Those looking for evidence that commercial rock 'n' roll music as we have known it — the kind featuring an electric guitarist — is in a coma need only examine a few recent incidents for proof.
Most prominently, the major nominations for Sunday's 56th
Others have observed a similar crisis.
There's this: In the fall, the lead singer of Grammy-winning band
And this: Last April, platinum-selling punk band Fall Out Boy issued its reunion album, "Save Rock and Roll." Produced with glistening radio-friendly pop sheen, the record debuted at the top of the charts and featured a title track intent on resurrecting a tired music. Singer Patrick Stump complains on "Save Rock …" that it feels "like I'm the last damn kid still kicking that still believes." If that's true, we're in big trouble.
Or this: Reigning arena rock hunk
Add in the Grammy roster for more bad news: The closest thing to a rock record competing for album of the year is
What's more, Led Zeppelin — a band that hasn't released a studio album in more than three decades — is in contention for rock album and rock song of the year (for "Kashmir"). In the album category, their "Celebration Day," a recording of a 2007 reunion concert, will compete, among others, against three other acts that rose 40-plus years ago: Neil Young, Black Sabbath and David Bowie. That's akin to Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five or Afrika Bambaataa snagging a hip-hop Grammy nod. (To be fair, the other two nominated rock records, by
Rock's been in dire straits before, only to limp out of the hospital to live another year. But generations of hip-hop, electronic dance music and country dominance have done their damage. More teens can recite the words to Lil Wayne's "6 Foot 7 Foot" than the
One of rock's most vital services, as a delivery system for rebellion and frustration, can be just as effectively tapped through a combination of old Public Enemy,
There's a part of me that says good riddance. As someone lucky enough to have first fallen in love with music within the generational sweet spot between the rock-obsessed baby boomers and the rap- and electronic dance music-loving Generation X, I heard Grandmaster Flash's "The Message" in the same breath as the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil," Culture Club's "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" and Black Flag's "Damaged."
I quickly discovered that all were effective at getting my parents' furrow-browed attention. A few decades later, I can't imagine any form of guitar-based music arriving that could upend the genre and make it shocking again. Sapped of sex and danger, it can be pleasant, energetic and surprising but not groundbreaking.
Has mainstream culture moved on? None of the five best new artist nominees —
That "Royals" has topped Billboard's rock charts and her debut full-length has ruled the album charts further illustrates a genre amid an identity crisis. "Royals" and the rest of Lorde's debut album, "Pure Heroine," minimize the use of the electric guitar in favor of electronics-generated distortion and midrange digital synthetics as envisioned by Nine Inch Nails, Björk and
Few new musical sounds are more alien to parents who lived through punk or heavy metal as a squelch of digital noise and a bass wobble. Know how to anger a Black Flag-loving dad? Tell him Kanye West's "Yeezus" has as much punk energy as "Damaged." (It does.)
As polka, hard-core punk and disco fans can attest, no music ever "dies" as long as there's a Brave Combo, Off! or
But then we're talking about a world in which the current No. 1 on the Billboard rock charts is "Let Her Go" by Passenger. A flaccid, brain-dead whine-rock song about lost love and regret, it's about as rock 'n' roll as Michael Bublé.
Faced with such evidence, compassion suggests we address the inevitable. If this is what rock's future holds, might we all be better served if someone does the humane thing and pulls the plug?