Rock is dead, they say

"Long live rock!" is an appropriate response (and the next line in the song). But "rock and roll will never die"? Perhaps not. Nothing lasts forever. Still, certain musical forms persist. People have been writing symphonic and chamber music for hundreds of years. Jazz ensembles have been around for many decades. People play folk music, either modern versions or the actual songs passed down from centuries ago. And if we (some of us anyway) are still listening to ancient Indian classical music, why should rock and roll not still be a viable music form?

Rock was certainly on display at the Middle East Downstairs last Sunday night. The backline consisted of a drum kit, a bass amp, a Marshall half stack on one side, and an Orange half stack on the other. The fanciest piece of equipment that night was a looping pedal that Carrie Bradley used to play solo guitar and violin (I really enjoyed her opening set). There was nothing resembling a synthesizer, and I didn't see any laptops. This was guitar night.

Not that I have anything against keyboards or even computers. I played piano and Vox Continental organ on old recordings, and although I haven't used keys recently, I might. I also know and like bands that are basically made up of synthesizers, computers, and vocals. And with a creative DJ telling a story with ebb and flow, I can dance to EDM all night.

I also love all kinds of music, including reggae, folk, old school country, and some hip-hop, especially the hard-edged political kind. My musical taste is quite eclectic. But anyone who loves music probably has one kind that they really connect with on a visceral level, something that thrills their bodies and sets them on fire, and for me that's the various incarnations of rock and R&B. Garage, surf, punk, post-punk, maybe metal--as long as it's fairly stripped down and not too fancy (no, I am not a prog rock fan).

It's getting a bit tougher for rockers these days. I read that the big draws at the Pemberton and Squamish festivals this year were EDM acts. I know a small club in Vancouver that at this point books only electronic combos. The place fills up. And on the other side, "rockist" has become kind of an insult in music criticism, denoting a dinosaur (like me) who doesn't automatically take pop stars such as Lana Del Ray and Katy Perry as seriously as we do artists such as the New Pornographers or Sonic Youth. I confess to a weakness for Taylor Swift, and I do think that artists like Beyoncé create excellent music. I just can't live on a steady diet of EDM or pop. I need the rock. I can admire clever computer programming, but I would rather see and hear people playing actual musical instruments made of wood and steel.

Even though younger people flock to pop and hip-hop and EDM, there are always those who, like me, get off on playing guitar, or bass, or drums. They dig out their parents' old records. They delve into the past. They follow a form that at its core hasn't changed since the 1950s, and yet they reinvent it. Within the last year or so, I've seen young bands doing their own reinventions: Savages, Silvergun and Spleen, La Luz, PINS. Coming up, I'll see the Pack a.d. and punk band White Lung. I've bought great music recently by Ume, Screaming Females, La Sera, and TacocaT. Kids are still picking up guitars and whacking on actual drums. Someone in every generation seems to do that, whether rock is popular or not.

Frankly, even though it's harder to get bookings or listeners, I think it's probably better for rock to be a somewhat underground phenomenon. Rock gets bloated in the limelight. It thrives in the demi-monde.

So long live rock, in Boston and Vancouver and everywhere in between, in Manchester and Rio de Janeiro and Melbourne and even Angola (where there is a thriving death metal scene). For me, there's no feeling quite like holding an electric guitar against my body, putting my fingers on the strings, and making sweet and nasty and outrageous sounds come out of an amplifier. And some people continue to feel the same way. Maybe not forever, but I don't see an end yet.

1 comment:

Coline said...

I know the perfect place for rock, unfortunately I took Brian Eno, Music for Airports for relaxing during an MRI scan when heavy rock would have had a better chance of competing with the noise of the machine!

Eclectic rules...