Classic rock will never die, because people will always appreciate good music.
I recently finished reading Steven Hyden’s “Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock.” It’s a sentimental reflection on the passing era marked by Led Zeppelin, The Who and other celebrated acts from the 1960s and ’70s that have carried on in one form or another, decades beyond their supposed “don’t trust anyone over 30” expiration dates.
Hyden’s tome reconciles his affection for the music he grew up with — like me, he was raised in the 1980s but spent most of his teenage years digging up music from the ’60s and ’70s — with the sad reality that the traditional drum-bass-guitar rock band is quickly fading away as iconic rock stars die off one by one (see: Bowie, David; Petty, Tom).
Hyden insists he’ll keep buying tickets to see the remnants of his favorite bands — he calls them “shrunkgroups” — as long as they’re able to drag their geriatric bones across the stage on “final” tours.
But he also believes that thanks to a variety of factors, including a diversified consumer base (read: not just white people anymore), the omniscience of classic rock is on the same kind of countdown timer that flipped Salt Lake City’s Z-93 into K-Bull in the 1990s.
I see where he’s coming from, but I’m not sure things are quite so dire. We may be down to three Rolling Stones and zero original Ramones, but I have a hard time thinking people won’t still love their music for decades to come. And after spending the better part of the last 20 years in garage bands, I don’t think Guitar Center will be putting their Gibsons on discount anytime soon.
A recent episode of “Carpool Karaoke” saw James Corden jamming in a Liverpool pub with Paul McCartney, and it’s pretty obvious that the enthusiastic generation-spanning crowd wasn’t just there because of a TV show taping. Sir Paul may not have a lot of mileage left on his tour bus, but I’m pretty sure people will still be singing along to “Hey Jude” long after he’s taken his final bow.
I’m old enough to see how music has changed over the years, and not just in a “grunge rock killing off hair metal” way. I feel a little guilty whenever I spend more than 10 bucks on iTunes, until I realize I used to spend $15-20 on a CD in the ’90s just to get one song. And nowadays, even iTunes feels a little passe. But no matter how we consume it, good music is just good music.
Looking around at today’s Top 40 landscape, it’s easy to lament the death of “real” rock ’n’ roll at the hands of the plastic auto-tuned pop stars vomited from the glossy sausage grinders of “American Idol” and “The Voice.” But Top 40 pop music has always played that second-rate role. Granted, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” is several hundred cuts above the latest tripe from most of today’s pop stars, but for the most part, the bubble gum was always meant to be chewed up and spat out once its flavor faded.
The point is, people are always going to appreciate good music, no matter how old or how out of style it is. The kids may be Beliebers, but Benny Goodman and Robert Johnson still sound fantastic, and so does Beethoven, even if Chuck Berry did tell him to roll over. Heck, I just downloaded a Hank Williams collection a month ago, and I love it.
Music like that may not fill stadiums, and maybe in a few years, traditional rock bands won’t either. At some point, U2’s light show will be retired, and even while they carry the torch, bands like The Black Keys and Foo Fighters will likely never enjoy Bono’s level of success. Nostalgic, aging fans will still be tempted to mutter “they don’t make ’em like they used to” when they hear the latest hot new thing, but good music — old and new — will still be there to reward the sincere seeker. It might just be a little trickier to find it.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who also teaches English composition for Weber State University. You can also find him on YouTube.