Being 33, when I grew up, I was witnessing the glory days of MTV. The iconic moonman posting the MTV flag on the moon, Adam Curry and Downtown Julie Brown were my after-school friends. I wanted to flip rhyming cards with INXS and felt eerily at home watching that poorly-rendered blocky 3D Dire Straits “I Want My MTV” video. By the time I was in high school, everyone knew the latest Guns n’ Roses video, and it’s a cultural touchstone of my generation to be enamored with the imagery of the November Rain at Axl’s wedding, and Slash playing in front of the chapel out in the middle of the desert.
Guns n’ Roses remains my favorite band, and they were iconic of the days of rock to me. GnR and their peers defined new music. The pricey, visually powerful, epic music videos (Don’t You Cry, November Rain, Estranged) with hot models and rock star lifestyle fit in perfectly with MTV’s heavy music video programming.
The rock generation that had survived the late 70s and early 80s Wham! and Madness and Michael Jackson and Thompson Twins (which, while I love them, I was also bombarded with when I went to live in the UK for a year), so soon after receiving the greats of Led Zeppelin (2nd favorite band ever), AC/DC, Hendrix, etc., and before them, the Beatles and Rolling Stones, obviously. See how this MTV promo reminds you of the androgeny of the boybands of the Naughts (2000’s):
GnR had all the dysfunction internally, the zen lead guitarist, the hotel room trashings, the successful movie tie-in (if your band created the ultimate Terminator 2 rock video, you are probably on the short list for the Heaven Rockers Hall of Fame), the introspective and brooding and wistful rocker lyrics.
Beavis and Butthead, the cartoon aside, cemented many rock videos into the heads of a generation, using the glue of sex, drugs, and rock and roll references from B&B as they watched from the couch, as my generation was doing as well.
World premieres, album drops, Kurt Loder informing a generation of Kurt Cobain’s suicide. MTV led the way. It was probably the only channel a lot of people my age watched when they weren’t watching Family Matters, Perfect Strangers, Full House, etc.
Then rock seemed to die. Rap and hiphop became the new powerhouses in the media, while MTV replaced its music videos with reality programming. This happened some time in the 90s I guess. It’s at its apex right now. Maybe it was because Metallica chose copyright over its fans and attacked Napster, when MP3s became a better economic choice than purchasing albums for anyone with an internet connection. Maybe it was that rock and roll, even with punk roots, decided that social media was for the nerds and the geeks and not for its own image. For God’s sake, Myspace was still a cornerstone of a band’s identity even recently. How many rockers do you know on Twitter?
When was the last time you saw a great rock video? (I’m definitely hoping for suggestions) The closest is not even rock, but Weezer and Ok Go have embraced social media, which have endeared them towards Internet-Americans. Corey Crossfield at the Music Think Tank also wondered about what technology did to rock. Here’s Ok Go’s Rube Goldberg video:
…and more relevant, Weezer’s internet meme video:
Radiohead and Arcade Fire have done a lot for social media as well. U2 killed it with their 360 tour, featuring the best concert set ever designed.
But it’s all by no means the whole story. Pretty much all the talk I’ve seen has been for rap and hiphop artists, or for pop. Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Lil’ Wayne and crew, these people dominate the industry and all the digital chatter. I certainly feel closer to rap and hiphop now while rock feels distant and old. The closest touchstone I have to rock right now is re-watching School of Rock with Jack Black, as he tries to teach the stiff privileged private school kids what it means to be punk and to think for yourself. The movie itself seems more of a eulogy to rock than a celebration of it, at times.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B34gZPxRKp4
Actually there was another place I saw a resurgence of rock: in Iraq and in the military. When you go to lift weights in the tent gym in Iraq, there’s a bunch of barrel-chested white dudes cranking up heavy metal and Metallica and Megadeth and the old hard metal while they’re looking like they want to destroy the piece of shit country they’re in. Sometimes they even listen to it at superhigh volume in the tent’s speakers, so you better just learn to enjoy it. Which I do — it’s hard to get more pissed off than when listening to metal. So keep at it, uniformed vanguards of the old traditions of rock. Here’s a video that ISN’T “LET THE BODIES HIT THE FLOOR”:
Rappers and the new crowd regularly tweet themselves, worldstarhiphop is the current site just off the main strip that drives a lot of views toward musicians’ hijinx. There’s heavy overlap of hiphop with video games (and rappers playing games online), artists getting their starts on YouTube (Soulja Boy), music endorsements for movies and games, product placement (rappers seem to make Cristal and G6’s pretty desirable), rappers tweeting photos and being involved in social media-driven concert tours, etc. etc.
It’s even gotten so carefully crafted that there’s this chick, a white chick rapper from Oaktown, Kreayshawn:
Rap videos aren’t the greatest, but they are soaking in the sea of social media. What’s the best rock video? The best I’ve seen lately are these videos from Red Fang. True rock. Here’s “Prehistoric Dog”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuRKRFjm-HA
And this one, total mayhem and destruction, the perfect rock video, “Wires”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zo8NFrmQ_S0
Rock chose Myspace, the new rappers and record label creations stuck with Clear Channel, MTV, Twitter, leaking stuff on the radio and on music blogs. Guitar Hero is mostly classics, isn’t it? The new shit is mostly pop/hiphop on the newer games like Dance Central. Could you say that rock chose to be anti-tech, anti-progress, anti-social? What does it mean when Lil’ Wayne decided to go through a phase where he plays rock guitar? Is rock just nostalgic, a reference to show that you’re sympathetic to punk?
Does it say something that Trent Reznor kept pushing his electronic sound and ended up winning an Oscar for the soundtrack to a movie about Facebook? Where did his peers go?
Where did rock go? Will it come back?