Column: The Critical Curmudgeon
Rock And Roll Is Going Down Swingin'
Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 7, 2013 00:02
Beyonce did an acceptable halftime show. There, I said it. Now buzz off.
We have more pressing matters to attend to. The very future of rock and roll may hang in the balance! This week, Fall Out Boy of “Sugar We’re Goin Down” fame announced that they’re bringing an end to the hiatus they embarked on in 2009. Almost four years of creative constipation has given way to a diarrheic rush of activity, with an album, a single, and an international tour suddenly in the works. What sets this apart from any other decade-old group reuniting is the bold mission statement the band has declared on their website and with the album’s title: Save rock ‘n’ roll.
To begin with, I’ll just say that I can hardly contain my skepticism. There’s hardly been such a dubious statement made in music since Jesus claimed he was more popular than the Beatles. Seriously, I think Throbbing Gristle has a better chance of saving disco, and half the members are dead or pants-on-head bonkers.
Yet regardless of what a 2001 pop punk group thinks will “save” rock ‘n’ roll, it’s striking that they would even feel the need to pursue such a venture. Does rock need saving? It would certainly seem so, based on the last ten years or so of comments on it. Just recently, Tenacious D claimed to be launching a Bring Back the Rock campaign with their album Rize of the Fenix. Despite their being chiefly a comedy music group, Jack Black was taking the dearth of quality rock very seriously when he set out to “rescue” the genre. Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band gave a scathing review of the industry in an interview where he encouraged musicians to go back to their rock “roots” and start playing like back in the Glory Days. Hell, ever since bands started producing music that could be played entirely on the synth and the colored florescent light bulb, listeners have been pronouncing the music of the ’60s and ’70s dead and gone.
But why does this happen to rock? Why hasn’t L.L. Cool-J come out with “Save Big Band Swing?” Well, first of all, the world isn’t ready. Secondly, no music genre hit the 20th century quite as hard as rock ‘n’ roll. For instance, try finding a legitimate best-ever list of guitarists, singers, and drummers where the top picks aren’t in some way affiliated with Woodstock or the British Invasion. You won’t, because rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t just making young people dance, it was defining a whole generation. The tremendous draw of performers ranging from Chuck Berry to Zeppelin, in addition to the groundbreaking innovation happening for music technology at the time, pretty much guaranteed that all music to come was going to be compared to the stuff being put out from ’63 to ’75. When The Who said “Rock is dead” in ’74, they were pulling the curtains closed on a movement that had left everybody different. Wouldn’t it be great if we could bring that back? Just have a do-over on the whole thing and forget the ’80s ever happened?
Put simply: no. Well, it would be nice if Hair Metal never was a thing. But, even as much as I personally adore rock ‘n’ roll and Lil’ Stevie, I have to disagree with the folks that want to bring the whole thing back. While it’s a nice and unavoidable sentiment for people to want guitarists like Hendrix and Clapton to come roaring into the current mainstream, it’s just not realistic. Does it surprise you to hear me, of all people, say that? I’ll clarify: I don’t think we can duplicate, even half-convincingly, the sound from that context I’m so in love with. What needs to come back in music today is the ineffable feeling of raw, uncontrollable talent, the poetry and performance those guys effused and revolutionized. As for the music itself, I can still hear The Velvet Underground and Pink Floyd just fine when I put on their LPs. There’ll be no need to go on rock rescue missions if the musicians of our time step up in their own genres and keep the tradition of talent alive.
So, all in all, what I’m trying to say is this: please don’t try to save rock ‘n’ roll, Fall Out Boy. It doesn’t need saving, because it’s still very much alive. In here. (Now imagine I’m poking your chest with my index finger.) Go. And rock on.