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.
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…
(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)