Rock’n’Roll Won’t Die, No Matter What U2 Says
The music industry as we knew is gone, but rock will survive.
By Tim Sommer
Very recently, I saw some respectable men in their late fifties prancing around on TV. They were sitting shiva for rock’n’roll.
I generally give U2 the benefit of the doubt –they’ve worked hard, they energetically support decent causes, and their musical heart is rooted in the post-punk of my youth—but here they were on Saturday Night Live, shouting into bullhorns and cranking out mediocre versions of early ‘90s KROQ grunge riffs and generally sounding like they were doing a hazy imitation of Stone Temple Pilots. Also, in 1998 The International Court at The Hague determined that the Mekons would be the very last band ever allowed to use the word “rock’n’roll” in the chorus of a song.
U2 were posturing themselves as saviors of their genre because this is what rich old white rockers do. In reality, they are actually saying, “It’s already dead and we are the only survivors, so we better bring in some EDM producers, because, you know, that’s what the kids like now, and my GOD, we wanna be relevant!” They also spit out a bunch of fuzzy and meaningless slogans – “Put your hands in the air/Hold up the sky/Could be too late, but we still gotta try” – boy, that is sure going to get a lot of people to turn out in next year’s midterm elections! And I have little doubt that “Will you be our sanctuary Refu-Jesus?” will lead to a productive dialogue between England and the European England about how to handle the looming Ireland/Northern Ireland border crisis.
First of all, rock is most certainly not dead. Truly. I think that’s an ugly myth created by people who are unable to distinguish music from the music industry. Music is fireworks, pearly supernovas in migraine fugue rainbow colors that turn a deep blue 10 p.m. sky the shade of summertime 4:44 a.m. purple; music pulls oohs and aaaahs unconsciously out of the most cynical, it massages old memories and provides mnemonics for new ones, it screams when it whispers and it whispers when it screams. And rock’n’roll is something intensely social and deeply personal, it is the sound of America’s disenfranchised made electric, and it is the reason you got on that train that took you away from your low, leafy suburb and into the spires of the city; and in that city (and your city could just be a college town, a city is any place of escape and social refuge!), you found friends because of rock’n’roll: rock’n’roll made you welcome in the Kingdom of Outsiders. Deep down, a part of you never left that place.
The music industry as we knew it died. Dead. Gone. But the music did not die. This is the profound mistake so many people make; they have comingled the artform and the economics that were a part of that art form. But the music industry is an ugly old Fireworks shack on a two-lane blacktop on the sun-burnt wrong side of a South Carolina beach town, waiting to be blown over by some September storm, washed out to the marshes. Even if the shack is destroyed, there’s still a Fourth of July.