By: Sam Kayuha, In The Record Store staff writer.
The question of whether rock is dead has been retreaded for years. While it is impossible to reach a consensus, the one thing that almost everyone can agree on is that rock music matters less now than it did last year, when it mattered less than the year before that, and so on.
“Rock is dead,” Phoenix said on the show. “There are those of us who are trying to keep the torch lit as bright as we can and keep running. But I think on radio, it’s basically non-existent.”
The genre probably falls somewhere between being dead or alive — it doesn’t have to be one or the other, this isn’t biology. I can see reasons to come to each conclusion.
Let’s start with the axiom that, for some reason, people love to say: rock is dead.
We see history in chapters — it is easier to separate the past into distinguishable chunks in retrospect. The history of rock is categorized in this fashion, from psychedelic to punk to new wave to grunge. The last definitive era, the garage rock of the White Stripes and The Strokes, came and went in the early 2000's.
Since then, the popular bands who were called rock were only vaguely so. Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem, probably the two biggest indie rock bands, were as far from traditional rock as possible.
It has been more than a decade since rock was a dominant genre among the group who we’ve decided determine culture — teenagers. Rap and EDM have taken over in the absence of a new movement of rock.
Lacking a new innovation of the genre, rock has found itself without the charismatic figures that it once did. The frontmen of young rock bands of today are low-key, far from the bombastic personalities of the stars of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder in the ‘90s held deep aversions to fame, which led the genre to believe that one had to sacrifice personal glorification for authenticity.
The charisma and eccentricity have become much more pronounced among rappers, whose flash has elevated them to the celebrity status and made personality a key part of their public image.
But even with its dwindled popularity among the kids and on the charts, there is sufficient evidence that rock is alive.
Rock in 2017 is a lot like baseball — it no longer the most popular sport in the country. It has been overtaken by football and basketball nationally, but is as popular as ever locally. Cleveland fans care about the Indians a lot, even if the rest of the country couldn’t care less, which is true in every city home to a Major League Baseball team.
Local music scenes are the same way. In every city with a creative community or young population — especially on college campuses — DIY scenes thrive, and some kind of rock music is what is most commonly heard. Creative kids are handed instruments, and if they continue to play, bands are formed, then scenes arise from the community of bands. These scenes become self-sustaining, with houses hosting shows and bands now able to self-release recordings online.
This kind of scene is present in Columbus and the campus area, but in Athens, around Ohio University, the community of bands is outstanding. Separated by miles of forest and highways from urban centers, students in Athens have only their own egalitarian spirit when forging a scene. Backyard festivals and house gigs are plentiful.
Even though new rock doesn’t have the cultural relevancy that it once did, the music and figures of classic rock have maintained relevancy as the years have passed.
The music and image of Hendrix, the Stones, the Beatles are so firmly cemented as touchstones of their era, and have stood the test of time so solidly that they have achieved mythic, god-like status, no matter if they died in 1970 or toured last year.
So while new rock may not have the same cache, the stars of old hold even larger acclaim, free from old criticisms.They are royalty now, some dying young enough to hold the golden shine of eternal youth (though their deaths were far from glamorous), and a few sticking around long enough to achieve actual knighthood.
So maybe rock is dead, but only if you look at it through a certain perspective, the perspective that only the now, this moment, matters. Because if you look beyond it, to the past and to even what made this moment what it is, you will see that very few things have had an impact on this culture like rock music.