Perspective: Let Rock and Roll Die

by: Anthony Damiao

Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney recently suggested that “Rock and Roll is dying”.  He is quoted by Pitchfork contributor Carrie Battan as saying “Rock & roll is dying because people became OK with Nickelback being the biggest band in the world… So they became OK with the idea that the biggest rock band in the world is always going to be shit”.  It’s easy to hate on Nickelback… so I agree.  On the face of it, Carney is stating the obvious.  But I wonder if he appreciates the irony in his words.

Thing is, Rock ‘n’ Roll has died before, and it’ll die again—Hallelujah.  Isn’t that what makes the genre so great?  It’s constant pattern of death and redemption?  Its necessary tendency to eat itself alive and spit out something new and distinct?   Do you get me?

Look at its history.  Perspective is key.

Rock ‘n’ Roll in whatever form we find it, is a genre bent on shaking things up.  It’s a genre that, in its birth, changed what music was for.

Looking back, what changed the world more, Lee Harvey Oswald’s gun, or Elvis’ hips?

It’s not just that Rock ‘n’ Roll was louder, or that it got the kids dancing; it changed the reasons people listened to music.  Frank Sinatra starts looking pretty stale, I’m talking about as stagnant as a pea in a petri dish, when you listen to Chuck Berry.  Love ‘em or hate ‘em, crooners sure weren’t about to take the world in a new direction any time soon.  The electric guitar, for all its bubble gum pop sensibilities, was a sound with demands.

Then, with the rise of the singer-songwriter, or more accurately the songwriting singer, Rock ‘n’ Roll became more than rebellion in sound.  It became rebellion through poetry, lifestyle and records more manifesto than music.  Albums began to outsell singles with the rise of The Beatles, Dylan, the Stones, Led Zeppelin and Neil Young.  Rock ‘n’ Roll became about something more than “that song you really dig”.

Enter 1975.  Music’s getting flat again.  After one too many sitars, a drum solo 20 minutes too long, Rock ‘n’ Roll begins to show signs of illness.  Most bands had already done the best stuff they were ever going to do.  Dylan’s finished Desire, arguably one of his last good records, and it wasn’t phenomenal.  The Stones were trite after ’76, The Beatles were long done and most likely better for it.

Then.  Patti Smith, The Ramones, Television, Rock ‘n’ Roll falters.  Johnny Rotten—the final nail in the coffin.  Rock ‘N’ Roll is dead, or killed rather, by its disenchanted offspring bent on reinventing Rock ‘N’ Roll, bringing it back to its roots.  But nothing lasts forever, and the Punk Rock movement is a fast, vicious, short lived era.  Maybe it died with The Clash’s “Cut the Crap”, maybe they buried it with Sid and Nancy.  But die it did.  And then, before you know it, the mid 80s.  Rock and roll rears its shaggy, unshaved acne scarred head.  The Replacements, Black Flag, Fugazi, Husker Du and others start a DIY movement that culminates and dies with Nirvana in the early 90s.

Sometimes Rock ‘n’ Roll takes a while to keel over.  For every Chuck Berry there’s a Paul Anka.  For every Joe Strummer; Whitesnake.  Talking Heads; Journey.  You get the picture.  The problem really isn’t Rock ‘n’ Roll dying.  Rock ‘n’ Roll shakes things up, survival is contrary to what makes it so dear to us.  The problem is Rock ‘n’ Roll surviving!  When Rock ‘n’ Roll lives too long, it gets old and tired.  It sits in bed coughing up phlegm.  That’s how Nickelback happens!

SO, Rock ‘n’ Roll is dying.  About time!   It means something really incredible is about to happen.  Put your ear to the ground.  You can hear it.  Granted, Rock ‘n’ Roll has been clinging to its last breaths for a while past the expiry date if you ask me.  But it doesn’t matter.  Good music is rampant.  So quit complaining and Google shit you lazy arse!
[On a side note… if you Google the word shit, you get the Wikipedia definition.  It only takes Lady Gaga two lines to be mentioned.  The lady’s everywhere.  Jeezaloo.]
I could sit in front of my stereo scraping the shit off my speakers too, but there’s better stuff to listen too old and new, waiting to be discovered.  I’ve resigned myself to the fact that there’s always going to be another thousand incredible artists and bands that I’m never even going to hear about.
So, eyes on the future, something’s coming.  It’s going to be huge, it’s going to be DIY, and it’s going to be OURS.

In the meantime, here are some of my favorite Rock ‘n’ Roll records to tide you over until the world starts spinning again.  Most on this list are there because I feel they are too often overlooked:

Richard Hell & the Voidoids – Blank Generation:    

Lester Bangs predicted the coming of Punk Rock.   When I think of his description of great, visceral Rock ‘n’ Roll (not necessarily directed at punk music, often directed at Lou Reed), I think of this record.  Richard Hell is one of the founders of Punk Rock who usually gets put in the shadows.  He seems to enjoy it there.  I think he writes books now.  He started in Television, arguably kick starting the CBGB’s scene.  He is credited in “Babylon’s Burning” by Clinton Heylin as wanting to make Rock ‘N’ Roll where the rhythm guitar is “right out in front”.  This record is messy, in the best way, like it should be!

Elvis Costello & the Attractions- My Aim is True:

I know, it’s kind of a staple, but I’m always miffed at how many people have never listened to this record.  You mention Waiting for the End of the World, and they don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.  Elvis is one of those gems who can span so many genres, and do it with authenticity every time, but this is his first record, the big one.  The angry rock ‘n’ roll four eyes can turn a phrase like you wouldn’t believe.  Try and get your hands on the extended record, comes with some great honky tonk stuff.  Also, get his newest stuff.  I first got into Elvis with his second last record, “Secret, Profane and Sugarcane”.  Brilliant record.  “National Ransom” his newest one, is also well worth the time!

Television- Marquee Moon

Already went on about Richard Hell.  So this will be short.  This is instrumentally and poetically solid in every way.  Poetically solid in a simple, sparse sort of way.  “Look here Junior, don’t you be so happy, and for heaven’s sake, don’t you be so sad”.
The Replacements- Tim
I think my favorite Replacements songs are on Don’t Tell a Soul and Let it Be.  But this is probably start to finish their most solid record overall.  This is beer soaked madness with a purpose, drive, and a beating heart.

The Dresden Dolls- Yes, Virginia

Amanda Palmer is a hero of mine and normally I would hesitate to use that word.  Sharp as a knife, raw, emotive, dynamic.  The band consists mainly, often exclusively of Amanda Palmer singing and slaying piano, and Brian Viglione making the drums TALK, bark and whisper.  I must’ve listened to this record a hundred times by now.  I say that not as exaggeration, but to avoid risking exaggeration.  There might be 5 other bands I could say that for.  I feel unsure about including this record on the list though.  I feel as if people might disagree with me.  Which I normally encourage.  If folks don’t like the other records well, fuck ‘em.  Whatever.  But this record holds a spot close to my heart in the way that makes you want to smash the White album over their forehead, or your own when they hear a song you adore and say “how can you listen to that?”  That said, don’t you also feel your elitist, good taste side vindicated a small bit when that happens?
I love this record so much.  I would sneak it on a list of my favorite folk records just to spread it around.

There are so many other great records to listen to.  I realize this list doesn’t go earlier than the mid 70s.  I don’t really know 60s underground music very well and feel that staple records in the 50s and 60s Rock ‘n’ Roll canon are pretty self-evident.  We all have some idea of what they are.


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