by Jim Trageser
July 4, 2002
THE DEATH OF ROCK 'N ROLL
ESCONDIDO, Calif. -- It's time to finally make it official: rock 'n roll is dead.
The recent passing of John Entwistle, bassist for legendary rock band The Who, ought to be commemorated as the official closing act on the Age of Rock.
While bandmates Pete Townsend and Roger Daltry are still planning to tour together under the banner of The Who, the reality is that The Who is finished.
Entwistle was far too important a part of The Who's sound for any conglomeration of musicians without him to ever be called by that name.
A bassist as singular and distinctive as the late Jaco Pastorious was with fusion outfit Weather Report, Entwistle did as much to define The Who as Townsend or Daltry. Yes, the band continued after the death of drummer Keith Moon - but few bands have ever been identified by their drummer. True enough, few have been identified by their bassist, either - but Entwistle was the exception. His thick, intricate playing was part and parcel of The Who's sound; remove his parts from their most definitive and popular songs, and they just aren't the same.
If Townsend and Daltry want to continue touring and playing and recording together, more power to them. They've certainly earned that right.
But honesty and fairness demand that they tour under the own names, and not that of their former - now late - band.
And with the passing of The Who, we've lost two of the three members of the defining triumverate of the Rock Age: The Beatles died with John Lennon (and now George Harrison).
Only the Rolling Stones soldier on - and mighty though they remain, one band cannot an age define.
Sure, there are still some top rock 'n' roll bands out there - Aerosmith, Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana are all still exploring new sounds, still writing new songs. But they no longer represent the crest of musical creativity. The younger bands do - and possess that same creative force that has been present in every generation.
It's just that it's no longer defined by rock 'n' roll.
But you won't hear or read that truth in the popular or entertainment media.
The generation that came of age in the 1960s has long awarded itself special status in history. Because of its exalted self-image, and because that generation is now in its middle years and thus running both the media and the recording industry, it has allowed itself to delusionally believe that everything that's followed is no more than an extension of what happened forty years ago: that all popular music since then is still rock 'n roll.
But rock music has long ceased to be a living, vibrant form. Whatever the kids are playing today, little of it could be fairly identified as rock. The beat has changed, the harmonic structures are different. Even the forms of the songs themselves bear little resemblance to rock. The kids don't even call it rock anymore - they call their music "alternative" or "rap." That's both a choice and a statement.
Which isn't necessarily a bad thing - it's just going to be difficult for the Baby Boomers to swallow: An entire generation grew up seeing itself as the great divide in history - the complete break with all things bad and corrupt that had come before, the great hinge to a future pure and idealistic.
Except it didn't turn out that way. The generations that have followed are just as suspicious of the Baby Boomers as the Boomers were of their parents. And just as likely to strike out in their own musical directions.
The end of the Big Band Age didn't mean the end to all big band music. Duke Ellington remained a creative force until his death in the early '70s; Count Basie was still adding new songs and charts to his book, still recording new material, until he passed in the mid-'80s. And relatives or former sidemen of both leaders still carry the banner of their bands forward.
That doesn't mean we're still living in the Big Band Era.
And so now, in its turn, the Rock Age is finished as the dominant musical force.
To be sure, there are still some great rock musicians active - both recording and touring. The Stones remain the premiere live musical outfit on the planet, no matter the style. Paul McCartney is more revitalized and productive now that at any time since the Beatles broke up. And John Fogerty always hovers in the background, threatening to turn out another great collection of rock 'n roll or perhaps even reunite the greatest American rock band ever, Creedence Clearwater Revival.
But an age is over, and it's time to admit as much and turn the reins over to another generation. Rock had its run, and in its prime it was glorious.
That time is over - and we need to let it go, to let the kids have the same freedom to explore and define that we claimed for ourselves during the close of the 1950s through the early 1980s.
Rock 'n' roll is dead. Long live ... whatever the kids come up with.
Jim Trageser is a writer and editor living in Escondido, Calif. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.