Rocking, Rolling, Ebbing and Flowing
Attempting to assert the demise of something subjective like rock and roll is a mountainous controversial claim to prove. Flea has tried to do so in a recent interview with Mike Mccready by expressing that rock and roll is dead. In some sense this would appear to have validity; in the past year rock has lost Lemmy, Prince, David Bowie and others with hefty contributions. Flea’s comment is antiquated though, just as his vision of rock and roll is, the genre changes mightily each decade.
The term rock and roll was first used by 17th century maritime navigators to describe the rocking and rolling of ships during ocean voyages. Soon the blues players of the 1920’s used the term in a far cry from what would later be considered rock. The rock genre gradually began to form in the 1950’s until the term rock and roll was used to describe a sprawling type of music that made kids and parents feel a little strange. The likes and Buddy Holly played a safer type of rock that kids and parents could listen. Musicians like Little Richard and Chuck Berry played a sexualized and swinging type that parents detested.
When Flea talks of rock being dead he isn’t referring to the aforementioned type of rock. Instead he is speaking of a particular brand of rock music making from the 1970’s-90’s where the sound of the music changed dramatically but the technology and platform was relatively constant. Gone are the days of drunken John Bonham drum takes or heroine riddled and screechy guitar solos from Jimmy Page. The genre is more thrusted by the internet than it is by talent agents hearing a band at a local club and signing them. Spotify and Youtube enable musicians to market their product quickly to a large audience and this in itself has changed how bands poise themselves to make money.
Spotify can cost as little as 5$ a month and this in theory discourages people from buying records since essentially they can own a large catalogue of music for little. Another reason that albums aren’t as profitable is because artists are offered as low as a 10% share for their album to be marketed and produced. Musicians have shifted their focus on touring to make money and using records to support tours. Artists like Kesha and Imagine Dragons can be seen doing this. Technology in rock is rather similar to what it always has been; if anything, the records are meticulously produced. In some ways this smothers creativity and in others it is positive. Human error and ingenuity are less common; people use machines to tune up sounds as opposed to accepting flaws at face value. These practices have altered rock to become tighter. Choruses and anthems are prevalent in today’s music. Yet and still rock and roll is thriving. The Foo Fighters released Wasting Light in 2011 and recorded it all on analog, instead of digitally, in a retro throwback to the 1970’s. The result was a gritty, blast from the past album that was made in a garage. This album is an exception but it still proves that Flea’s idea of rock and roll was created as late as 2011. Rock music is still being made in every sense, it simply adapted to survive.