A rock ‘n roll conversation

A digital conversation about the health of rock ‘n roll between myself and mrami took place yesterday. Here’s what happened:

cromo: What are your prevailing thoughts? Or worries? Worries might be a better word.

mrami: Well, as a big general statement, I don’t think rock is necessarily dead, just in a slump that it will have to really fight to get out of if it wants mainstream attention again.

cromo: Alright then, big picture question: who do you think are the most important rock bands of the last fifteen years? Who do you think are the most popular? Is there an intersect?

mrami: It’s kind of hard to say who have been the most important because of this ever-changing “definition” of rock. It seems that very few out there fully embraced the notion of “rock” without having it swim in electronics that it becomes something other than rock.

cromo: I assume you’re talking about synth heavy acts like Imagine Dragons? Grouplove? Capital Cities? Groups that top the rock charts now?

mramiExactly, which to be honest, I don’t see groups like those as “rock” material.

cromo: How do you feel about Arctic Monkeys?

mrami: They’ve kind of blurred the lines of this latest release, still retaining the Josh Homme desert rock influence, but adding synths and stuff.

cromoThis conversation reminds me very much of when Alex Turner took the mic at the Brit Awards and drunkenly sputtered “rock isn’t dead, apparently.”

mrami: It’s still at the party and doesn’t want to leave.

cromo: I think that was the perfect metaphor. Rock isn’t dead right now, it’s just drunk. There definitely is something really weird going on with the guys who play guitar for a living.

mrami: One of my favorite docs is It Might Get Loud, with Edge, Jack White, and Jimmy Paige. There’s a quote from Edge in which he states, “there have been moments when I think that the guitar is sort of down for the count, but just when I think of that, it pops up somewhere else.” As stupid as it may be now, I think Guitar Hero and Rock Band sort of did that. But I really haven’t seen the guitar come up at all recently. It’s serving more as additional texture as opposed to being the main focus, of course through dozens of pedals.

cromo: I’m not necessarily against that. If I recall correctly, we both love My Bloody Valentine, and when they started playing their guitars entirely with the whammy bar, it was borderline sacrilege. But it sounded amazing, no?

mrami: Right, but I think it’s one thing to add a certain flavor to it. It’s another when it’s buried and barely discernible with all this other stuff around it. In the last five years, some of the most exciting guitar stuff I’ve heard has been from Savages, and they’re nowhere near the radio right now.

cromo: It seems like your opinion is shared by the Grammy committee. I just looked up the past five winners of the award for best rock album. Led Zeppelin in ’14 (really?), Black Keys in ’13, Foo Fighters in ’12, Muse in ’11, Green Day in ’10. All safe acts, in my opinion, easily defendable as “rock ‘n roll,” whatever that means.

mramiBut that’s a superficial and “old school” definition of rock. That sort of guitar, bass, drums, vocal thing. But I think it’s much more than that. It’s an attitude, an aesthetic, a lifestyle of some sort. To me, rock is dangerous, seductive, sexy, dark at times, with hints of beauty and agression. It’s something your parents would frown on.

cromo: I like that definition, especially as someone who defends punk and hip hop as a lifestyle. I think it’s fair to put rock in a similar category. My problem is that I believe the definition has evolved, and fans of the genre want to hold on to is as if it was the guiding principle by which the sound was formed, which it wasn’t. Rock is a hybrid; it started as a bastard child, a frankenstein sound when black guitarists and white songwriters decided to come together.

mrami: Basically one of the first times in music when the whites tried to act black, which is kind of funny because two of rock’s champions are opposites. Jimi Hendrix is the black guy that played light, and Jimmy Paige is the white guy that was dark.

cromo: But that’s the point, right? Rock is about evolution. It gave Jimmy Paige the excuse to *ahem* steal from black musicians, just like it gave Queen the excuse to put in opera tendencies, and as I argue, the excuse for new top-40 successes to layer their melodies with synthetic sounds.

mrami: So should rock’s definition be updated to fit that or should a new hybrid be created?

cromo: Yeah, I don’t know. I feel the minute we start labeling start stuff we get into a heap of trouble. Have you seen all the metal “subgenres?”

mrami: Don’t even get me started. Every time I look up a genre, it seems for every one there’s at least five other branches.

cromo: But on the other side, it can be helpful. Knowing that the band you like plays djent or brostep can help you find other stuff you like with a quick Google search. And that brings us back to wtf is rock ‘n roll?

mrami: XD

cromo: Seriously? What is it today?

mrami: I guess that’s the argument as opposed to is it dead or not. We need a current definition that will last a few years.

cromo: Well, to address it’s health, there are plenty of signs to point to a good outlook. The most played artist of the 2000’s? Nickleback.

A stupid Nickleback sidebar occurred, we’ll skip over it

cromoThe most played artist of the 90s? Collective Soul. It’s not necessarily “domination,” but when the last twenty years see two rock acts top the radio playlists, it’s in good shape in my opinion.

mrami: So do you have a modern definition of rock?

cromo: As much as I hate to say it…you know how Clear Channel is separated into classic rock, rap, alt rock, and country stations? I honestly think the best definition of “modern rock” is whatever plays on Clear Channel’s alt rock stations. It’s the same shit over and over, I know, but at the end of the day, Clear Channel curates that stuff because we agree to listen to it. And I know that goes beyond whatever sonic definition you can create, but the lines have been blurred so much it’s impossible to tell now.

mrami: So in the most basic of terms, it’s basically what radio (and ultimately what the audiences) see as rock, which takes on hundreds, maybe thousands of different connotations.

cromo: Ya, audience defined instead of expert defined, taking the academics out of music and putting it to a popular vote. If Lorde is the future of rock ‘n roll, then so be it.

mrami: Which is really how music should be, in the hands of the general audience as opposed to “experts” who dictate what’s good and what isn’t, what’s this and what’s that.

cromo: Sounds like you’re critical of critics, yeah?

mrami: A bit.

cromo: Yeah, me too. I really like Steven Hyden, Grantland’s resident music critic. But man, he had bad things to say about Arcade Fire’s most recent album, and I didn’t read him for a month afterwards. Petty, I know.

mrami: Now that’s a modern day Achtung Baby. And of course, everything James Murphy touches is like gold.

cromo: Now that’s my vote for most important band of the 2000s: LCD Soundsystem. Heck, I’ll even call them the best rock band of the aughts, and by no sonic definition is James Murphy rock ‘n roll.

mrami: LCD Soundsystem is definitely a band for the record books. What he did was nothing short of phenomenal.

cromo: But IS IT ROCK??

mrami: It took on so many costumes it’s hard to describe. I think the major thing was dance music with a rock/punk influence.

cromo: Good enough for me. There’s advantages to both.

mrami: ADVANTAGES TO BOTH!! And of course one cannot simply forget…GIL! SCOTT! HERON!

cromo: The Sonics…The Sonics….The Sonics…The Sonics…

This went on longer, but we’ll cut it off for our sanity’s sake

 

 

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