJ to play their single and sell their music. There truly were “overnight” sensations. It doesn’t work that way anymore. Very few musicians make a living playing live gigs, and even fewer touring as opening acts. The return on investment—much more expensive equipment and recording costs versus lower paying gigs. If you are an aspiring, dedicated rock and roll wanna be today, better have family or a spouse with deep pockets.

4. It’s run its course. It’s a novelty act today. The biggest brand name bands are celebratory experiences and frankly they deserve the accolades—they survived all the life-abuses over the decades. Just check out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to see the casualties.

Is Rock and Roll Dying? Or is it morphing? Think about how discrete the swing era was from the early blues or rockabilly. The sixties gave us surfer rock, British invasion, the beginnings of heavy metal and psychedelic music. I don’t think that even Greg Kot could categorize all the blended music forms. What is pop Country ala Garth Brooks was early rock and roll in the sixties when Country was Conway Twitty twang. What I do know to be true. Classic Rock was once defined as the rock and roll of the late sixties and early seventies. Now, the term is used for nearly all rock and roll in the 1900’s.

Now here’s the good news. As rock and roll fans grow older, there are new lovers of music born every day to replace them. These new fans are desperately seeking to be fans of something, a genetic human trait. And thanks to the Internet, anyone with new wrinkle or pure talent (or in the case of Justin Bieber, just guts and desire) can make it. Otherwise how could someone like Susan Boyle become a semi-household name? To me, I’d like to see some new band enter the scene that never claimed just one niche, but instead pushed all boundaries and wrote wildly different styles of music –all good, that captures the imagination of generation of fans like a band once did with me called The Beatles.


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