Rock Music 100+ Years from Now

I am contemplating this - based on a few things I am noticing as I get even freakin’ older and see the arc of history get a few degrees more bend in it (jeez, am I deep or what?).

Rock back in the day was the medium for the biggest message happening – the creation of the teenager as a separate consumer group, Boomers coming of age, rebelling against the status quo, exploring new ideas and sources of pleasure (sex, drugs and…). You get the idea - rock wasn’t just music; it was a vehicle for the Big Forces for change.

Well, that day is long past – there have been waves of new styles like hip-hop, new country and others which vie for popularity with rock, and the Internet has clearly supplanted rock music as the agent of the Big Forces of rebellion and change – as I have opined on the SDMB in other threads, what are parents more afraid of these days, some new music or their kid speaking an online language with online communities that they (mom and dad) can’t hope to understand?

So with rock well past its cross-over influence golden age, where is it going? Based on what I am seeing today with older rock, what is happening with newer rock and what we’ve learned with older music genres, it feels like the future for rock is pretty well mapped out - for better, worse or what have you. So I am not trying to judge, or offer MY preference for its future - I am just trying to synthesize these various factors and pull together a working scenario - which, near as I can tell, will include some of the following factors:

  • The canon will simple down: what we see as vast swaths of bands across different sub-genres will crystallize into a “conventional wisdom hierarchy” – e.g., Punk = Ramones, Clash, Sex Pistols; 60’s = Beatles, Dylan, Stones, Hendrix; Hard Rock = Zep, AC/DC and one or two others (note: I do NOT want to argue about who makes the short list – the point is that there WILL BE a short list.) This is no different from Classical music, where I am sure there were dozens of other composers within various sub-genres and time periods – and a geek for that style will know all the particulars; but in 100+ years, there will be 1 artist, maybe 2 or 3 at most, that will come to represent that sub-genre in the larger public’s mind. For every Mozart, how many Salieri’s were there? We know that there are hundreds of great hard rock bands out there, but history will only have room for Zep, say.

  • Specific Artists will have their practitioners: just like there are Classical artists focused on specific artists or music styles, the market for rock acts that deliver specific artists or eras will thrive. We are already seeing this with the rise of Tribute Bands. In 100+ years, you will get a formal invitation to the debut of The Riff Raff Quintet’s interpretation of the highly regarded AC/DC piece “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.” So the specific versions will be debated – well, one AC/DC quintet bases their version of Whole Lotta Rosie on the studio version – but another quintet on the live version from If You Want Blood – whose is the most accurate portrayal? Which version captures the true passion, spirit and fire of the venerated original? Discuss; scones served with tea over the break. :wink:

  • Improvisation will be reduced: Some classical artists were legendary for their improvisation skills – Chopin, Liszt, Mozart to just start the list. Do we hear that part of their work? Nah – how can we?! It was improvised and not written down! Well, when the Crazy Diamond Quartet reprises Dark Side of the Moon or The Born to Run Philharmonic delivers Darkness on the Edge of Town, fans will expect, nay, *demand *fidelity to the source material. If Bruce clapped The Big Man on the back in the middle of Rosalita, then faux Bruce had better do the same. And the solos will have to track with the originals – and will be judged on their accuracy. (Note: I do believe that jam bands will continue, but they will remain their own more split-off genre, with their own following, and will likely evolve in instrumentation and music approaches as music sources and styles and collaborative technology evolve. One question though: will jam-tribute-bands persist in popularity (there are a few already) where they have to demonstrate the ability to improvise in the style of their forebears? Oy, that bakes my noodle thinking about it!). And with all the video of live performances from the masters, I am not sure whether they will only be used to judge their descendants or if there will be more Laser-Light-type shows springing up featuring assembled montages and the like (Love by Cirque du Soleil featuring The Beatles, anyone?)

  • New artists in the genre will either ape existing styles and achieve mostly cult followings or branch out into more obscure versions of the genre: There are still classical composers that have rich, vibrant careers, but they typically either produce cutting-edge music appreciated by a very few, or they compose new music in an old style (or they find an outlet for music associated with a broader, popular format, like movie or video game soundtracks) to reach a broader base of fans within that genre. I love new rock music and many artists capture my ear, but when I honestly break down what they are doing, they aren’t pushing out boundaries. Newer acts that are pushing boundaries are sounding less and less like rock music in the old definition of the term (i.e., from 50’s rockabilly through Beatles and Motown pop through classic rock and metal).

  • Local cover bands will endure – just like there are local recitals where music lovers come together to hear amateurs play Mozart, or you can go to the local dance club and a swing band will play classics for jitterbuggers and lindy hoppers, there will be an enduring tradition of folks making rock music, playing covers.

Bottom line is the Rock music will fully morph from the voice of teenage rebellion to a structured, hierarchical genre with rules. Will folks come to “readings” of Pink Floyd in tuxedos? We’re already seeing vintage guitars selling for Stradivarius prices and arrangements of metal with full strings and tuxes…

Again, I am not trying to sound cynical – I don’t know that I am cynical! I am just reflecting on what I have seen evolve so far and play that out further. And I suspect that folks who blog and write about rock have probably tried their hand at this – but I don’t read a lot of rock criticism so can’t say for sure – but if some other Doper pops in with a link to this type of analysis that is much better-formed than mine here, well, I wouldn’t be surprised at all…

Whaddya think?

(PS: for those Dopers who remember my Blues Recommendation posts from about a month ago, can you tell I was stuck in a hotel room in Phoenix last week? ;):D)

I think mainly this. Rock will continue on its path to being a niche genre, forever evocative of its heyday (c. 1955-2005), played by a limited number of folks, with less innovation except among those who (usually unsuccessfully) attempt to fuse it with other (including yet-to-be-invented) styles.

I doubt it will ever be performed in the “classical” music setting or style you envision, since part of rock’s definition is its snubbing of convention, but that sort of thing will continue to happen at tribute events like R and R Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.

I meant to add that, in the respects I mentioned, it will come to resemble, say, the place which salsa music holds today.

In 100 years, rock, country, hiphop, salsa, etc. of this era will be melded rogether as just “music of this era.” The specific genre will be of interest only to academics, just as we don’t draw much distinction among the genres of the early 20th Century; just some vague distinction between orchestral and band.

That said, contemporary music will have moved on. Instead of two guitars, bass, keyboard and drums, the standard makeup of a band may be a theramin, synthesizer, contrabassoon and siren. Whatever.

As for who gets remembered and who gets passed by, let’s wait about 75 years before making any predictions.

How much music of 100 years ago do you know about? That’s your answer.

A few of the songs will probably be remembered and played (much like things like “The Maple Leaf Rag” or “The Stars and Stripes Forever” or “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” are remembered and played today). There will be small groups of people who become fans of the stuff and who will listen to it. But the general public will not know anything about rock music.

Heck, look at big band music. There are still people alive who grew up on it, but how many big band songs do you hear on the radio? How many can the average person name?

“Classic Rock” music has had a surprisingly long shelf life, but in a century, it will be as obscure as the best-selling song of 1909 is today.

The one potential flaw for this line of thinking is the fact that technology has made original recordings more accessible, persistent, and in a sense, permanent. I suppose sheet music has done some of this in the past, but we live in a culture that is constantly surrounded, nay, engulfed in music that spans many decades, even centuries. I would venture to say the average music listener today probably has a much more comprehensive music experience than that listener from 1950. It’s 2009, and there’s still a lot of us listening to music from 1959, a full fifty years ago, much less 1969. Forty-year old music is still very much vibrant and alive in pop culture in a way I don’t imagine (but I don’t know for certain, as I was born in the mid-70s) 1920s music was in 1970. I might be wrong, but I’d wager that, while there will certainly be a thinning of the canon by 2069, a surprising amount of music will survive because of mass media and current and future distribution networks.

Except that the music of 100 years ago wasn’t recorded music.

If things go on as they are now, it’s entirely possible that the people of 100 years from now will have access to all extant musical recordings. It may be a niche interest (perhaps somewhat like Old Time Radio is today), but there will be people who find pleasure in listening to old recordings, even the more obscure ones, and who find that one artist or song or genre that gives them something they can’t get from anyone contemporary.

I agree that the accessibility of recorded versions will change the potential for what gets remembered or not.

Also, I would argue that, given rock music’s role as a Big Force for Change during the 50’s through the, oh, early 80’s (to include punk) marks it as more, hmm, historically important? than music from 100 years ago. I am not saying better by any stretch, just that it was pivotal in a mainstream cross-over sort of way - to my knowledge, ragtime for instance wasn’t the force behind a massive generation gap or cultural change that rock was back in the day…

Finally, the spectacle of rock shows and concerts lend themselves to a legacy, like a big opera production still does today…

I’d be willing to bet a significant amount of money on. How many people born after 1960 can explain the difference between Merseybeat and garage rock?

The difference between Merseybeat and garagerock is a much finer distinction than that between rock and hip-hop and salsa. That said, plenty of people still know that distinction but it tends to be the music afficianados (think “High Fidelity”-type people) who know that. Still, it’s not exactly a distinction only made by academics. It’s like saying folks can’t tell the difference between a polka and a bluegrass tune from 100 years ago. Sure they can, even the casual listener.

Of course it was. The phonograph has been around since 1877. And I expect the storage media we use today will be as antiquated in 2109 as Edison cylinders and Berliner Gramophone discs are now.

Yeah, it’s like the difference between pop punk and emo, which not everyone can identify or agrees on even now.

Although it is a fact of life that the canon will be whittled down. The biggest examples I see of this in action in my lifetime is in New Wave, which today is exemplified by like 10 bands at the most.

And certain segments of pop culture will refer to the entire music of that era, but many will not. After all there is still a distinction between opera and the folk music of the mid-late 1800s.

But perhaps not so between Classical Era music and the folk music popular at the time, so perhaps the timeline of the OP was simply off, and that 150-200 years from now no one will care about the subgenres or even genres, and have a whittled, defined canon and less improv.

Yes, it was – there was recorded music in 1909. It appears that that recordings started being popular around 1895, which means, essentially, by 1909, records were about as old a technology as MP3s are today.

All the titles I mentioned were recorded in one form or another (including piano rolls) back then. Yes, the quality isn’t what we can get today, but people aren’t avoiding these songs because the recording quality is bad; they just don’t like them.

You can find MP3s of recordings of songs from that era – including original recordings, but how many of them do you have on your iPod?

I think these types of arguments are over-simplifications. There have been too many changes between 1895 and 2009 to draw neat comparisons. We have more leisure time and money, the primary market for music is completely different (kids weren’t the primary market in 1895), media today is much more backwards compatible than it ever was.

But the primary reason no one has music from 1895 on their iPod is not because of technology or age, but because it bears little resemblance to current, popular music. The fact is that the birth of Rock and Roll was a fundamental development in music and modern culture. To most, it rendered all older music obsolete and this includes the greatest hits of 1895.

I’m sure it is not the norm, but certainly not unknown to have 50’s Rock and Roll on your iPod. I have a few Bobby Darin tunes. Rock Around the Clock was made popular in 1954 – that is 55 years already. And while this particular song may have a longer lifespan due to Happy Days, it also demonstrates how our self-referential media will propagate old stuff beyond its years. It doesn’t seem unlikely that my kids could have a few of these 50’s songs on their iPods in 20 years.

I don’t particularly think that Rock music will live forever. But I do think that watershed moments in music are over. And as a result, Rock or popular music will limp along for a while and it will carry all of its history along. New watershed events will occur outside of music and listening to music in itself may become rare.

And upon re-reading, I feel like I have restated a lot of WordMan’s fine OP.

Thanks **CaveMike **- but I think there’s something more to what you are saying. My son started playing guitar and, like all of his friends, the first things he is learning include Iron Man, Sunshine of Your Love, and the most essential: Chuck Berry riffs ;). There is an element “doing your scales” rote-ness to the fact that there is an apparent convergence to a Beginner’s Canon, but given how totally cool the kids think it is, there appears to be something more genuinely enduring vs. other forms of music that have a less…visceral?..appeal.

It is funny how we all start with the same riffs. Add Smoke on the Water, Cat Scratch Fever, and – for those that started after the 90’s – Smells Like Teen Spirit and the list is about complete. So yep, I get your point.

Quick, how old is “Blister in the Sun”? Would you believe over 30 years old?

Yet, it still gets trotted out on “modern rock” radio stations and undergoes a mini-resurgance where it becomes popular with the kids today (whenever “today” is) every couple of years.

That’s why rock music will continue to live on for a good, long time and the classics will be remembered.