By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
There is also the classic-rock radio format that is present in almost every substantial radio market in the country, occasionally (as in Los Angeles) on more than one station. If you like guitar-based music but you don’t like what’s on the “alternative” channel, then your place of refuge is the classic-rock station — to wit, the past. If KROQ is in yet another Korn–Limp Bizkit–Linkin Park–Staind spelling-impaired angry-moper frenzy, there’s always KLOS or “the Arrow,” where you’ve got a decent chance of hearing something genuinely good and well-crafted (Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, Dylan, Hendrix, Bowie, Elton John, Neil Young, Queen, AC/DC) every few minutes, even if the playlists are shamefully narrow.
Then there are the ancillary media that have evolved around rock-music history and culture. There is now a pervasive nostalgia that far outstrips the level of nostalgia in the past, consolidating and enumerating and assessing the substantial, unprecedented artistic achievements of ’64–’82, with a special emphasis on that golden period of ’66–’74. At the supercultural level, there’s VH1 and VH1 Classics; you might not see a program on Love or Captain Beefheart or Television or the Voidoids on VH1’s Behind the Music, but you might get clues there about them, or about certain histories, styles and lineages. At the minimum, you get the sense that there’s a lotout there to explore, that current rock styles aren’t the only ones to be tapped.
At the midcultural level, there are the “past master” articles that have been running in Spin and other music magazines in the last few years, perhaps in response to the success of pop-music nostalgia magazines like Mojo, and at the subcultural level there are zines like Ugly Things that bring a microscopic, obsessive perspective to all this stuff. Finally, there’s the flood of books we’ve seen over the last decade, published by major houses, available in mega-bookstores in shopping malls across the English-speaking world, devoted to seemingly every band, genre and episode in music history, no matter how minute or obscure. Information that used to be either lost or passed along via word of mouth and low-circulation zines is now out there for everyone.
Something has shifted: You don’t need a hip older brother anymore to know about the Sex Pistols; you’ll hear about them via any of the aforementioned venues, even the most mainstream ones. Because even if the Velvet Underground, the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and Iggy Pop didn’t experience mainstream success in the ’60s and ’70s, time has been kind to them. Critical consensus has ensured that these giants have earned their place, and music history has been rewritten so that the dross has fallen away. Look back at the music charts of those years and you’ll see a million songs you’ve never heard by thousands of artists you’ve never heard of. Where did they go, why aren’t they talked about, why aren’t they played?
The simple truth is that what we call the media — from fanzines to The New York Times — like any curators of culture, have seized upon a lot of musical artifacts that were initially passed over and declared that this is what was important. So now you get articles saying, “1977: It was the year of Star Wars and the Sex Pistols,” when, in fact, in the USA the Sex Pistols weren’t played on the radio, didn’t sell many records and, to the extent that they were regarded at all, were generally seen as a joke/novelty band. But now, after years of magazine articles, feature-length documentaries, books, TV shows, TV commercials, movie soundtracks, concert DVDs and such, we’ve all got it in our heads that what was culturally significant about ’77 was Never Mind the Bollocks. Cultural history isn’t written by the early victors.
What this means for musicians born since 1980 is that they’re being fed the good, fertile stuff from way back when. Critics and fans always go for the art they perceive as pure, authentic, less compromised, and that sort of thing is more likely to exist at the margins than at the center, though as the years go by, the fringe moves from the edge to the mainstream. Nirvana has already been determined to be significant, while Candlebox hasn’t, even though there was a long period when Kevin Martin, Peter Klett, Scott Mercado and Bardi Martin (Who? Exactly) were outselling Kurt Cobain. The same thing has happened with music from the ’60s and ’70s: The important, purer sounds (popular or not) have been drawn out, or preserved, and made available.
This is why these young musicians we’re seeing now have such seemingly good taste: That taste has been shaped by a media consensus about what was truly of quality back then. Call it the formulation of a rock canon, the imposition of marginal/elitist values on the mainstream — it don’t matter none, the outcome is the same: The purer the fertilizer, the stronger the plants that grow in the garden.
But is this interest by young people in the deep past new? Ex-Minuteman/art-punk lifer Mike Watt — the kind of guy who would know — thinks it is. He noted recently in his online tour diary that “The younger folks now are so much more open to music before them than in my days in the ’70s. We would’ve been hard-pressed to dig anything from the ’40s or ’50s in those days.”
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