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Transgenerational rock (OR: Why isn’t rock dead yet?)

Our local public radio station, WBUR, just ran a piece about corporate execs who are in rock bands. (It includes a mention of my friend Jon Cahill, who by day is a graphic designer, and who designed the splendid cover for my non-splendid children’s novel, but who at night plays in The Limitations.)

It makes me wonder. My parents’ music sounded old-fashioned to me when I was a kid. I don’t think my generation’s music — The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Dylan, and Simon & Garfunkel, to list some prototypes — sounds nearly as old fashioned to our kids. Sure, there was something sui generis about the Beatles, but Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman (more prototypes) also made remarkable and complex music, although it took me until my late forties to recognize that.

Why has my generation’s music stood up so well? Why doesn’t it sound as old-fashioned to our kids as the theme music for the Our Gang series?

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13 Responses to “Transgenerational rock (OR: Why isn’t rock dead yet?)”

  1. Some of it obviously ages well, but as a 30-something who grew up listening to a lot of “classic rock”, a lot of it is pretty badly dated.

    And of course, these days, swing and jazz are still pretty popular with a reasonably large subset of “the kids”.

  2. (btw it looks like your last paragraph cut off a little early).

  3. Perhaps because it wasn’t market-driven. Seriously.

  4. (dbt: I’ve fixed the problem with the paragraph. Thanks.)

  5. Why has your generation’s music stood up so well? Because your generation controls the media. Because in doing so, people who spent the rest of their lives listening to the music they listened to when they were 18 made sure that the rest of us also listened to the music they listened to when they were 18. Punk rock was an attempt to break the boomer monopoly (as The Clash put it in their song “1977”, “No Elvis, Beatles, or The Rolling Stones”), at attempt that pretty much failed thanks largely to said media control. Hip hop, rather than taking on generational hegemony directly, just bypassed it and created their own media. Indie rock wound up doing much the same. Music splintered in a way that wasn’t true in the 1960s in an attempt to bypass the overwhelming influence of the generation that came of age in the 60s. That splintering made it even less likely that any new music could break through to wider popularity, leaving the mass market to endless rehashes of the same old stuff.

    Hate to break it to you, but your generation’s music sounds hopelessly old fashioned.

  6. I assure you, it sounds just as old fashioned. And I say that as a fan.

    You could make an argument that kids today are a little more eclectic, post-modern, grabbing bits and pieces of music from many different eras rather than marching to the edicts of the Top 40 Countdown. But they are hearing the music of your youth through eighteen levels of irony and historical distance.

    Phil Ford has written some great posts on our post-rock era:
    http://musicology.typepad.com/dialm/2008/02/post-rock.html
    http://musicology.typepad.com/dialm/2007/03/listening_biogr.html

  7. The music in the Betty Boop cartoons kicks ass. Cab Calloway sang in a couple of them.

  8. I can’t help but wonder: has it (60s/70s music) held up so well because the basic sounds are the root(s) (and/or main influence(s)) on so much of contemporary music? If it is the foundation of cool and an aesthetic then I’d assume that whoever is listening to -let’s say the Arcade Fire now will definitely still able to rock out to the Stones, Iggy and the Stooges, the Talking Heads… and there is the ever-present Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell obsession, like an oral tradition that gets passed from college student to college student. Lot of people go through a Bowie phase…
    Just a thought-

  9. Our generation’s music has lasted because it is, clearly, superior to any other’s. Huh?

    The fact that we have so much of the money, and are burning the next few generations’ money on wistfully false memories, means we remain taste makers.

    Another reason is that we have turned nostalgia into a huge money making machine. An unfortunately large portion of our generation, probably a majority, spend their lives and money trying to “re-capture” a time that never existed. If you think I’m wrong, turn on the Speed Channel and watch one of the Barrett-Jackson auto auctions. Baby Boomer guys with way too much money spend ridiculous amounts of money on badly engineered, gas guzzling, ugly American machines form the 1950s and 60s.

    I still love the Beatles for their originality. Unfortunately, thanks to misuse of copyrights (Damn Disney and their ilk) their music has been mutated into stuff suitable for Alzheimer sufferers in elevators.

    In spite of all of the above, Gen X and its successors have produced some astounding, beautiful, ugly and challenging music.

    I’m just sayin’…..

    Rick York – Pre-Boomer (1944)

  10. David, in Lithuania the Beatles sound dated to my godson Karolis, he’s 23. He’s into Radiohead.

  11. rock IS dead, in the fact that it doesn’t grow

    as soon as another transforming music meme comes through the zeitgeist, that is what will be listened to for the next 40 years .. rap coulda been it, too nasty for nature to allow for long, but the beat thing and electronica, is shaping the new way

    you should here/see what kids are making in asia, wow

  12. Most US “Classic Rock” stations keep their play list pretty close to the top tunes of twenty years earlier.

  13. cool pics


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