FEATURE: My Generation: What Is the Future of the Rock Icon?



My Generation


IN THIS PHOTO: Robert Plant/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

What Is the Future of the Rock Icon?


I was reading a feature the other day…


 PHOTO CREDIT: @dgraci/Unsplash

which revealed something quite sobering: nearly every big Rock artist alive today will be gone a decade from now. You can read the piece here…but, aside from the fact quite a few might live into their nineties and beyond, we might well be saying goodbye to the icons we have in our midst – including Patti Smith, Robert Plant and Paul McCartney. You can extend Rock to other genres and think about the likes of Joni Mitchell and James Taylor: other legends who, one feels, may not be around over a decade from now. The article talks about the icons past and how the last wave of pioneers might not be with us a whole lot longer:

But there's another sense in which rock is very nearly dead: Just about every rock legend you can think of is going to die within the next decade or so.

Yes, we've lost some already. On top of the icons who died horribly young decades ago — Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Elvis Presley, John Lennon — there's the litany of legends felled by illness, drugs, and just plain old age in more recent years: George Harrison, Ray Charles, Michael Jackson, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Tom Petty.

Those losses have been painful. But it's nothing compared with the tidal wave of obituaries to come. The grief and nostalgia will wash over us all. Yes, the Boomers left alive will take it hardest — these were their heroes and generational compatriots. But rock remained the biggest game in town through the 1990s, which implicates GenXers like myself, no less than plenty of millennials.

All of which means there's going to be an awful lot of mourning going on.

Behold the killing fields that lie before us: Bob Dylan (78 years old); Paul McCartney (77); Paul Simon (77) and Art Garfunkel (77); Carole King (77); Brian Wilson (77); Mick Jagger (76) and Keith Richards (75); Joni Mitchell (75); Jimmy Page (75) and Robert Plant (71); Ray Davies (75); Roger Daltrey (75) and Pete Townshend (74); Roger Waters (75) and David Gilmour (73); Rod Stewart (74); Eric Clapton (74); Debbie Harry (74); Neil Young (73); Van Morrison (73); Bryan Ferry (73); Elton John (72); Don Henley (72); James Taylor (71); Jackson Browne (70); Billy Joel (70); and Bruce Springsteen (69, but turning 70 next month).

It was all a lie, but it was a beautiful one. The rock stars' days are numbered. They are going to die, as will we all. No one gets out alive. When we mourn the passing of the legends and the tragic greatness of what they've left behind for us to enjoy in the time we have left, we will also be mourning for ourselves”.

It will be, of course, heartbreaking and gutting to say goodbye to these stars. We have already lost David Bowie and Prince in the last few years and look at some of the names above – how can we ever get our heads around the fact Bob Dylan and Carole King might not be around this time in 2029.

It is a bit of a bummer that mortality cannot be avoided but, in a way, we are fortunate we have so many of the greats around – given the fact the likes of Michael Jackson to David Bowie died prematurely. Two things occur when one must drink in the facts. I have speculated before…but I think, in some way, we need to ensure the memory and brilliance of the old guard is preserved and pushed to future generations. In a more important sense, it makes me wonder what the future of Rock is. Looking at some of those names before and there are some that are not Rock artists in terms of the genre – Carole King, Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell are iconic but are not Rock artists in the same way Robert Plant and Mick Jagger are. At this time, are we breeding new Rock idols? One can argue the likes of Dave Grohl and Josh Homme count; maybe Karen O and IDLES. I think a lot of today’s most exciting and primal sounds are coming from other genres. There is a big rise in Post-Punk with bands such as Fontaines D.C., IDLES and The Murder Capital emerging. Throw in Amyl and The Sniffers and there are plenty of great bands who will be remembered in years to come – not that many possibly-iconic solo artists, perhaps? I think this year has been a bit more productive and progressive than last year – as this feature explains from last year:

This year, rock and roll seems bored with itself. The most successful acts of the past few years have been bands bristling at the boundaries of the guitar, bass, and drums setup. The genre’s best-selling album of 2018 was Las Vegas electro-rockers Imagine Dragons’ summer 2017 full-length Evolve, a work that prefers humming synths and suspenseful atmospherics to the growl of a six-string.

Nostalgia’s a powerful force in rock and roll, especially now, as a new generation of bands, and by extension, their fans, are entering classic-rock radio rotation. (New York’s classic-rock station Q104.3 has been creaming the rap stations Hot 97 and Power 105.1 in overall ratings for months, in spite of Hot and Power’s year of attention-grabbing interviews and Nielsen analysts’ declaration that hip-hop has eclipsed rock as the nation’s favorite genre of music.) The success of Anthem for the Peaceful Army, the debut album by the Michigan band Greta Van Fleet, is a symptom of a rock scene haunted by its own Ghost of Christmas Past. Singer Josh Kiszka’s sharp, fey vocal is a tribute to warbling mystics like Geddy Lee from Rush and Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant. Anthem found Greta twisting Zeppelin’s trademark hard-rock stomp into new forms with the same balance of recklessness and devotion as fan fiction. Anthem is spirited but almost inexcusably unoriginal”.

There have been some development since last year but Rock is in a bit of a quandary. Aside from a few great Post-Punk bands and what is happening in the underground, there are not many at the forefront keeping that old spirit alive. Maybe we cannot go back to a time when The Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin ruled but, looking around, are there any artists keeping that Rock spirit alive? There is the odd flicker here and there but nothing like there used to be.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Greta Van Fleet/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

One might have to travel as far back as the 1990s, when bands like Oasis used to rule, to get the last real taste of Rock electricity. Not only does it seem like Rock music is stalling or mutating in other directions; there are some in the industry who think Rock isn’t worth saving. Nick Cave is someone who has his doubts regarding Rock and its fertility. Here, in this Far Out article from earlier in the year, more light is shed:

Rock music has lurched and shuddered its way through its varied and tumultuous history and somehow managed to survive,” he began in the opener of his response. “It is within the very nature of rock ‘n’ roll to mutate and to transform – to die so it can live again. This churning is what keeps the whole thing moving forward. As musicians we are always in danger of becoming obsolete and superseded by the next generation’s efforts, or by the world itself and its big ideas,” he continued.

Cave was quick to point out that the major focus of rock bands has changed, no longer is the “big idea” freedom of expression: “It looks like the new big idea is moralism. Will rock music survive this one? We shall see,” he said.

He continued: “My feeling is that modern rock music, as we know it, has anyway been ailing for some time now. It has become afflicted with a kind of tiredness and confusion and faint-heartedness, and no longer has the stamina to fight the great battles that rock music has always fought. It seems to me there is little new or authentic, as it becomes safer, more nostalgic, more cautious and more corporate”.

IN THIS PHOTO: Anna Calvi is one of the finest Rock performers in the world today/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The fact more women are picking up guitars means we are, fortunately, moving away from the old-school ideal of Rock stars. Maybe a lot of the biggest bands from the past relied on sex, drugs and Rock and Roll and, in these times, that aesthetic is outdated and controversial. When we are cracking down on artists stepping out of line, maybe there is not a chance to rebel and succumb to excess. It is clear the biggest Rock bands/artists now have a slightly cleaner look - and there is nobody out there who you feel will be considered an icon decades from now. One can debate whether Rock music is dead or not – it is not dead but definitely flagging –, but what is the modern-day equivalent of Patti Smith or Mick Jagger? We have a raft of wonderful bands who can bring the heat and grit but, in terms of Rock as we know it, I think it is in trouble. Certainly, there are very few out there who have the same potential sustainability as the legends of the past. This is not to say music is weaker without icons and leaders: in fact, music is as broad and eclectic as it has ever been. We have seen some tremendous albums released in 2019 but very few of them have been made by Rock artists – maybe Foals and Fontaines D.C. are exceptions. Tastes have changed and these characterful, controversial artists are a thing of the past.

There is more of a focus on solo artists at the moment and, for the most part, their songs are introspective and personal. Wonderful artists like Sharon Van Etten are rare exceptions but, largely, the Rock scene has lost a lot of edge and personality! Whilst 2019 has seen some interesting Rock records, you look around and struggle to see anyone who has legs and sticks in the mind. Big festivals like Reading and Leeds are supposed to highlight the best Rock and Alternative artists around but, as you can tell from this year’s line-up, Rock was not exactly well-represented and strong. We shall see what the future holds but, looking at music now and we do not have the same scenes and legends as we used to. The market is wide open and, as some genres are strengthening, I think Rock has given way to Post-Punk in terms of preference and public popularity. Perhaps we have reached a point where Rock has withered: maybe there will be a big wave of new acts soon that will kick-start a revival. In any case, I do look back at the article at the top and feel a bit sad that, yes, in a decade or so, we will have lost many of the great among us. Rather than feel sad at the fact we have to say goodbye to so many giants but, when Rock music especially needs a kick and revolution, we can learn a lot from them. Even after these hugely influential and popular artists have gone, they will still…   

CONTINUE to teach us.