Salon.com's regular Audofile blog posed an interesting question today: did Gen X kill the rock star? The premise is that Generation X, with all that flannel and slacker vibe (even though a lot of us did neither), somehow did not live up to the expectations of our elders (yet again) that we would produce a crop of iconic rock stars in the mold of the Beatles, the Stones, the Boss, and REM who are still out there, filling arenas and charging ludicrous prices to hear old hits. To me, them's fightin' words! So naturally, I feel I must say something about it.
First off, I think that the blog entry does get something right. They mention that hip hop became a real, mass market cultural force in the 1990's. Rock has always been fueled by young male angst and rebellion, and hip hop is now the "dangerous" music of choice for young men. I really believe that this has robbed hard rock music of one of the core cultural niches it occupied during the 60's, 70's, and 80's. So instead of getting another Liz Phair album of the caliber of whitechocolatespaceegg, we see a label forcing her to write tracks with The Matrix -- people who have worked with the likes of Avril Lavigne, Nick Lachey, Shakira, Britney Spears, and Hilary Duff.
To those who say "so what", I ask you to look around and see who is imitating bands from the early 90's today. If you listen to Nirvana, Soundgarden, G'N'R, Pearl Jam, the Black Crowes, Phish, and even Smashing Pumpkins, you see artists who were trying to distill something important out of the music that they listened to growing up. It's been ten years -- where are the artists who went to see one of these acts at 12-15 years old and said "damn, I've got to do this."
I would argue that there are several reasons for this, but chief among them is that something about both our culture and the way it is produced has changed in the last 10 years. Would Born In The USA have been the cultural phenomenon that it was without a) big label push and b) a support network of AOR radio stations and MTV to promote it? It may be a great album (though probably not Springsteen's best) but even great albums can linger in obscurity if they are not put before the public. Right now, media conglomerates are primarily interested in promoting mostly female "celebrity" acts (you know know: Jessica. Britney. Christina. Shakira. Janet.) and various rappers, with the occasional nostalgic nod to aging Boomers like Carlos Santana. Plus, where is AOR radio stations and MTV today? Radio is in decline. MTV doesn't really play music anymore. Plus who really programs anything anymore? Mass media is about one thing: assembly line syndication.
I suppose we could blame it all on break ups. The laundry list of early 90's bands that have been AWOL is pretty huge:
It's interesting how that renewed fascination with heroin in early and mid-90's really takes a toll, don't you think?
- Alice In Chains, broken up due to herione overdose,
- Nirvana, gone because of Kurt Cobain's suicide,
- Soundgarden, broken up over creative differences,
- Stone Temple Pilots, broken up over both drug battles and creative differences,
- Smashing Pumpkins, ditto,
- Guns'N'Roses, not dead but may as well be because Axl Rose is turning into Howard Hughes,
- Phish, broke up after successfully assuming the jam band mantle of the Grateful Dead, and
- Pearl Jam, not broken up but lacking any interest in a major label deal
But in the end, perhaps I should just declare defeat. My generation sucks. We didn't do the campus protest thing like we were supposed to. We didn't do the rock star thing like we were supposed to. We didn't learn to control the world like we were supposed to, despite being caught in a demographic disadvantage between two of the most "me"-centered generations in history. That's our problem: we just suck.
on 2007-03-05 at 9:47 p.m.
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