By Jim McCarthy Apr 5, 2012 0 comments

Classic Rock is Dead

I love it; you (probably) love it.  What’s not to love?  The Stones, the Beatles, the Who, Elton  John, Billy Joel, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, U2, Aerosmith.  I could type a stream of consciousness list of great musical acts for the next several lines without having to stop to think or take a quick glance at wikipedia for more ideas, and every name on that list would be an act that has songs that most people, even most young adults, know.  (I even include a lot of “classic” pop and R&B in this.  Basically, it’s the music of the early to late Baby Boomer period, or the mid-50s to the early 90s.)

But here’s the scoop:  this great music, the acts, and the business model around it are dead.  Yes, they’re the Walking Dead, in that for several more years, the undead corpse will continue to stumble forward, and of course, we’ll always have the music, but as a living, breathing thing, this music and the paradigm they represent is dead.

This isn’t news, exactly.  I’ve been talking about it for a few years, actually, but I’m here today, dearly beloved, to give it its last rites.  It’s over.  And that shouldn’t surprise us, after all.  This music is old.  Even the “new” guys like Radiohead have been at it for decades.  It’s like the old Soviet Union where a “youth movement” in politics meant that the new leader was 60.

Why has it survived so long?  Because it didn’t get replaced.  Til now.  This piece in the New York Times by Ben Sisario puts succinctly and in a very mainstream outlet what has been bubbling under the surface for a few years now: electronic music.  Even Michael Rapino of Live Nation gets it.  “If you’re 15 to 25 years old now, this is your rock ‘n’ roll, ” he’s quoted as saying in the story.

How do we know this is a living thing, a thing of today?  First of all, older people don’t understand it.  It either seems stupid or dangerous to them.  Add to that the fact that it’s flourishing.  Later in the article, a William Morris Endeavor agent says this:

“It feels like the dot-com era.  There’s a little bit of a gold rush going on, with outsiders looking in.”

If you talk to people in what they call the “concert” business, it hasn’t felt that way in a long, long time.  And the people at the helm of this stuff get that.  Pasquale Rotella, an organizer of popular electronic dance music events, said  “You don’t want this to turn into what the concert business is today.”  That could mean a lot of things, but I assume that part of what he’s getting at is that he has no desire to see this genre absorbed into the creaky, sputtering, outdated machine that create and promote traditional concerts and recorded music.

Because that is a relic of a time that is now gone.  Not just past, but gone.  Its influence has waned gradually as the baby boomers leave their prime earning and culture-influencing years; it was dealt a body blow by the Recession, when Gen Y asserted itself as the leading cultural influence, at the expense of boomer culture, and it has nowhere to go but into the museum.

It was a great party.  But it’s over.  And that’s ok, because it’s always best to let something new and right for its time take the stage.  It might be a decade or more late in coming, but it’s happened.

The future should belong to the living, and classic rock and the apparatus supporting it is dead.

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