My apologies to William Shakespeare for borrowing one of his lines and abusing it. I recently read a book Deadlines And Commitments written by Trace Hacquard, in it Trace asks the question is rock dead. So interesting is that question to me, I decided to contact Trace and interview him, you can listen to the interview here.

As a music reviewer I likely have a lot more exposure to the various genres than most people. I’ll be honest with you, I really do not like the direction that ‘popular’ music is taking and just as insidious what is being fed to us in the media. The media is my enemy! It really all started with AM Radio, AM represented the ‘older’ generation, so it never explored the world of rock in any depth, the emergence of FM promised to cure that. FM was going to be the savior, and indeed for a short while it was. However a major shift happened in the late 70’s. The hunt for market share and advertising revenue was on. The FM stations started to consolidate. Consolidation came at a high price for the consumer, at first the changes were subtle, but over time they became profound. Playlists were shortened and standardized, enter the world of the three minute song, the endless commercials and the clueless DJ.

As the song says ‘Video killed the radio star’. That was it! The savior of music had arrived  everyone said when MTV hit the scene. Well, that is not quite true, this ‘new media’ has become yet another victim of the rot. I am sure that MTV is part of my cable package, but I could not tell you the channel number under torture. At some point MTV stopped actually playing music in favor of more commercially successful reality TV shows!

Gone were the avenues of opportunity for a band just starting out!

The other music stifling influence has to be the Labels, in many ways the music industry was the forerunner of what has happened in the book world. The big labels demanded complete control over the artists and basically ignored musicians just starting out. If you did not already have a billboard hit no one would even listen to your demo tapes.

Things have improved in the last decade, two major influences have gone someway to leveling the playing field, the internet and the rise of digital music, and bands using either self publishing or small independent labels.

In my mind though, things are still awry in the world of Rock. A surprising number of the monster bands of the 70’s and early 80’s are still playing, sure they do not tend to fill the 60,000 seat stadiums that they used to, well there are exceptions, bands like The Rolling Stones, and a few other iconic bands can still do it, but by and large they are the exception rather than the rule.

Many of the musicians are now in their 60’s, exactly how much longer they can continue to play is an unknown. The question I ask is what happens when they finally hang up their instruments? Who is going to take their place? The 70’s rock bands are legendary, numerous and often prolific in their output. But what happened to the next generation? In my eyes they were short lived and largely forgotten. Oh a few pop up from time to time, but by no means to they have the fan base needed to move forward.

The 80’s saw the advent of punk, disco, and various other forms of what is loosely referred to as music. The 90’s and this decade is equally bereft of any redeeming features when it comes to popular music. I occasionally ride with my 19 year old step son, and out of deference to my aging ears he at least keeps the volume withing my pain threshold, but the stuff that he listens to is horrific with lyrics that are socially and morally appalling. I can name several people who had their career curtailed for using the N word, yet in the Rap genre it is almost expected for a song to be laden with it, and other epithets of a racial and/or sexual nature. Is this the future of music?

Oh don’t get me wrong, I am no prude, you can ask my wife, on occasions I swear like a trooper. I also have no problem with the occasional ‘forbidden’ word in a song. In fact I’ll share some trivia with you, the first time the F word made it onto an album was Al Stewart’s Love Chronicles in 1970. This is not an honor that Al brags about, but is quite open about admitting it when asked.

My love of music covers not just a few decades, but several centuries. Religious chants, 17th century folk music, the great classic composers such as J.S. Bach, I like them all. And all will endure for centuries to come. Three hundred years form now people will still be in awe of Bach’s Tocatas and Fugues. But what will people be listening to in 20 or thirty years from now? Classic Rap from the 90’s and 00’s? Well I don’t see it. In fact I find it hard to believe that anything that has made it big in the past 20 years has any staying power.

I started this article wit a question, is rock dead. My answer is no, it is not dead yet. There are some great indie bands keeping the genre alive, maybe they will be the Saviour, only time will tell. One thing is clear, we cannot continue to live in the past, we must look to the future.

It is my intention to explore this subject further in a radio round table I am hoping that Trace Hacquard, Billy James of Glass Onyon PR, and maybe a couple of other guests. Keep tuned for this program.

Simon Barrett

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