The Null Device

The greying of rock'n'roll

The musical soundtrack of the post-WW2 baby boom generation's adolescence, rock'n'roll was associated with youth. Now its generation has inevitably moved into old age but held onto its musical tastes, and today's actual youth have a different soundtrack not handed down from their forebears. Rock, with its guitar riffs and themes of adolescent testosteronal swagger, is adjusting to being the sound of mature age, of experience and regret and the awareness of one's mortality and the inexorable passage of time, with all the weirdness that that entails:
The avowedly clean-living Ringo Starr will soon be 72. Bob Dylan is 71. Further down the age range, John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, has just celebrated his 56th birthday – which makes him old enough (just) to be George Osborne's dad. Even the Britpop generation is now greying fast: when Blur performs at tomorrow night's Brit awards, the drums will be played by Dave Rowntree – who, at 47, is two years older than the prime minister.
All of which proves two things: that rock music and the culture it spawned are getting on a bit; and that anyone who can convincingly call themselves young will want nothing to do with either. In the face of mounting evidence, I remain a firm believer that the electric guitar is the embodiment of excitement and the four-piece band as close to the Platonic ideal of the gang as anyone has ever managed. But these illusions are now largely confined to those of us over 40, while the young understandably seek their musical thrills elsewhere.
And while today's youth eschew the sound and style of rock (or occasionally partake of it as tourists, in packages of retro-styled nostalgia meticulously footnoted with references to its influences—today's cool indie-rock bands take their duties as stylistic mediums/interpreters with an almost Japanese level of fidelity, a far cry from the Dionysiac abandon of rock's young years), the genre maintains its relevance for listeners of a certain age, and is gradually beginning to shift its themes to those more relevant to a far later stage in life:
As all this happens themes of age and experience are finally entering the music. Grinderman, the project led by the Australian singer Nick Cave (54), was purposely created as an outlet for the angst of advancing years, as evidenced by the charmingly titled No Pussy Blues: "I changed the sheets on my bed / I combed the hairs across my head / I sucked in my gut / And still she said / That she just didn't want to." The impressive new single by Paul Weller (53) is called That Dangerous Age, and opens thus: "When he wakes up in the morning / It takes him time to adjust." Less cartoonishly, when I watched the eternally great Sinead O'Connor (45) perform a new single called The Wolf Is Getting Married on Graham Norton's show, I wasn't looking for the perspective of a twentysomething: she was singing about craving security, and there was something in the midst of it all that was worldly, and overwhelmingly mature. From PJ Harvey to a Dylan who wheezes and croaks his insights, this is what the best rock music is now – stuff by and for the ageing and old.
Meanwhile, in another sign of generational change, printed music publications' circulations are in freefall.

There are 1 comments on "The greying of rock'n'roll":

Posted by: Greg Wed Feb 22 17:21:07 2012

I think a good way to understand where rock is going is to look at what happened to jazz. Jazz was the sound of pop in the first half of the 20th century. Most pop music then was a variation on jazz. The form reached its conclusion in the 60s with free or "modern" jazz, and simultaneously died as rock'n'roll took off and began to attract young energy.

Jazz didn't disappear and plenty of people have played it and listened to it to this day, but essentially all jazz since the 60s has been a revival of one of the pre-60s sounds, and has mostly (but not entirely) been indulged in by old people who resented the rise of rock. If you play jazz today you will basically choose to play "trad", and sound like the 20s/30s, or "modern", and sound like the 50s/60s.

Rock is the pop sound of the second half of the 20th century, and right on cue is doing what jazz did. It has gone through its "modern" phase and is regurgitating its past. To play rock today is to choose which decade from the 50s to the 90s to sound like.

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