Quick–can you name the latest great rock-and-roll band? I can’t. I don’t like them particularly, but the name that would come to my mind as most-recent would be ‘Soundgarden’ (and their heyday was the 90s…). So, I used the magic of modern technology and began searching the internet for collected wisdom of the subject and what I found…was not encouraging.
A warning–>there’s going to be R/NC-17 language in this from quotes that have been selected. If bad language offends, you’ve been warned!
Some sites list a guy like Eminem as a rock musician (what. the. hell.) while others are including Brittney Spears and Avril Lavigne (jeebus). When you go across multiple lists, what you get is a consensus of a few names: Radiohead, The White Stripes, Franz Ferdinand, Green Day, and…U2???? Look–if U2 is in your top 20 for the 2000s, you know rock is dead.
And it is…not just opinion either. It is dead, killed by people 60-and-older. Permit me to elaborate.
What is rock and roll? By use of the original slang, ‘rock’ is short for hard alcohol and ‘roll’ is short for ‘roll in the hay’, so that basically rock and roll is all about drinking and promiscuity. That’s why parents hated it from the very beginning–first because the music was by blacks (welcome to the racism of the 1940s-50s…which sadly the past few years has shown was never eradicated) then because of Elvis the Pelvis gyrating his crotch, causing teenage girls to scream with orgiastic fury. From there it became about skipping school to drink/have fun (the Beach Boys) to the drug-fueled late 60s and the late-era Beatles, the Doors, the Rolling Stones and The Who. This continued through the 70s with the advent of punk rock to the 80s with metal–I want it louder, more power–to the 90s and the grunge of Seattle/the Pacific Northwest.
And then…poof…nothing. Why?
Because ‘rock’ music was coopted by a group who can never like rock–by definition–>old white people. Rock music, by definition, is about rebellion. Old people are never about rebellion. Rock is not supposed to be liked by parents and grandparents. It’s to be despised. Parents of the 50s hated rock, their kids grew up and learned to hate the music of the 60s, then the arguments that punk and metal were nothing but loud noise.
Until…the Boomer generation grew old and sentimental. Their bands–such as the Rolling Stones or The Who, the Police, Bruce Springsteen, etc–continue to tour and make millions. To attend a Billy Joel concert his last time around, tickets were $150 for the nosebleeds. Elton John–even more expensive. What 25-yr old can afford shows like that? That means rock-and-roll has become sentimental, about remembering the good old days (that likely never were…) rather than saying ‘F-you’ to the establishment. No one able to pay $100+ per ticket is there to challenge the system or establishment. They are showing they are part of the in-crowd, not rebelling.
Rock is dead.
Or is it? After all, what is more important–the way a song sounds or its attitude. You want rebellion, you can easily find it in music over the past twenty or thirty years–the problem for a lot of those old white people…it’s coming from sources they actively dislike. You want rock music? Fine.
I’ll suggest that rap music has taken up that banner. Rap is rock. Ask those older people what they think of rap and the slightest reaction you’ll get is a cringe or maybe they’ll make a comment “Hey, I like that group that did stuff with Aerosmith” (which was Run DMC…back in the 1980s) or “Will Smith is cool.” (Also great, but in terms of rebellion, Smith is as rebellious as Chubby Checker). Ahhh, bring up some others–Eminem was mentioned earlier, 2Pac, 2 Live Crew, Ice Cube, NWA, Geto Boys (now 30 years ago…), etc.
Want controversial lyrics? Rap has them by the bucket-load. Let’s go:
- “Fuck the police! Comin’ straight from the underground; a young nigga got it bad ‘cause I’m brown and not the other color, so police think they have the authority to kill a minority…” –NWA (29ish years ago…yet still relevant today)
- “You see, me and my homies like to play this game. We call it Amtrak but some call it the train. We all would line up in a single-file line and take our turns at waxing girls’ behinds…” –2 Live Crew (this is mid-80s, but I can’t think of another song before this so blatantly open about a sex-act generally socially unaccepted)
- I just might wait for his motherfucking ass on a rooftop next tour / Buck his dome cause I’m known to play for keeps / Lay low to the flow and keep it neat…” –Paris, discussing his desire to assassinate President Bush
- “This shit is run by fake Christians, fake politicians. Look at their mansions, then look at the conditions you live in. All they talk about is terrorism on television, they tell you to listen, but they don’t really tell you the mission. They funded al-Qaeda and now they blame the Muslim religion even though Bin Laden was a CIA tactician. They gave him billions of dollars and they funded his purpose / Fahrenheit 9-11, that’s just scratchin’ the surface…” –Mos Def
- “First off, fuck your bitch and the clique you claim / Westside when we ride, come equipped with game / You claim to be a player, but I fucked your wife / We bust on Bad Boys, niggas fucked for life / Plus Puffy trying to see me, weak hearts I rip / Biggie Smalls and Junior M.A.F.I.A. some mark-ass bitches…” –2Pac (and if I have my slang right, he’s threatening to kill a bunch of people here…not just show his dislike…)
- “Beat that pussy up like it’s Emmett Till.” –Lil Wayne
- “I’ll rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome” –Tyler the Creator
Get the idea? Offended? Some of these outright disgust me. I think the ideas are reprehensible, vile. Some of them make me wonder who could ever listen to this stuff….right there–rock-and-roll…an older generation offended by the message.
But there’s power in dissent and rocking the boat. Rock music changed society. You can see this in examples like “Fortunate Son” or “Masters of War” from the 1960s. You can see the power in a mega-event like Live-Aid or Farm-Aid. Great power.
Rap has multiple examples of this as well:
- “When They Reminisce Over You” Pete Rock and CL Smooth, the story of success even without a dad being present, the power and importance of positive male role models
- “Fight the Power” Public Enemy Considered one of the 10-15 best rap songs of all time…a bit of a surprise (to me) given Public Enemy’s reputation. There’s no denying the song’s power though.
- “It Was a Good Day” Ice Cube He doesn’t get shot by police or gangsters, his car doesn’t get stolen because he’s driving with the top down. No one cares that he’s a black man in a nice car–it was a good day….think about the fact that some people exist in a ‘world’ where it’s a good day just to not be a crime victim–and also not to be abused by police.
- “Mosh” Eminem Nothing says that rap has to be about single-race social issues. Eminem gets that. If the system is broke–it affects everyone in the long term.
Is there a lesson here? Sure. Rock’s not dead–not its spirit. It’s changed form, morphed away from what people born from roughly 1945-1964 have spent the past 20 years co-opting, into a form few adults can stand…and even then, as adults accept rap, it’s changing forms yet again–always in ways that make adults wonder what the appeal is (such as mumble-rap….).
So I’ll end with lyrics from one of those old bands of men who thought they’d be dead by the time they hit 40…from Pete Townshend and The Who: “Rock is dead. Long live rock!”