Don't Bury Rock Just Yet: The Legacy Will Survive the Legends

I read with interest PJ Media contributor Ed Driscoll’s in-depth analysis of The Week senior correspondent David Linker’s essay, “The Coming Death of Just About Every Rock Legend.” Driscoll highlighted excerpts that captured the thrust of Linker’s piece, then fleshed-out his own thoughts about how a similar scenario might soon befall the Hollywood film industry.

I gave up on Hollywood a long time ago. Aside from 2017’s Dunkirk, 2018’s fascinating WWI documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old, and the quirky 2018 John Callahan biopic He Won’t Get Far on Foot, Tinsel Town has produced next to nothing compelling enough to get me either into a cineplex or to pay to view a new movie. I’d rather be watching older films, reading, or rocking. And I don’t mean in a chair.

Suffice it to say that if there are lots more people who’ve given up on the manipulatively leftist and/or creativity-challenged Hollywood product, Driscoll’s end-times scenario may be right on the money.

Rock music, on the other hand, I still care about. I found Linker’s essay, while cogent, unnecessarily negative. Judging from the comments on Driscoll's piece, I'm not alone. The gist of it is: all the rock stars from the Golden Era are going to die within the next couple of decades, if they haven’t died already. There’s no farm team, no interest on the part of younger generations, and the baby boomers are in for a long-running confrontation with mortality.

Yes, they will die, hello? But while rock may have reached its pinnacle years ago and began its inexorable decline into history, like Vincent van Gogh’s paintings, Ernest Hemingway's books, and Frank Sinatra’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” the music created by rock’s pantheon of stars will live on. “A Day in the Life,” “Stairway to Heaven,” and “Free Fallin” will never die. Just ask Neil Young.

Linker fatally torpedoes his own essay when he writes, "All of it was a testament to the all-too-human longing to outlast the present — to live on past our finite days. To grasp and never let go of immortality. It was all a lie, but it was a beautiful one.”

Why was it a lie, Mr. Linker? Doesn’t any authentic artist who creates something hope the work outlasts his or her own mortality? Was Hemingway's “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” a lie? Van Gogh’s Sunflowers? In this passage, Linker seems to suggest that the composers of generational anthems like “My Generation” (The Who) and “The Joker” (Steve Miller) were engaging in grand prevarication.

How baby-boomer shallow. I guess it’s all about Linker and his sentimentalist sense of his own mortality.

Rock fans have accepted sadly and stoically the losses of their musical icons. In the coming years they will continue to do so. Tom Petty was a terrible loss. We dealt with it. Hell, I was bummed when Cranberries singer Dolores O’ Riordan died from drowning in a bathtub after excessive drinking. I got over it. Both Woodstock and Altamont happened before she was born.

Generation X will get its turn when the bell eventually tolls for the guys from Metallica and R.E.M. And while I can’t name any offhand, I predict that decades from now the death of some contemporary music superstar will force aged Millennials to confront their mortality, the way Beatle fans faced down the Grim Reaper when George Harrison passed in 2001, that awful November after 9/11.

In conclusion, on a side note, I’ll touch on something not addressed in Linker’s piece. Of the twenty-eight names he mentions as being part of the great rock and roll scything to come, all are white men. Of the fifteen icons he mentions who have already left us, ten are white men. And the writer has only scratched the surface of those we’ve lost.

In a significant sense, rock’s decline has come with a cultural falling out of favor of white male privilege, and by extension white male talent and creativity. Like the passing of the Golden Era superstars, that's a fact society will have to deal with. Epochs end. Cultural trends, even dominant ones, die off. Why should white male-dominated rock music—as superior as it obviously is-- avoid such a fate?

Meanwhile, don’t totally discount the possibility that, someday, after the inane, auto-tuned, repetitive, synthetic “urban/ethnic” dreck that tops the charts now reaches saturation point, the next John Lennon, John Fogerty, or Johnny Rotten (or Joan Jett?) will rise out of the formulaic murk with guitars, bass, and drums in hand.

Aging rockers will content themselves bearing witness to the last tours of the greatest names in rock. They may explore the offerings of young rock bands, seeking new music that conjures the experience of the glory days. After the last note of their time on earth sounds, you’ll have to pry Pink Floyd’s The Wall out of their cold, dead hands.

In the meantime, don’t greatly exaggerate the news of rock and roll’s death. Rock will stand the test of time. And don’t insult our intelligence by calling it all a big, beautiful lie.

The best art, the greatest art, is truth.

Mark Ellis the author of A Death on the Horizon, a novel of political upheaval and cultural intrigue. He came aboard at PJ Media in 2015. His literary hangout is Liberty Island. Follow Mark on Twitter.