Late last year, former KISS bassist and singer Gene Simmons said what everyone was thinking. In an interview with Esquire, Simmons declared rock to be dead.
“The death of rock was not a natural death,” Simmons said. “It was murdered. You’re better off not even learning how to play guitar or write songs and just singing in the shower and auditioning for ‘The X Factor.’ Where are the creators?”
Simmons makes a valid point in arguing that rock, a genre based in aggressive guitar riffs and counterculture themes, has strayed from its roots.
After the turn of the century, rock never found its base, switching from challenging anthems to noncontroversial messages. While songs such as U2’s “Beautiful Day” found a resurgence after the 9/11 attacks, most bands simply stopped questioning authority.
The protest songs of the ’60s are mere memories to people such as state Rep. Elliot Naishtat (D-Austin).
“Having grown up in New York City, in the era of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and The Beatles, I think the content and messages of rock music have become diluted,” Naishtat said.
No response to 9/11 came from bands such as Rage Against the Machine, System of a Down and Metallica, all of whom had previously churned out songs criticizing the evil of corporations and the corruption of law enforcement.
Green Day threw around insults left and right in several albums before 2000, examining drug culture and the sanity of modern society, but the group released its neutral rock opera, American Idiot, in 2004, and fans have been lukewarm to this change.
Electrical engineering junior Srikar Dandamuraju said he notices the differences between the themes of older and modern rock.
“Older rock was less superficial, relates better to human nature and strikes a deeper chord,” Dandamuraju said. “Modern rock music can be shallow at times. Their lyrics can appear a little nonsensical.”
The made-for-radio rock that emerged came without any controversial content. Bands such as 3 Doors Down and Linkin Park had the aggressive chords but lacked any real message.
Record labels received part of the blame. Their censorship of what little political content bands did muster prevented controversial songs, such as The Strokes’ “New York City Cops,” from reaching a wider market.
What happened to rock ’n’ roll? Why did rock musicians fear the genre’s protest roots during the conflicts in the Middle East when America needed it the most?
Whether it was media’s influence, the role of the United States in the world or a change in what was acceptable to society, something flipped a switch, and, suddenly, Bill O’Reilly was playing the White Stripes on his show, “The O’Reilly Factor.”
Aerospace engineering freshman Nicolas Diaz, a fan of both classic and modern rock bands, doesn’t necessarily care that rock music has changed its direction from themes relating to current events to ideas closer to the writers themselves.
“Bands used to write about contemporary issues for their time,” Diaz said. “Now, it’s not necessarily about important topics but issues closer to their hearts. That’s not a bad thing, just an evolution.”
Rock artists have begun to fight back, but any sense of dangerous rebellion has migrated to other genres. From hip-hop to R&B and even EDM, artists push barriers in their discussion of race, politics and world affairs. Does rock music still have a place in today’s music landscape, or is the genre in its final encore?