Rock has certainly come a long way from the '60s. But despite what alarmists might claim, it's a long way off from dead, writes RAKESH MEHAR
When Paul McCartney first wrote "When I'm Sixty Four" in his teens, he might never have imagined things would turn out like they did. He's still kept his hair, but things are not as quiet as he hoped they'd be. The nicer Beatle hit his 64th birthday last week, bang in the middle of a flurry of nasty tabloid reports concerning the end of his second marriage. And it isn't just him. Pete Townshend, for instance, the notorious face of The Who, famously sang: "Hope I die before I get old" and has now had to suffer the ignominy of a long life. And Mick Jagger, who didn't want to sing "Satisfaction" beyond the age of 45, is still trying, wrinkles and geriatric bones and all, to keep that spark going.
Meanwhile, few of the newer bands touted in the mainstream manage to replicate the success of the legendary bands of the '60s and '70s. As one musician points out, every garage band manages to scrape together enough to make its own albums and videos, but few are anything more than a flash in the pan. And so the last decade or so has seen alarmists crawling out of the woodwork to proclaim that rock is dead. Ashwin, an RJ and a die-hard fan of classic rock, for instance, can't connect with any of the music being put out now, despite being born decades after the '60s ended. "There's nothing to relate to," he says of everything new that plays on the TV and on radio nowadays. "It's just a lot of noise. The lyrics are nothing like they used to be. The revolution just isn't there anymore." At the heart of the issue is what many people see as a paradigm shift from a movement to an industry; a viewpoint that has been extensively explored in literature with such eye-catching titles such as The Mansion on the Hill: Dylan, Young, Geffen, Springsteen, and the Head-on Collision of Rock and Commerce by Fred Goodman. Indeed, as an article in the San Francisco Chronicle points out, many bands that once took strongly anti-corporate stands are now towing that line. The article reveals that Huey Lewis and the News, which turned down a major deal with Coca Cola at the end of the '80s became one of the most available groups on the corporate party circuit around the turn of the millennium. They've been joined by a host of other bands too such as Santana, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Beach Boys and so on. However, Chris Avinash, ex-frontman for Angeldust, Document Done and Stomp, sees no reason to take objection to this. Pointing to his own attempt at being a full-time musician, he says that being a musician is hard work. "I have to do production, teach music, make jingles and a whole lot more. Bands do need jobs to survive." Moreover, as laypersons see it, almost every new mainstream band that hits the scene does so amidst a wave of company-sponsored media hype. But, says Avijit Michael, a musician who plays keyboards for local bands Maximum Pudding and Soup of the Day: "Everything is moving towards a more corporate setup. You can't really look at things like in the '60s." While he does admit that ideology has taken a backseat in the last decade, musically, he says, newer hybridised versions are still big in the music industry.Brit rock, the first example that he brings up, does ably back his argument. Arctic Monkeys, the hottest British act right now has already made history with their first album Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not becoming the fastest selling debut album in U.K. chart history. Darshan Manakkal, a music journalist with WorldSpace, goes one step further asserting that most people are being cynical for no reason. Examples such as Mastodon, a heavy metal band that is being touted as the next Metallica and alternative rock bands Bravery and The Killers prove that not all music sold is being manufactured by the corporate sector, he says. "There are a lot of bands being brought out by independent record labels, and they're bringing in their own unique sound," he says. "Even in the '60s and '70s, other forms of music flourished, but we just don't think about them. Rock is still alive and kicking in terms of the variety of music and artistes out there." What also contributes to the view that rock music has passed its prime is that most of its original fans, and more importantly the music critics that spread the word, have themselves inevitably grown old. Thus, points out Kevin J. H. Dettmar in an article in The Chronicle Review, the most vocal proponents of the "Rock is Dead" theory are simply touting the end of their own phase of experimentation and acceptance as the end of growth in the genre itself. Thus, depending on when they were born, rock music might have begun its end anywhere between the time of Elvis and Kurt Cobain.
Time catches up
To top it all off, the gods of yesterday are now the aging mortals of today. While most iconic rock stars stuck to the stereotype of living fast and dying young, many more have stubbornly insisted on staying on the scene for as long as possible. Instances include Bruce Springsteen's Devils and Dust, Paul McCartney's Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, Robert Plant's Mighty Rearranger among others. For most fans, the dismal failures remain the freshest memories, creating the impression that their idols have fallen from grace. However, says Darshan, there have been many genre-bending attempts that don't make it to the news as often. McCartney, for instance, recently recorded a classical musical work titled Ecce Cor Meum. Roger Waters too released an operatic work titled Ca Ira. Other bands have managed to recapture their old magic, throwing in that little extra to spice things up. Thus, INXS has bounded back with their album Switch, and Robert Plant brings in the old Led Zeppelin flavour to his newer world music experiments. Admittedly, Woodstock '69 will never happen again. The old spirit has come and gone. But every generation has its good old days. Meanwhile, the music continues to entertain us all, wrinkles, scars and all.