We’ve been hearing the phrase “rock is dead” since The Who first uttered it in 1974. The proclamation has gotten louder as time marched on, but it’s really no more true than it was back when Odds and Sodds was released.
You may want to contest that. You may have proof rock is dead. The Grammys, for instance, where the “rock” category featured the jangly folksiness of Mumford and Sons, would be your first exhibit. Or the Billboard Hot 100 chart, where one has to try to cram Muse into a rock label in order to find just one representative of rock among the leaders. Maybe you can point to the fact that the New York metro area, one of the biggest markets in the world, has no real rock station to speak of, its last station going off the air in favor of sports talk just a few weeks ago.
The truth is, rock is out there. Maybe it’s not the rock and roll you know and love but it’s rock and there’s a distinction between the two: Rock and roll is what my parents listened to. Rock and roll is Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis. Rock is the monster that swallowed rock and roll whole, chewed it up , spit out Led Zeppelin and The Who and proceeded to evolve, devolve and re-evolve over and over again.
It’s hard to define today what rock has become, as the path from the 1960s to now has taken off on so many meandering side roads its hard to even count all the genres and subgenres, let alone have a conversation about their definition within the realm of rock music.
The problem with talking about rock as a living, breathing presence is those who want to declare it dead are generally those who are stuck in a belief that every band has to be prescribed a specific genre, that calling them “rock” isn’t enough. Instead they drill down until they’ve dug up a subgenre so deep it’s five times removed from the original rock label and cast off as something else entirely. Which is not fair, as rock is the umbrella under which so many bands fall and to say the genre as a whole is dead is to put a toe tag on all the subgenres as well. It’s not that the genre of rock should remain untouched or that subgenres are unnecessary; in a time when searching for music requires research skills, the need to specifically narrow down what you are looking for is a bonus feature rather than a bug. Still, the genres which fall under the rock category should still recognize themselves as rock, for that genre is the sum of its whole.
Maybe defining rock as a genre is where the conversation needs to start. Let’s go to Wiki:
Musically, rock has centered around the electric guitar, usually as part of a rock group with bass guitar and drums. Typically, rock is song-based music usually with a 4/4 time signature utilizing a verse-chorus form, but the genre has become extremely diverse and common musical characteristics are difficult to define.
Let’s add this: rock has a certain joy to it, a celebratory feel beneath the heavy bass and driving beats. Rock always feels like you’re holding something with a pulse in your hands and forever feels like it needs to feed off your enjoyment of it in order to stay alive. Rock is not necessarily an emotional music, but it is an emotional experience.
Rock is not things. Rock is not afraid. Rock is not radio friendly or hit driven. Rock is not what the band plays during the last dance at your sister’s wedding. Rock is not complacent, cooperative or content to just be. It exists for a reason and that reason is not to sell you a t-shirt. It exists to make you feel, and whether that feeling comes out in a fist pump, a head bang or power drumming on the steering wheel, it’s there beneath every sweeping note, every tortured lyric, every awkward time change.
So where is this rock, you ask? That’s the thing. You have to ask. You have to look. You have to turn stones, move boulders and go down rabbit holes of “you might like this if you like this” links to get to it. But it’s there.
It’s in Miami, Florida under the name Torche, a bombastic sludge band full of power and fury, signifying everything. It’s in Sacramento, where the Deftones are still churning out their specific brand of experimental metal and Trash Talk, a hardcore band is playing a devastating set of power and might. It’s in Atlanta, Georgia with the heavy metal of Mastodon and where the Black Lips turn out garage style rock reminiscent of MC5 who, by the way, produced the greatest rock song ever made. Rock is hanging in New Jersey with Titus Andronicus and the Gaslight Anthem and in Southern California with Queens of the Stone Age and Northern California with Ceremony. It’s big in Japan with Boris and making noise in Canada with Metz. It’s right in your face with the tried and true, with Soundgarden and Linkin Park. Rock is everywhere. It’s not only alive but thriving. You have to look past the whole construct of genres and labels and realize that rock is the sum of its parts. It’s the finding the various parts that’s the journey to realizing rock is a living, breathing organism that’s a long way from the “rock is dead” pastiche ringing true.
And if The Who are no longer considered rock under the criteria set forth, at least they once recognized what the lasting impact of their origins should be:
Long live rock!
Dave Grohl’s Acceptance Speech – Thank you Dave Grohl! (music © Doug Lussenhop)
Uploaded on Feb 14, 2012