Rock and Roll’s Second Coming
Neil Young once said – upon first hearing Nirvana – that “every once and a while a wave comes along that’s so unbelievable and every one goes, did you feel that?” To which I want to say: old man, take a look at my life I’m nothing like you – I’m aching to feel that. “Grunge” was really the last time the world was hit with a wave of rock & roll that powerful and those of us from Generation Y were either too young to remember, or missed it completely.
If you’re wondering where all the good rock & roll bands are, don’t worry they’re on their way. With the state of the music industry today looking much like it did in the mid 1950’s – when the tug-of-war between major and independent labels first ensued – we have finally come full circle.
This is the glorious golden age of digital technology. Sure we live in an oversaturated, media ridden, desensitized to everything world, but this is an incredible time to be alive because the Internet has given indie artists the world over an unprecedented kind of power over their craft, and we are starting to see a new generation rise to the occasion.
In the 1950’s, it was the independent labels not the majors that ultimately thrust rock & roll into mainstream American consciousness. At the time the major labels were still pushing the pop crooner’s who had carried them through the war years, but the problem was that post-war America was a much different place than the one that they remembered. People had developed new interests, attitudes and ideas about life, and with most busy starting the families that they had put on hold for so long, the music simply not longer fit.
The baby boom of the late 40’s to mid 50’s brought about the rise of the teenager as a brand new category of consumer.With uniquely potent tastes and incredible buying power, this was a generation growing up and trying to find their identity in the aftermath of the most catastrophic war in world history. These kids didn’t want to share anything with their parent’s generation; they wanted something new that they could relate to, and something that strictly belonged to them.
At the time, tensions surrounding racial awareness in America were at an all time high. Rhythm and blues, which was typically regarded as being “black music,” and country and western music, which was typically regarded as being “lower class white,” were still considered marginal sounds. Like the people who fell into these categories, the mainstream regarded this type of music as belonging on the outside. However, the independent labels of the 1950’s (Sun, Atlantic, Vee Jay, and Chess) quickly began to recognize a budding interest from youth audiences in this new sound and were able to visualize a cross between the two. They had the creative vision, the necessary foresight, and the gut-instinct to jump in just as things began to gain momentum. With teenagers curiously compelled to partake in the new sound, look, and dance crazes that followed, what became termed “rock ‘n’ roll” quickly took over the airwaves and took on a life of its own.
Today, some 60 years later, we are again verging on a similar situation in terms of the power independent labels and artists have over influencing the sound of popular music. For the past twenty years or so, we have been witnessing the steady decline of the “old music business model.” This of course refers to a business that essentially maintains control over everything from the production and distribution of an artist’s music, to the marketing and promotion of the artist itself. These days, that model no longer exists in the same capacity because the inception and integration of the Internet into every inch of our daily lives is slowly putting the power back where it started – into the hands of independent artists.
Today, as we stand in the midst of yet another generational shift, we can see that independent artists have more power over their craft than ever before. The Internet is the new vehicle of the masses, and indie artists coming up right now have the ability to control almost all traditional facets of the music industry from the comfort of their home computer. The game has changed, and while things are still very much in a state of flux, we are absolutely coming up on a new age in popular music.
Part of the downfall of the traditional music business model has been the lack of money fronted by major labels as investments for the development of potential long-term artists. In recent years, we have begun to see the market flooded with disposable pop music that generally targets the “tween” (9-12) and young teen (13-16) audiences. Due to things like the decline of the CD, labels are no longer making the same kind of money they used to and tend to play it safe by putting their money down on artists that they know will generate a quick return on their buck; whether that is at the cost of “quality” is a matter of opinion.
What has happened over the past couple of years is that everything has become pop music and pop music has become multi-generational (I.e. both teenagers and their parents are now listening to the Tiao Cruz’s of the world). While this makes for both a strange musical atmosphere and market place, it certainly isn’t the first time in history that pop music has crossed generations this way. The good news is that it tends to eventually generate such an extreme sense of boredom and frustration from the youth generation that it sparks a wild and fiery moment of revolt and release. That is exactly what happened in the 1970’s to eventually spawn the punk movement.
By the time 1975 hit, the spirit of the 60’s was already over a half-decade-old and what was left over was merely residue of a former time. Kids growing up in the 70’s, who were to young to participate or be influenced by the hippie movement and the psychedlia of the 1960’s, were still waiting for a sound that was distinctly theirs.
Perhaps both the industry and the fans were confused as to where to go next after the 60’s happened, but what came as a result was more and more hokey pop music. The pop came tied in with the disco era stuff, and the chart toppers of the time were greatest hits albums from artists who had made their name a decade before (Elton John, Barry Manilow, Rod Stewart, Perry Cuomo). Pop was extremely multi-generational during the early-mid 70’s, and with almost no surviving counter culture or underground movement taking place in the U.S. or U.K. at the time, teenagers felt bored, restless, and disconnected.
It took some time to bubble up from the underground, but tensions finally mounted in ‘76 and the world was slapped in the face with punk rock. Bands like The Ramones out of the New York CBGB scene and The Sex Pistols out of the U.K., epitomized a new generation of disillusioned and pissed off youth, who longed to belong and who were ready to shake things up by making the rock & roll music they wanted to make.
Punk was really the ultimate in DIY expression, and paved the way for countless other independent movements in the years that followed. Fast-forward to today and we are seeing a musical atmosphere strikingly similar to that of the mid 70’s, only this time we are seeing a whole new crop of young Independent musicians rising up and using the Internet as a tool to reclaim rock & roll as their own.
The atmosphere of a digital world is fast paced and oversaturated. Things are naturally here today and gone tomorrow, and that has become the digital life cycle. Being a reflection of the times, pop music has taken over the airwaves in a whole new way. There is an incredible void in rock & roll music right now, and everyone can feel it. But, there will be more rock & roll bands because while a lot of people think Gen Y is a lost generation – and who knows maybe we are – we are also believers with a fire in our bones.
We are a generation yearning for the kind of music that speaks to and for us, and that has the power to move people. We want rock & roll with that bare bones essence that creeps up on you, sends chills up your spine, and reminds you that you’re still alive.
Rock & roll has finally come full circle, and we are on the brink of something spectacular here. We have returned to a time where independent artists hold the conch, and that means something. Rock & roll isn’t dead, this is its second coming, and we are about to see a whole new generation of musicians refocus our attention on the human experience of rock & roll and slap us in the face with the weight of our own emotions.