Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Too Old to Rock 'n Roll: Too Young to Die!

Despite the title of this article, You're not about to read a review of the old Jethro Tull album bearing the same name. I'm stealing Ian Anderson's album title because it's appropriate for the discussion we're about to have.

I've written before that I've never been stuck in the musical generation of my youth because I've never stopped listening to new stuff. I still listen to a lot of music and purchase many jazz, blues, and country CDs. I also listen to a lot of singer-songwriters. However, recently I find myself far less receptive to the latest offerings from the world of rock 'n roll. Even though I've used this web space to praise some fine new and popular rock bands such as Los Lonely Boys, The Cat Empire, Sea Wolf, and Grace Potter and The Nocturnals I find most current rock music to be too loud and totally devoid of melody, musicianship, and originality. (Shudder! I now sound like my parents).

Current favs Kings Of Leon, The Arcade Fire, and The Hold Steady are all critically acclaimed bands that I believe have nothing to offer yet I wonder if I would like them if I was younger. Would I still like crushingly loud bands such as Led Zeppelin today if my first exposure to them was in the new millennium rather than 1968? Are the Allman Brothers superior to Vampire Weekend? Do The Rolling Stones have more talent than My Morning Jacket? Is U2 better than Coldplay?

Has the art form finally run out of ideas? Is rock strictly a young man's game with no place for more mature fans? I've never asked for reader participation to one of my posts before, but today I'm asking all who read this article to offer your opinions. How do you feel about today's rock 'n roll? Let me know what you think.


  1. Hmm. Tricky one, this. As with sport it is almost impossible to compare eras because the effect of the surrounding politics, economics and sociology of the period make for a very un-level playing field. What I would say is this:
    1) When rock was young (60s – 70s) most innovations were genuinely new and had a novelty effect. This has virtually disappeared as the format is restrictive and to be truly innovative pushes artists into the largely unlistenable avant guarde.
    2) When a listener of any era(including you or me) is young, we don’t have the experience to know when something is derivative therefore it is always ‘new’ and exciting. As we get older we gain experience and come to understand that most things are not new and we can either enjoy them for what they are or be irritated by them.

    For me, most stuff today sounds jaded but that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy some of it – I like The Killers for example even though they are not doing anything new. I think it comes down to a matter of taste. I know what I like these days and tend to go for that sector rather than try and ‘like’ everything.

  2. Music knows no boundaries and given that the tastes of the people listening to the music tend to change along with the tastes of those creating the music I’d argue that there’s always a place for fans of all ages.

    There is some good music out there, but as the music industry has grown increasingly more commercialized, the pop music industry has essentially turned into a factory, churning out dime-a-dozen, bland, and insipid music that appeals to merely our base interests and instincts. That is to say—the music that is being marketed to us has the power to capture our interest, however most of it lacks the power to HOLD our interest.

    That doesn’t mean that there isn’t better, more imaginative, and far more innovative music out there. It’s just getting increasingly more difficult to find that music with all of the unimaginative other “noise” that’s being churned out like Fords off of an assembly line getting in the way.

    I’ve personally taken a different tack. Rather than try to find the diamonds in the rough… the needles in the haystack of contemporary rock and pop music, if you will, I’ve been looking for and finding the good music of the past 30 to 40 years from other countries. Good music that hasn’t been heard domestically for no other reason than either bad marketing or bad geography. I figure for every INXS, Crowded House, and AC/DC that we HAVE heard or heard of… there are just as many excellent OTHER bands from Australia that most of us have never even heard of, let alone heard. For every Anne Murray, BareNaked Ladies, Gordon Lightfoot, Alanis Morrisette, Guess Who, Bachman-Turner Overdrive we’ve heard come out of Canada there are plenty of other bands that maybe we’ve heard of, but never actually heard. There are some excellent bands that have been very successful in England for that matter but managed barely a blip on American radio (Take That! comes to mind).

    If you’re inclined, I recommend checking out the “Oh What a Feeling!” Canadian box sets. I believe they’re up to Volume 4 now. Each volume is a 4 disc set of popular Canadian music. There will be some you have heard/heard of before (Alanis, the Guess Who, Gordon Lightfoot, Anne Murray) and some you may or may not have heard of before (April Wine, the Tragically Hip, Tea Party, etc.) but these sets represent some of the best music that Canada has had to offer the rest of the world.

    I also hunt down radio stations from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the UK that broadcast over the Internet (which is obviously a more cost effective way of finding good music from beyond our shores)… Canadian music radio (as opposed to talk radio) is required by law to broadcast at least one song by a Canadian citizen (born or bred) for every six (I believe it’s still 6) songs played by non-Canadians. So 1/6th of their radio output is homegrown talent. I’m not sure whether or not NZ, UK, or Australia have similar legal broadcast requirements as Canada. But you’re still bound to hear music you might not have otherwise heard if you tune into stations from abroad. I grew up listening to stations broadcasting out of Ottawa and Cornwall, ON and Montreal, QC, so if you want any recommendations for Canadian radio stations drop me a note.

    There’s been a lot of great music recorded all over the world since the days of Chuck Berry (and before). We do live in a global community so we shouldn’t let our geography adversely affect our exposure to the musical offerings of other nations.