B12 Solipsism

Spreading confusion over the internet since 1994

Which Rock Star Will Historians of the Future Remember?

with 2 comments

Edison Diamond Disc Phonograph
Edison Diamond Disc Phonograph

Chuck Klosterman wrote an interesting essay, with a subject my inner rock historian appreciates: who will be the John Phillips Sousa of rock music, as viewed by students 300 years in the future? What artist will stand in for the genre itself? Will it be The Beatles? The Rolling Stones? Elvis Presley? Or Bob Dylan? Or someone else entirely?

The symbolic value of rock is conflict-based: It emerged as a byproduct of the post-World War II invention of the teenager, soundtracking a 25-year period when the gap between generations was utterly real and uncommonly vast. That dissonance gave rock music a distinctive, nonmusical importance for a long time. But that period is over. Rock — or at least the anthemic, metaphoric, Hard Rock Cafe version of big rock — has become more socially accessible but less socially essential, synchronously shackled by its own formal limitations. Its cultural recession is intertwined with its cultural absorption. As a result, what we’re left with is a youth-oriented music genre that a) isn’t symbolically important; b) lacks creative potential; and c) has no specific tie to young people. It has completed its historical trajectory. Which means, eventually, it will exist primarily as an academic pursuit. It will exist as something people have to be taught to feel and understand.

I imagine a college classroom in 300 years, in which a hip instructor is leading a tutorial filled with students. These students relate to rock music with no more fluency than they do the music of Mesopotamia: It’s a style they’ve learned to recognize, but just barely (and only because they’ve taken this specific class). Nobody in the room can name more than two rock songs, except the professor. He explains the sonic structure of rock, its origins, the way it served as cultural currency and how it shaped and defined three generations of a global superpower. He shows the class a photo, or perhaps a hologram, of an artist who has been intentionally selected to epitomize the entire concept. For these future students, that singular image defines what rock was.

So what’s the image?

(click here to continue reading Which Rock Star Will Historians of the Future Remember? – The New York Times.)

Bob Dylan - The U.S. Invasion is Underway
Bob Dylan – The U.S. Invasion is Underway

From my perspective, Bob Dylan is a better candidate than Elvis, simply because his music is more interesting to me. But who knows? It might be Prince, especially if the unreleased music contained in his vault turns out to be good, and culturally resonant for years to come. Or someone else entirely, like Chuck Berry.

All Alone In This World Without You
All Alone In This World Without You

Klosterman’s thought experiment is full of good lines, of course, including this train of inquiry:

In 2014, the jazz historian Ted Gioia published a short essay about music criticism that outraged a class of perpetually outraged music critics. Gioia’s assertion was that 21st‑century music writing has devolved into a form of lifestyle journalism that willfully ignores the technical details of the music itself. Many critics took this attack personally and accused Gioia of devaluing their vocation. Which is odd, considering the colossal degree of power Gioia ascribes to record reviewers: He believes specialists are the people who galvanize history. Critics have almost no impact on what music is popular at any given time, but they’re extraordinarily well positioned to dictate what music is reintroduced after its popularity has waned.

“Over time, critics and historians will play a larger role in deciding whose fame endures,” Gioia wrote me in an email. “Commercial factors will have less impact. I don’t see why rock and pop will follow any different trajectory from jazz and blues.” He rattled off several illustrative examples: Ben Selvin outsold Louis Armstrong in the 1920s. In 1956, Nelson Riddle and Les Baxter outsold “almost every rock ’n’ roll star not named Elvis,” but they’ve been virtually erased from the public record. A year after that, the closeted gay crooner Tab Hunter was bigger than Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino, “but critics and music historians hate sentimental love songs. They’ve constructed a perspective that emphasizes the rise of rock and pushes everything else into the background. Transgressive rockers, in contrast, enjoy lasting fame.” He points to a contemporary version of that phenomenon: “Right now, electronic dance music probably outsells hip‑hop. This is identical to the punk‑versus‑disco trade‑off of the 1970s. My prediction: edgy hip‑hop music will win the fame game in the long run, while E.D.M. will be seen as another mindless dance craze.”

(click here to continue reading Which Rock Star Will Historians of the Future Remember? – The New York Times.)

I agree with Gioia in this sense: there is a lot of music in my library that I only encountered because someone wrote about it, either a music critic, or a liner-note scribe, or similar. Word of mouth only covers so much ground. Big Bill Broonzy died before I was born, as did the career of Syd Barrett, The Sonics, The Velvet Underground and many, many other bands I never encountered on the radio, nor in a local tavern. 

Written by Seth Anderson

May 23rd, 2016 at 8:29 am

2 Responses to 'Which Rock Star Will Historians of the Future Remember?'

Subscribe to comments with RSS

  1. I predict David Bowie. I was not a fan during the 1970’s, although the Bing Crosby duet stands out as a kid. The androgyny wasn’t cool in my teens. Over the next 40 plus years however, his songs transmitted over the spirit of radio, those invisible airwaves crackled with life, to my bright antennae bristling with the energy, produced emotional feedback on a timeless wavelength, bore a gift beyond price to me, almost free (Can I change my vote to Rush?)

    Plus Belgian astronomers registered him a constellation.
    https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/jan/18/david-bowie-astronomers-give-the-starman-his-own-constellation

    Plus he confessed to Ricky Gervais that he was a Rock God.

    What more predictive analytics does one need? 🙂

    Bill Quinn

    24 May 16 at 8:51 am

  2. David Bowie is certainly a strong possibility, he had a varied, interesting career, and went out on a high note. He should at least be in the pantheon…

    Seth Anderson

    24 May 16 at 9:23 am

Leave a Reply