Has Rock Stopped Evolving, Or Has It Simply Matured As An Art Form?



rockclipartSir Rocknuts has presented a pretty compelling case that we haven’t seen any seismic changes in Rock since the grunge years.

His persistent arguments are wearing me down. I’m starting to agree with him.

Oh, I tried to deflect his argument by suggesting that the internet has fragmented Rock audiences, making major paradigm shifts like grunge or punk a lot harder to come by.

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But the more I think about it, the more I find myself conceding His Majesty is right, that there are likely no more major directional shifts coming in Rock, and that all future innovations in Rock will come from smaller shifts in stylistic emphasis.

He sees this as a bad thing. Here is where I will part ways with his analysis. I see it as proof that Rock has arrived as a mature art form, like the visual arts, like the movies, like TV, and I think it is something to celebrate.

Let’s step back for a minute, way back. The 20th century saw almost unbelievable advances in just about every aspect of human endeavor, and culture was always at the leading edge of change. By the 1920s, centuries-old conventions in music and art were falling by the wayside. Pablo Picasso broke every rule in the book, and helped create the modern aesthetic.

In the 1960s, technology and demographics collided to create a worldwide cultural explosion, creating tectonic shifts in all the arts including music, visual arts, movies, TV, theatre, dance and literature. Musicians started the Rock revolution and all its offshoots. Visual artists explored pop art, op art, performance art, and their myriad sub-genres.

Creative people in every media spent the rest of the century staking claims to uncharted territory, until at some point, there were no more major frontiers to conquer. Artists explored the outer reaches only to find somebody had been there already. There’s only so much that’s new under the sun.

Now I’m no expert in the visual arts, but it seems to me there haven’t been any major tectonic shifts in the visual art world over the past 20 years either. Taking a look across the cultural spectrum, the story is the same. Look at TV: The last major change in TV was the birth of reality programming, and that was 15 years ago. Movies? It’s sequel after sequel these days.

But not too many people are crying about the lack of evolution in art or TV or movies, and there’s no point crying about the prospects for future revolutions in Rock either. Maybe we should just see it as a century thing, and maybe we should not only accept it, but embrace it.

The creative urge being what it is, 21st century artists will continue to discover astonishing new innovations, styles and combinations of things within the incredibly wide cultural parameters established last century. There are practically an infinite number of possibilities that remain available for artists to discover.

As I said before, I see an explosion of creativity in Rock these days that rivals what we saw in the sixties. The only difference is that now it’s not about finding new forms of Rock music, it’s about refining the forms that are already there and taking them to new heights. Sort of like taking a sad song, and making it better.

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2 comments on “Has Rock Stopped Evolving, Or Has It Simply Matured As An Art Form?
  1. Insightful stuff, Rich. I’ve always believed music (and all art) is about the feelings it creates. If rock isn’t generating powerful feelings right now, it’s because we’re culturally numb.

    Nothing’s propelling rock right now.

    Beyond the extraordinary digitization of our lives, I don’t see any major unrest or change that’s pushing art forward. All the “great rock” from the 60s and 70s came out of a period of seismic cultural shifts. Drugs, war and Eastern religion infused everything. It’s natural that a band’s music seems more powerful when it’s about people dying in war, or “turning on, tuning in, dropping out.”

    Today, we have Arcade Fire singing about dead shopping malls rising up “like mountains beyond mountains” and Neil Young protesting GMOs. That stuff’s not nearly as sexy as a “man with a gun over there.”

    I wish I could look 30 years into the future and see what bands will define the 2000s and the 2010s!

    • Fred:

      I wasn’t really taking the current events of the day into consideration, but you are right that they had a profound influence on the music in the sixties and seventies.

      But why the cultural numbness today? There are still too many people dying in wars. Civil liberties remain under siege. Are artists too complacent now?

      In any case, you are also right in saying that deep-seated trends and currents are easier to identify with the perspective of hindsight. It’s a lot harder to tell what’s really going on when we’re in the middle of this whirlwind. 30 years from now we’ll know for sure whether Rock stopped evolving at the beginning of 21st century. The long, strange trip just keeps getting longer and stranger, doesn’t it?

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