Rock is dead (again)

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Fresh from debuting his band Soundgarden‘s first new music since 1996, lead singer Chris Cornell has a sobering message for those of us with ringing ears and luxuriant tresses.

Per an interview with noted rock bible “Details”*, Cornell states for the record that “Rock has lost its place at the centre of the musical universe”.  And, much as it pains me to add currency to this kind of notion, I think that he’s got a point.

*“Details” is as much a rock bible as “Kerrang!” is nowadays – in fact, “Details” may have more rock cred…

Citing American radio’s antipathy towards new rock bands, a fracturing of the creative process enabled by technology and the seemingly irresistible allure of recreational substances, Cornell paints a bleak but – to me – wholly accurate picture of where music is right now.

Once the ease of file-sharing/cut-throat IP piracy (delete as applicable) made making a living from music a labour only slightly less difficult than raising the Titanic, the infrastructure which one could rely on to inform an voracious audience about new music was changed itself – we’ve never had an easier time of finding new music, consuming it and having a new favourite band but our relationship with that music has changed so much that it’s difficult to see how anybody but an established band being able to sustain the kind of career which Cornell and Soundgarden have enjoyed.

Music has never been more of a service or a backdrop to people’s lives than it currently is.  It’s the driver which powers reality TV competitions and nominally the thing that Katy Perry or Rihanna are famous before (that is, before parallel careers in film or fashion present themselves).  That implosion of the traditional music business career model – you can’t sell records because a tiny percentage of music fans pay for music – means that you have to evolve beyond the accepted path of what a musician does.

I find that somewhat depressing, to be honest with you.  I’ve always found that music was one of the most transcendent forms of art – capable of transporting you away from your immediate environment in a different way to the written word and able to make you forget about life and your everyday woes in a way quite distinct from films or television.  It’s more immediate than that kind of directed experience and capable of making even a suit-wearing, twelve-hour day executive lose their inhibitions and go bug-wild at the sound of a power chord struck in faux-anger.  To think that music is the jumping-off point to do something more lucrative or ‘better’ is very aggrieving.

For Cornell to feel that this pathway to shared community or tribal belonging – call it what you will – is something of an admission that for a generation younger than mine, music is ever more the corporate tool of marketing products and services and less the clarion call to the soul that it’s always felt like.

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Clearly, the image above depicts the kind of thing that a Cowell-format music show would never let a prospective star get away with – how would that kind of wanton aggression and wilful property damage play in an era of David Cameron values, tabloid hysteria and razor-thin profit margins?  About as well as Justin Bieber at a Five Finger Death Punch show.

Yeah, that good.

I’ve heard the argument that rock is dead since I was a teenager and yet it’s never quite shuddered to a halt and expired – seemingly every so often, a band like Nirvana, Deftones or Muse comes along and rudely drives a vintage Fender guitar right through your heart and makes you see the world from a distinct and undeniable perspective.  I don’t see that changing, but the scale to which a band like that can break through seems to have changed.

There’s always a sense that rock should be the transgressive, unpopular, wholly disreputable older brother to the eager-to-please, squeaky clean younger sibling of pop (which makes Country your oft-divorced, beer and line-dance afficianado Uncle, I guess?), so the notion that it can’t get arrested on American radio and that the kids prefer Kanye’s glossy capitalist hip-hop narrative isn’t exactly a surprise.

When you were young, did you want to listen to your parents music?  Yeah, me either.  If I had to call it – and bloggers tend to feel that they have to – I’d say that rock isn’t dead – It’s just enjoying a disgraceful long afternoon in the sun and trying hard to ignore the bratty, currently popular kids who remind them of former glory.

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