Damon Linker of The Week reports:

Rock music isn’t dead, but it’s barely hanging on. This is true in at least two senses.

Though popular music sales in general have plummeted since their peak around the turn of the millennium, certain genres continue to generate commercial excitement: pop, rap, hip-hop, country. But rock — amplified and often distorted electric guitars, bass, drums, melodic if frequently abrasive lead vocals, with songs usually penned exclusively by the members of the band — barely registers on the charts.

There are still important rock musicians making music in a range of styles — Canada’s Big Wreck excels at sophisticated progressive hard rock, for example, while the more subdued American band Dawes artfully expands on the soulful songwriting that thrived in California during the 1970s. But these groups often toil in relative obscurity, selling a few thousand records at a time, performing to modest-sized crowds in clubs and theaters.

But there’s another sense in which rock is very nearly dead: Just about every rock legend you can think of is going to die within the next decade or so…

…Behold the killing fields that lie before us: Bob Dylan (78 years old); Paul McCartney (77); Paul Simon (77) and Art Garfunkel (77); Carole King (77); Brian Wilson (77); Mick Jagger (76) and Keith Richards (75); Joni Mitchell (75); Jimmy Page (75) and Robert Plant (71); Ray Davies (75); Roger Daltrey (75) and Pete Townshend (74); David Gilmour (73); Rod Stewart (74); Eric Clapton (74); Debbie Harry (74); Neil Young (73); Van Morrison (73); Bryan Ferry (73); Elton John (72); Don Henley (72); James Taylor (71); Jackson Browne (70); Billy Joel (70); and Bruce Springsteen (69, but turning 70 next month)…

…From the beginning, rock music has been an expression of defiance, an assertion of youthful vitality and excess and libido against the ravages of time and maturity….

…Rock music was always a popular art made and consumed by ordinary, imperfect people. The artists themselves were often self-taught, absorbing influences from anywhere and everywhere, blending styles in new ways, pushing against their limitations as musicians and singers, taking up and assimilating technological innovations as quickly as they appeared. Many aspired to art — in composition, record production, and performance — but to reach it they had to ascend up and out of the muck from which they started.

Before rock emerged from rhythm and blues in the late 1950s, and again since it began its long withdrawing roar in the late 1990s, the norm for popular music has been songwriting and record production conducted on the model of an assembly line. This is usually called the “Brill Building” approach to making music, named after the building in midtown Manhattan where leading music industry offices and studios were located in the pre-rock era. Professional songwriters toiled away in small cubicles, crafting future hits for singers who made records closely overseen by a team of producers and corporate drones. Today, something remarkably similar happens in pop and hip-hop, with song files zipping around the globe to a small number of highly successful songwriters and producers who add hooks and production flourishes in order to generate a team-built product that can only be described as pristine, if soulless, perfection.

This is music created by committee and consensus, actively seeking the largest possible audience as an end in itself. Rock (especially as practiced by the most creatively ambitious bands of the mid-1960s: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and the Beach Boys) shattered this way of doing things, and for a few decades, a new model of the rock auteur prevailed….rock bands and individual rock stars were given an enormous amount of creative freedom, and the best of them used every bit of it. They wrote their own music and lyrics, crafted their own arrangements, experimented with wildly ambitious production techniques, and oversaw the design of their album covers, the launching of marketing campaigns, and the conjuring of increasingly theatrical and decadent concert tours.

This doesn’t mean there was no corporate oversight or outside influence on rock musicians. Record companies and professional producers and engineers were usually at the helm, making sure to protect their reputations and investments. Yet to an astonishing degree, the artists got their way…

…Like all monumental acts of creativity, the artists were driven by an aspiration to transcend their own finitude, to create something of lasting value, something enduring that would live beyond those who created it…

…It was all a lie, but it was a beautiful one. The rock stars’ days are numbered. They are going to die, as will we all. No one gets out alive. When we mourn the passing of the legends and the tragic greatness of what they’ve left behind for us to enjoy in the time we have left, we will also be mourning for ourselves.

Read more at The Week.

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  • dcinsc7 on

    As a high school teacher, there is still a segment of kids who thrive on rock music as part of their anti-establishment identity. I have a turn table and two crates of vinyl in my classroom and these teenagers are mesmerized. They want to hold them, read them, stare at them, and listen to them. They love hearing stories about these bands and singers. They love AC-DC, Queen, Van Halen, some KISS, Adam Ant, Bobby Brown, TLC, and Johnny Cash. It will be sad for our music heroes to succumb to the sands of time, but there are kids out there who will carry the torch of rock music. I feel confident.

  • daleamccune on

    This is a great point and I believe that once the acts from the 80’s are done, that we’ll hit a point where it’s inevitably dead since there’s not enough rock acts from the 90’s to keep it going.

    The main reason why rock music is dead is because of Country music and NOBODY is mentioning this at all. Country music is using the same formula that made rock music huge and hit it’s pinnacle by the early 90’s. It’s simple. There’s hooks. It’s catchy and singable. You can dance to it. You can cry to it. The artists have marketable looks, they can draw a female audience.

    Rock can’t anymore and has slowly stopped being a crossover that appealed to the masses. Country came in and is thriving off of it and now rock is just a bunch of small niche sub genres, while the biggest and most important genre pop/rock went yee-hawing.

    Why is country bad? Because it’s the simplest of rock music. How many times have you heard someone say “i want to learn how to play guitar, drums, bass etc… because of this country guy”? None. Country is just a bunch of solo artists or bad singers with generic backing bands.

    So while people blame hip hop or pop or anything else for rock’s demise… it was Rock musicians themselves deciding to be more “artistic” and less marketable/consumable that’s killed the genree and country music has taken it, cheapened it and twanged it

  • Doug on

    As sad as this article is, there is probably some truth to it. I’m a hard rock, heavy metal guy, but I do also listen to some country. And country is getting more “rock,” these days. And its stealing some of the rock market. We really need some of these “younger” rock acts bands like Greta, Avenged, Shinedown, Pop Evil, Halestorm, The Pretty Reckless, etc. to elevate. Just trying to hang on to what I love!

    • T on

      No doubt the country bands are starting to look more and more like rock videos.

  • RTunes68 on

    Rock is not dead. There are still great new bands doing great new music. It’s just that Rock is now a niche form of music. It’s like jazz. Jazz isn’t dead. There are plenty of jazz artists making great new jazz music. They’re just not heard on mainstream radio.

    All the “legacy” acts listed in this article are still popular concert draws because they mostly rely on nostalgia.

    New Rock music is not being heard or appreciated by huge mainstream audiences like it did in the past because mainstream tastes have changed. More people would rather listen to hip-hop or country because that’s where mainstream tastes lie today – record companies and radio programmers, for the most part, follow mainstream tastes (sales, ratings).

    Plus, as some others have said, technology and how people make and listen to music plays a HUGE role in the decline of rock in the mainstream.

    I don’t think it’s any more complicated than that.

  • Donald Pudas on

    This all makes me sad. I can’t believe Debbie Harry is 74.

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