For as long as I have been listening to rock ‘n’ roll, people have been telling me that the music I love is dead.
When I was a grade-schooler in the late ’80s, people told me rock was dead because of the preponderance of hair-metal bands on MTV. A few years later, I heard rock was dead because white suburban kids had finally embraced hip-hop. After that, rock died because Kurt Cobain committed suicide. And then rock died again because Rolling Stone decided in the mid-’90s to put an electro-punk band from England that nobody remembers called The Prodigy on the cover. And then there was the rise of boy bands in the late ’90s. And the riots at Woodstock ’99. And then there were the Strokes, who some people believed signaled that “rock was back!” while others insisted that, no, the Strokes were derivative and therefore represented rock’s death. And on and on and on.
Of course, there were those who argued that rock died before I was even born. In the late ’60s, rock critics like Richard Meltzer and Nic Cohn believed that rock’s evolution from the wild-eyed innocence of early rock ‘n’ roll in the ’50s to the druggy self-indulgence of the late ’60s killed the music’s original outlaw spirit. In 1971, folk singer Don McLean echoed these sentiments in the corny FM radio staple “American Pie,” in which he coined the phrase “the day the music died” to signify the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper 58 years ago this week. 58 years ago! Rock apparently died almost immediately after it was invented.
By now, I should probably be used to “rock is dead!” thinkpieces. And yet, I must admit to feeling bewildered by the latest rash of amateur coroners eager to perform last rites on rock’s corpse. In recent months, there’s been a new “rock is dead!” thinkpiece seemingly every other week. “Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Dead, or Just Old?” pondered The New York Times. “What Happened to Rock Music?” mused The New Republic. “Is Rock Still Relevant in 2016?” wondered Billboard. (Full disclosure: I was quoted as a source in the Billboard story.) Some outlets haven’t even bothered to frame rock’s health in the form of a question. “The Demise of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” indie music site Consequence of Sound declared ominously last week.