Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Did Gen X kill the rock star? Umm.. No.

Salon's Audiofile tries to get provocative by accusing Gen X of killing the rock star.

There's a few problems with the way the question is posed. First the author of the article gives no clear definition of what a rock star is (or was before it was killed). The Who were rock stars, and the Rolling Stones, I guess. Was Bob Dylan a rock star? Doesn't seem like it. Were the Beatles pop stars or rock stars? How about Simon and Garfunkel? Marvin Gaye?

Secondly there's seems to be some confusion about what Gen X is. Is it a demographic or a music style. The article seems to imply that by Gen X, they mean Grunge. So music in the mid-80s doesn't count. And the Gen Xers who are still out there working (who do you think all those post-rockers, are, anyway?) don't count either.

And the bands that made grunge? Nirvana, Pearl Jam, etc. Well, the author can't really say why, but they just don't seem like Rock Stars to him. Don't know why, they just aren't. Was this person even alive in 1992? Did he ever see Singles? You can say what you want about Kurt Cobain, but he was pure charisma on TV. Pearl Jam? Before they abandoned stardom, they were basically Bon Jovi in flannel. Big guitars, big anthems. The rest is grunge mystification.

The third problem of the article, is there's no justification for why we should care. Do we need rock stars? Do they serve a purpose? Or are they just corporate creations? Inauthentic shills who play bad music to clueless teenagers. Excessive, greedy, mindless, laughable frauds. And as long as it sells CDs, magazines, and clearasil, the record companies could care less.

But here's what happened. In 1997, MTV handed the keys to the culture over to Gen Y. Gone were the music videos, gone were the news programs and rock the vote earnestness. Gone were 120 Minutes and Alternative Nation. In came lifestyle programming, and the Real World Drunken Hot Tub edition, and TRL. Teen pop replaced Radiohead. It became all about niche programming and ratings, and selling clearasil. And who needs real rock stars when you can just manufacture them? (Just ask the Disney Channel!)

And that's how we end up with the tabloid culture we have today: Paris Hilton, Kevin Federline and the rest. Excessive, greedy, mindless, laughable frauds. An irony: rock music used to create a lavish lifestyle for its stars who indulged in every way. Now a lavish, self-indulgent lifestyle entitles talentless morons to foist their images and bad music upon us. In the tabloid age, "music" is a product, an accessory, a symbol of conspicuous consumption and ego.

The nice thing is that the art of music and culture are cyclical. Every time the music industry becomes bloated and self-important enough to create "rock stars", something comes along to sweep it away and bring things back to their roots: The British Invasion in the 60s, Punk in the 70s, Grunge in the 90s, Indie in the 00s.

What makes me happy is that right now, I have more access to more and better music than I have ever had in my lifetime. Who needs rock stars, when I have Arcade Fire, Modest Mouse, Wilco, My Morning Jacket, Band of Horses, and hundreds more?