You’ve heard it a thousand times: the classic idiom which boldly asserts that all music worth being made in a particular genre has already been made; every Maroon 5, Fall Out Boy, and Mumford & Sons that emerges in popular music being leveraged as some half-baked substantiation of the idea that compelling, guitar-based music is simply a thing of the past. This assertion is generally little more than a thinly-veiled rationalization for making thoughtless, hypercritical comments about contemporary acts while avoiding accountability for the implications of such statements.
This line of thinking is not limited to the scope of rock music, however. Such fantastical claims can be confirmed to have been made of most (likely all) forms of music with any notable audience to speak of. Overcritical fanatics and even leading artistic figures in the Country, Hip-hop, Jazz genres have been documented to have tossed around such reckless rhetoric. Gene Simmons emerges every few months to ensure that his feelings on the matter have not been forgotten (spoiler alert: he’s still quite certain of its passing).
Responding to one such remark made by Simmons in a 2014 Esquire Magazine feature – a remark from which the headline of the story had been taken – Foo Fighters retorted succinctly via Twitter, “No so fast, Mr. God of Thunder.”
Grohl and company have long flown the flag for the continuation of the rock & roll tradition, unwaveringly continuing their commitment to the creation and performance of raucous, guitar-based music – even managing to maintain their status as one of the most successful and beloved contemporary bands in America while doing so.
Last year, country music legend Alan Jackson released his 21st studio album, Where Have You Gone, named for a track which sees the iconic artist questioning the whereabouts of the form to which he has dutifully committed himself for several decades.
Nas, one of the most highly respected MCs in Hip-hop, released his 8th album, Hip Hop is Dead, in 2006. The record saw the veteran rapper condemning the then-state of rap music, which had found itself in a cycle of seemingly perpetual absurdity with the advent of the Snap Music/Ringtone Rap sub-genre.
Here, the entrepreneur and former Def Jam CEO took aim at artists exploiting the auto-tune effect as popularized by singer/rapper T-Pain in the mid-2000s, at which time it was adopted and effectively doubled down upon by many of the same creators responsible for Nas’ own sweeping declarations on “Hip Hop is Dead.”
Still, as was and is typical of Jay-Z’s approach, the rapper’s takes were nuanced, directed at a very specific sub-group, and generally avoided the blatant finger-pointing that comes with the implication of a cultural force being effectively sunken by the cultural/economic landscape at a given time.
Over half a century prior, many jazz figureheads, including even Louis Armstrong, contributed to the prevalent narrative of the 1940s that the Bebop form of Jazz was effectively “killing” the Jazz art form.
In truth, the Bebop explorations being pioneered by visionaries like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie would revitalize the Jazz form, dusting off the novelty of tradition and digging deeper into the musical bones of the format.
While Jazz as a whole would benefit from the endowment of musical interest which allows the music to maintain relevance nearly a century later, the virtuosic, challenging material did drive away audiences to an extent.
As the central function of the music up to that point had been to create a danceable atmosphere, many casual listeners were unable to see the value in the work once this element had been removed. But if not for these musical, albeit anti-commercial, developments, Jazz as a genre would almost indubitably have gone the way of barbershop music and show tunes – relegated to novelty in the current day.
But these critics followed the same line of thinking as did the ones firing off these types of assertions regarding other genres, that being: if music isn’t prominent and/or successful from a commercial standpoint, then it isn’t successful at all.
Assuming any substantial correlation between commercial success and musical/artistic value is a flawed approach from the outset, and can lead inquiring minds to marred and fragmented conclusions which fail to authentically reflect the cultural and artistic reality of a given situation.
This type of fallacy is easily debunkable with just cursory research, as fairly successful artists following traditional ways of thinking regarding the manifestation of their own art can be found in towns and cities all throughout the country.
Artists like Tyler Childers and Chris Stapleton are creating deeply intuitive Country music which reflects the ideals established by names like Waylon Jennings and George Strait, but since Luke Brian or Florida Georgia Line are sitting at number one on the pop charts, the genre gets cast off as “dead.”
A few minutes on Google will allow for the execution of similar exercises with other genres, setting the stage for a number of cases to be built which allow for the systematic debunking of the “(insert idea here) is dead” arguments like shooting fish in a barrel sitting directly before you.
The fact is, as long as folks are feeling inspired to pick up a pen or instrument and explore themselves and the work that came before, these artistic forms are more than simply surviving; they are active and arguably thriving.
So long as kids are being driven to dig into Metallica and/or pick up a six-string after watching Eddie Munson shred to Master of Puppets, or pick up a trumpet based on the undying emotional force of Kind of Blue, these forms are far from dead.
If you aren’t hearing what you like from a particular genre or artist, perhaps it’s less an indication that the form as a whole has ceased to exist and more an indicator that you aren’t necessarily looking hard enough.
Don’t care for what’s topping the charts? Good, don’t listen to it. Use the energy that otherwise might be put into dismissing or complaining, and put it into digging, into searching.
Because odds are there’s a lower-tier artist out there creating something that would touch your soul if you found it, and your support would make much more of a difference to them than any thoughtfully (or otherwise) developed critiques would to chart-topping pop acts.
With that, consider putting down the pitchforks and picking up some headphones; There are musicians who need you.
“Rock is Dead,” And Other Popular Myths article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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