rock music
Photo: Instagram/Rock Music

Rock is Dead!! It started as a trickle in the early 2010s but now a large number of people are saying it. A large number of people who understand and follow rock music and its various sub-genres are saying in different forums that rock music as we knew it is dying and has been for a while. Their voices and opinions are being heard and seen on the radio, TV, cable TV, print magazines, websites, the Internet, and other forms of media that cover music and its constant evolution. This is indeed disturbing news because rock music has been at the vanguard of music, popular culture, and societal change for a long time now starting from the tumultuous 1960s. Rock n Roll reigned in the 1950s and then the 1960s began with a tremendous cultural tension in America. It was a period of great change and its resident poet and bard was a man who raised song writing to the highest level – Bob Dylan. His anthems and prophetic songs with intelligent lyrics and vivid imagery captured the zeitgeist of the times like never before but despite what many people believe continued to do so well into the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

Smashing the Doors Down!

 

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Then came a bunch of bands in the 1960s like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, The Kinks, The Doors, The Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Credence Clearwater Revival, The Velvet Underground, and The Stooges who revolutionized music. With their first few albums, they laid the groundwork to make rock music the powerful global agent of change that lit a fire all over the English-speaking world. Rock music wasn’t just about chronicling the changes in the world but a force that inspired these changes and accelerated them. Then came the 1970s and the 1980s and the great rock bands and rock musicians continued to be at the vanguard of social change and intellectual progress. While many of the bands of the 1960s continued to contribute a new clutch of bands brought in a new era. Bands and singers like Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen, Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, Ramones, Queen, Kiss, AC/DC, The Cars, Journey, Blondie, The Clash, Steely Dan, Joy Division, Depeche Mode, The Smiths, REM, Sonic Youth, and the dangerous trio The Police became global names. Their music reached every corner of the world and helped make America the cultural powerhouse it became over the last 50 years.

 

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The Fall & Then an Unexpected Upswing

 

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Then the gloss, glamour, and even debauchery of the 1980s culminated in the last few years of the decade as music that was high on entertainment but thin on substance. This was best exemplified by the success of bands like Motley Crue, Poison, and other hair bands though many people would argue that there is nothing wrong with sheer entertainment. These bands put out catchy songs and promoted a wild lifestyle that made people associate rock music with excesses. When the song “Cherry Pie” by the hair metal band Warrant became a global hit and it’s raunchy, even sexist video became the most famous thing on MTV, people who had a vision for rock music knew that things had reached a new low. Then in 1991, a handful of unknown rock bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Soundgarden released their albums and the world sat up. Though Nirvana is credited with changing the world of music it was the work of a group of bands that brought in a new consciousness to music. Even older bands like U2, Metallica, and REM raised their game and released seminal albums that proved that rock music was a weapon again.

 

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Uncertain Times

 

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The 1990s saw rock music talk about issues and themes that had been swept under the carpet till then but now everybody could talk about them and even do something about it. The world became a dangerous place in the 1990s and the music reflected it. The themes were darker, painful, raw, and deeply personal, and very unsettling. Then Kurt Cobain died in May 1994 and soon the grunge revolution winded down. The late 1990s saw rock music trying to find a definite voice and there were good bands like Creed, Stone Temple Pilots, Korn, Collective Soul, and Radiohead that kept the flame alive. The new millennium came and from 2001 there was a sense of unease in the air. Global events changed how people thought and lived and rock music struggled to find a strong voice.

 

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The World Changed Completely

Things completely changed with the popularity and spread of the Internet, global media outreach, new media platforms, music streaming services, digital music resources, and the sale of millions of computers to individuals. People didn’t have to buy CDs and vinyl records anymore. All music past and present was available on the net and music streaming services. This changed the entire rock music ecosystem. Now musicians couldn’t make their living selling albums anymore. Revenues from album sales dropped dramatically. Record companies just didn’t have the money to scout for new bands, nurture and develop them, promote them and market their music worldwide. Talented young men and women knew that music would not give them the financial security that they needed to take the risks that the great bands and musicians of the past had.

A Change in Beliefs

Technology also made the hard-working ethic that made bands brilliant less attractive. Why practice for long hours in the garage or basement and hone your musical skills when all your mistakes and shortcomings can be fixed in the studio using the latest technology. Why pour sweat, blood, and tears into becoming the best vocalist, guitarist, drummer, or multi-instrumentalist when the machines can make you look good. Bands just didn’t work that hard anymore. They and the record companies just didn’t have the patience to work on 3-4 albums and grow as musicians and reach the high standards that make a rock band a world-changing force. The race was on to record a song or an album in 3-4 months and release it digitally so everybody could listen. Making music was a race against time and about earning as much money as you could before the next song by somebody else became a two-month sensation.

 

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The Onset of a New Value System?

The biggest change was that the old idealism and the passion to make the world a better place were over. From the early 2000s, the world was now about personal fulfilment, power-grabbing, and dominating others. It was about success on your terms and living the life you want without the social consciousness that people of the previous generations had. Nothing wrong with this! The world keeps changing and it must. The new philosophy of the new world affected rock music at its core. The days when 4-5 passionate young men and women walked into a garage or basement with their guitars, drums, and instruments to create music that came from their souls were winding down. These musicians didn’t care about the impossibility of their dreams and they didn’t set out to change the world. That just happened because their passion was uncontrollable.

Losing Hope is Premature & Uncalled for!

 

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Maybe it’s too early to say that rock music is dead. Maybe rock music lovers are getting too emotional and hasty. Maybe it’s their disappointment at the current state of affairs and their disillusionment speaking and it’s bloody unfair. This lull in the world of rock music could well be a temporary phase. Maybe the world needs a break from the idealism that is already there and needs to sort things out first. Some bands are putting out great music that is perhaps underappreciated. There is a good chance that there is a quiet revolution taking place underground in music and after some years great music will rule the roost again. It won’t be the same as before and maybe it won’t be called rock music anymore. New times demand a new nomenclature, attitude, thinking, a new mind-set, a new music industry paradigm, and a new music ecosystem. There is no need to give up hope at all. Great and conscientious music will rise again and listeners will be challenged. The future will happen. Those who still remember will accept Bob Dylan’s prophetic words “Times they are a-changing…”

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