The Death of Rock and Roll

The rock stars are dying. Lemmy, Bowie, and Glenn. They sound more like they should be characters in some buddy comedy, not the beginnings of an “In Memoriam.”

One by one they go, heading to form a superband in the sky, or wherever the afterlife is. It seemed like a cruel twist of fate. Against the odds, they were the survivors of ‘70s hedonism. They were supposed to be in the clear. Lived fast, escaped the dying young part. Cancer, arthritis, pneumonia… they weren’t supposed to go out like this. They were supposed to be immortal.

It’s just not fair. I don’t care if that sounds juvenile. That’s all I can really say about it: It’s not fair.

Because, beneath the grief and sadness, beneath the gnawing pit in my stomach that reminds me I’ll never witness their music in person, never breathe the same air as them, won’t see them contribute even more to the world than they already have — because even if they were senior citizens, they were still supposed to have many more years ahead of them — there’s a question I have to ask: Who is going to take their place?

Not that they’re necessarily replaceable. It’s just that the golden era of music, the genre we now refer to as “classic” rock… it’s going, going, gone. What’s next? Who’s going to ascend to the throne? Maybe these deaths are harder to swallow because we’re also mourning the slow death of rock and roll.

I just keep thinking that not a lot of modern music stands the test of time the way classic rock does. That’s why it’s classic. Of course, there are great talents and there are great rock and roll musicians today. But the era of rock stars is gone. Few artists today possess the ability to define a generation and also transcend it. Few possess that dual timeliness and timelessness. Few will be there guiding us like a north star when we need it the most. Few have that enduring power.

When we think about rock and roll, we think about the radicalism of it, the fight against status quo. We think about how everything had a meaning, was put out into the world for a reason. It wasn’t disposable. It didn’t take 13 people to write a song that would please some scientific algorithm of what makes a hit. When we think of rock and roll’s great hits, we will think about the music, the lyrics, guitar solos, and charismatic front men (and women). Years from now, when we think about the pop hits of today, the Hotline Blings and Hellos, we’ll think of memes.

I’m worried that rock is dying because I’m uncertain where we will be thirty years from now. I wonder if we’ll grieve the loss of our generation’s greats the same way we grieve now. I wonder if we’ll take pride in certain artists as leaders of our generation, as people responsible for a musical zeitgeist. Today’s artists cite the greats as inspiration; will the next generation of musicians claim their sound is influenced by this one? Will our children look to certain songs from our generation as textbook examples of great music, or will they still try to teach themselves how to play solos in Stairway to Heaven or Layla or Hotel California before they’ve even mastered Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star?

Most importantly: will the music of our generation leave a lasting imprint on people the way rock and roll does?

I don’t know. Maybe it’s pessimistic, but I don’t think so.

The rock star is dead. Long live the rock star.

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