Rock 'n' Roll: It's Not Older--Just Better

After reading Robert Hilburn's article "Is Rock Running on Empty?" (July 15) we felt compelled to write before he hammers another stake through the heart of rock 'n' roll. The mere fact that he's complaining about rock 'n' roll 40 years after its inception is in itself a great testament to rock's staying power.

Rock audiences learned long ago what rock critics apparently have not--that rock is always changing or at least striving to change. The blame for the alleged current stagnation as cited by Hilburn, we feel does not begin with conservative radio programmers. Coming from a heritage rock station with a 21-year history, it is our obligation to the audience to embrace the past as we move the station musically into the future. To concentrate solely on new music is to cut out half our core audience. Isn't that how "The Edge" (KEDG) met its demise?

Hilburn contends that artists of today and yesteryear lack their own inspiration to meet the music challenges of the '90s. To suggest that rock is not guaranteed a a place in the pop community of the 21st century is to discount young innovators like Joe Satriani, a guitar hero not through artistic imitation but through genuine creative ability, or Midnight Oil who write about social issues of today with every bit as much passion as Bob Dylan did in the '60s.

Rock audiences have also learned that it's not the age of the song that matters, but the quality. Whether it's 1960 or 1990, a good song is a good song. To categorize and discard music simply on the basis of its age demonstrates a short-sighted disrespect for the quality of the music itself and the foundation on which it was based.

The public continues to flock to the record stores and the big arenas to see their heroes perform because their music still continues to profoundly affect them. Not only longtime fans, but a whole new generation is discovering the artistry of the masters. Artists such as Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and Elton John, who've had long and bountiful careers, should not be expected to surrender their legacy simply because Hilburn thinks it's outdated.

Nor is innovation the exclusive domain of new artists, as the Rolling Stones superbly crafted 1989 album, "Steel Wheels," demonstrates. Such longevity is to be applauded and appreciated, not criticized and discarded. Audiences embrace comfort zones, nostalgia being one of them. We treasure the past not only in music, but in art, literature and films as well.

The momentum of rock has not diminished. Each successive generation of rock musicians borrows heavily from their predecessors. This is evident in that the Stones borrowed from the blues influences of Muddy Waters, and Aerosmith borrowed the rock rawness of the Rolling Stones. The cycle continues as rap, in its present form, borrows from everyone.

Hopefully, each new artist can contribute and infuse new ideas into rock's musical reservoir. The challenge to the music community is to recognize the new advances of present-day artists and give them their just exposure in order to cultivate the musical direction of the new decade.

Songwriting inspiration can originate from experience, past impressions or previous artists' material. It's when musicians begin to force their inspirations that their music loses its edge, in the very same manner judgmental rock critics lose touch with reality when attempting to force intellectual analysis. As Jagger said, "It's only rock 'n' roll. . . ."

See letters to Counterpunch, F6.

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