“Rock and Roll is dead. But it’s our only culture”
– Richy Edwards
Where have all the rock writers gone? While once North America was graced with an abundant – clearly self-procreating – mass of hormonal and hyperactive twenty-somethings obsessed with emerging rock trends and culture; somewhere they were left along the trail along with smoking indoors and psychedelic drug use. It seemed every music/editorial writer from Spin, Creem, and early Rolling Stone was at one time a kid in a lost era just looking to get laid and earn the Buddy Holly glasses they already owned. Now, those kids are fleeing from mainstream media music rags and opting to stay in their bedrooms, smoking and listening to leaked EP’s of obscure lo fi pop bands, all before they even get to know what rock and roll really means.
In our present day and age, instead of rock writers we have bedroom label distributors who go to shows to complain about how no one cares about music anymore. I had the fortune to run into one of these rare rays of sunshine late one evening, outside Prohibition Pub in Edmonton, Alberta. The night air was warm and welcoming, beckoning the attendees of the show into its embrace. Taunting with promise of adventure, open fields, warm libations, a fat rolled tea, and the eventual sunrise. It was very much that kind of night. As I looked around me at these beautiful people, I suddenly felt all too jaded and soulless to be there. Too wary of my tired body and mind to be caught up in the magic of seeing an unsigned, independent band.
I bought a tape, I bopped to the tunes offered and I shared several flirtatious glances with a local music legend but as I slipped passed the Urban Outfitter adorned groups hovering at the side door and lit a cheap cigarette, I breathed a sigh of relief. Although I miss those days of nervous energy and wonder of the night, I feel pretty comfortable knowing that no matter what happens this night, this night will happen again. I was in it for the music. I was here to see the band, not to take pills, or drink triples. I wanted to shake hands with the drummer, buy some tunes and then go home and knit goddam it.
Chuck Klosterman and John Sellers killed rock and roll for me a little bit. They outed the nerds in all of us and made them seem cooler than we are. They gave awkwardness a look and a voice and it was too sexy for its own good. Rock and roll is sexy, but rock and roll writers are not. They are the lonely kids in high school who collected Muddy Waters and Fleetwood Mac LP’s while friends were getting threads for some “all ages” dance party. They are the ones who romanticized rock and roll culture and ripped their jeans so they could be a little ‘badder’.
Admittedly, low hanging fruit is being bashed here, but despite the bitterness that resonates through the generation moniker “Y”, I truly owe a debt of gratitude to these rock writers. They made rock and roll bigger than a tour van full of bros, they gave it a voice, a look, and most of all they gave it attitude. Playing an exclusive show in a one off basement, with laser lights and a smoke machine and knowing , just knowing, everyone is there to just BE there. That IS rock and roll, and those rock writers of the distant past made it a thing.
It’s the year two thousand and nine. Forty years since Creem was founded, forty-two years since Jann Wenner founded Rolling Stone Magazine, and forty seven years since The Yardbirds made it all really happen. While those slacker hippies were busy discovering free love in the sixties Page, Dylan, Beck, Smith, Young, Joplin, and Richards were pretty busy doing us all a giant favour.
They were doing it. Nothing less than giving it their all. This is probably why everyone says rock and roll is dead now. Because Kurt Cobain shot himself, Dylan has arthritis and Rolling Stone Magazine sucks. Nick Cave really got it when he said, “I love rock-n-roll… It’s revolutionary. Still revolutionary and it changed people. It changed their hearts.” So where is this revolution now? Can the music, the culture, and the leather mean anything to jaded hipsters any longer?
Lethbridge Alberta, five years come and gone and this town has exploded with garage rock bands scoring serious notice by North American recording companies, bands that started out merely from late night jams. Garages converted to practice spaces, bedroom recording equipment, second and even third venue spaces, open mic nights and sold out shows. Begging you, prove it to me that rock and roll is dead here.
I don’t care any longer that your tape distribution label isn’t selling out of the limited edition hand painted blah blah blah release. Rock and roll should never be about how much shit you owned. It was always about how much you partied, how late you stayed out, how many drum sticks you touched and which bands you took home with you to crash on your floor. Rock and roll culture is glorified by media because it is goddam glorious. There are few moments in life as good as busting out hurly burly with six other people in an inappropriately named band van, or driving five and half hours to play at a bowling alley and have someone start a fight because your set is just too raw, or knowing you will not be quitting this night, no matter what.
How can it all be dead? Lo fi is still lo-fi, garage punk is still heard through the suburban alleys in our cities, and polyester and leather still make up a significant portion of my wardrobes. Rock and roll isn’t dead, and people still care about music. Without it, where would those writers go? Whether it be a poorly laid out blog or a mainstream media rag, rock and roll culture is alive. Its just wears printed tee’s and pre-ripped jeans now.
Original published:September 24th, 2009. Features Editor, The Meliorist, University of Lethbridge. Volume 43, Issue 03.