Rock music is not boredom, it is passion, anger, pain, fun, decadence, love… but it is not boredom. The most exciting things in rock nowadays are dubstep, which is rock without its quintessential guitar, and indie, which is a recycling of Britpop, which was a recycling of indie… really pleasant indeed, but little to do with that visceral sober cocaine-like mood of perennial enthusiasm. You can either look back, and reuse the emotions of old songs, or look forward, and listen to something that doesn’t really taste like rock. The current state of music has been justly described by Keith Richards: "I hear a lot of rock... what happened to the roll?"
"I hear a lot of rock... what happened to the roll?"
As rock fans we firmly believe that rock ’n’ roll will never die; being rock immortality axiomatic, the question is: why is it ill? Pathogens are multiple, and they are not even bad per se. Becoming a rockstar now is just another career opportunity, and a particularly remunerative one, if things work out. It is not a rebellious choice anymore, there are no more broke kids moving to the big city carrying only a guitar and becoming musical heroes, no more troubled souls who are ready to embrace low life conditions as long as they can scream in a microphone. In his autobiography Apathy for the Devil, Nick Kent defines Iggy and the Stooges as ‘soul business’; rock in 2012 is a huge business, but a soulless one.
What else is eating the soul of rock away? It might sound nonsense but one answer is: the ghosts of the past legendary rock decades. Truth is, from the cradle in the Fifties until as late as the Nineties with the death of the last angry kid Kurt Cobain, music was so spectacular, we cannot create anything good today without recalling what has been already done. After the turn of the century, Teenage Fanclub Norman Blake’s statement that “Any music that doesn’t sound like anything else in rock history always sounds terrible” is tragically real. For 50 decades it has been exactly the opposite, rock has always meant innovation, until to be new one must now be a little old. This phenomenon is called retromania and it implies that since you have so much to draw into you don’t really need to produce anything new. It is almost funny: consumerism is the engine of our society, but as much as creativity is concerned, recycling is the leading trend.
Even though looking at it from a distance this recycling of ideas doesn’t stop their consumption and waste. This means that within the music industry a product is put on the market, it arrives everywhere and then it is phagocytised faster than David Bowie changed style. There is no more time for heroes and timeless songs, at this music fast food all you have on the menu is tofu in hundreds of different tasteless recipes. This is another side of the matter: art is so democratic and technology is so advanced, that now anybody who is nobody can express his or her discussable creativity. What looks like progress has its casualties: replication and the emptying of meaning of culture. Back in the Sixties Andy Warhol declared that anybody in the future would have been famous for fifteen minutes. We must surrender to facts: each and every village idiot can show his dullness on a stage, but none, good or bad, has more than fifteen minutes to do it. And what all these village idiots lack are personality and the rock spirit, or put it in Simon Reynolds words “all these dressing-up games can be played without the degree of emotional investment and identification that characterised the era when rock was seen fundamentally as art or rebellion.”
|Picture: Iggy Pop & Debbie Harry by Bob Gruen, 1977|
What makes a rock icon? The capability to go beyond the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and enter the real world. Gaining access to the Hall of Fame means that you changed something in music, that you are doing what nobody before you did, which is alone a great conquest. But today being avant-garde is more difficult, because people got used to everything, as Dame Vivienne Westwood reminds us. What can still be done is getting to the hearts instead of merely linger in the ears, touching the soul and shaking society. That’s what all that barking and howling around the Vietnam War was. That’s what Imagine and Blowing in the Wind are about. That’s what made them icons; that and incredible guitar riffs.
Many of the rock rebel songs were timely when they were written and they still are. Singing “I am an antichrist/ I am an anarchist” might not impress anybody in 2012, it might sound pretentious and repelling, but that’s exactly what we need. We need someone that rolls the old order into a paper ball and move people from apathy, like rock music did so many times. We need fireworks to change the world, not bombs, we need culture, not luxury, we need working hands, not smiling masks. We need guitars that sound like a Liberation Army, not like lovely lullabies (we need those too, but we already have plenty of them and they are not going to change the world). And most of all when we listen to music we need to ask ourselves the same questions that Lester Bangs asked Nick Kent in 1972: “What does this music say to your soul? Do these guys sound like they even have souls to you? What’s really going on here? What’s going on behind the masks?”
In the kingdom of music boredom there still are hopes. Joan Jett and Foo Fighters performing Bad Reputation at David Letterman Show still make us want to sing I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, don’t they? And the fact that Abbey Road is the most sold vinyl record for the third year in a row is reassuring: is there anyone else in 2012 music scenario that deserves this success more than the Beatles? And in the end Lou Reed’s words still sound true and charming like a Fender bass: “the music gave you back your beat so you could dream. A whole generation running with a Fender bass...”
Is there anyone else in 2012 that deserves success
more than the Beatles?