It might because it’s New Year’s Eve this week, or just because I have completed an epic holiday. Either way, I had some pretty morbid thoughts yesterday. Prompted by the death of Joe Cocker, it seems to me that in the next 10 years we are going to see a huge number of deaths of rock and roll royalty.
If you have a quick scan of well-known names, you can see, many of them are getting to the sort of age where another ten years is possibly as much as they will get. (I warned you this was morbid!)
David Bowie: 67
Shirley Bassy 77
Patti Smith 67
Mick Jagger 71
Paul McCartney 72
Roger waters 71
Iggy Pop 67
Johnny Rotten 58
Hugh Cornwell 65
Tom Jones 74
Cliff Richard 74
Bob Dylan 73
It struck me that many of these names have been remarkable trail blazers. Not for their music per se, but in their longevity. Before this generation of artists the only person who really got to have a long pop career was Elvis, and we all know how that ended. These people are all still performing, in some cases even recording and composing.
While they have been alive and productive, the music industry has also metamorphosed many times. Most recently, the public attitude towards
music and its value has also shifted massively. The rise of reality music TV has seen youngsters being feted purely for their vocal skills and looks and not their compositions or poetry. The internet age has also seen the emergence of rapid micro trends where very few artists seem to be able to ride a wave of popularity for more than a few years.
But what interests me here is how we may start to think about and deal with music once all of these names are gone. The Beatles, The Stones: they gave us our ideas of what Pop music is. The business practices from that time are what shaped our ideas of the myths of rock and roll and what a decent career in music is supposed to look like. None of those conditions still exist, yet these myths do. Will the deaths of these icons have any impact on this? Will their deaths create a kind of psychic vacuum into which a new idea of music and art can be born?
It strikes me that there are two main scenarios:
Things could revert to a value based system where the idea of good music and lyrics re-emerges as opposed to a more market research based approach where one tries to match sounds to trends as is evidenced by today’s industry.
Or, things could just accelerate into free fall, with music never ever regaining the status of art, and just becoming a commodity for the rest of our life times and that of our children.
I must admit that I no longer care overly much. After 25 years working in the South African music business, my attitude to music itself has changed a lot. I no longer view it is a be-all and end-all thing. I often sit in a silent house or car, listening to my thoughts rather than music. From bitter experience I know that many musicians are deluded and lazy and basically hoping to get lucky. I also know that many large businesses are unscrupulous and downright nasty.
I still like to play and make music and I will continue to do so. I assume many people will. I also assume that some kind of equilibrium will return once the enormous power of the taste makers like record companies and radio stations is finally broken, which will allow fans to find the music they love. But I no longer have any coherent idea of what this would look like or how long it might take.
One thing I do know for sure, is that it will seem a lonelier and colder place when all of these greats have passed on. So much of my life has been shaped by much of their music and I feel I owe them all an emotional and psychic debt. Just knowing they are no longer there is going to be odd.