“What the fuck is wrong with popular music these days?” I exclaim as the local alternative radio station plays yet another vanilla, uninspired excuse for a song.
In rock & roll’s 60-plus-year existence there have consistently been artists who drastically alter the state of popular music. On occasion a musician emerges whose songwriting and voice is so original and pure that it changes the current musical landscape. There was Elvis in the 50s, John Lennon in the 60s, the punk rock movement of the 70s, and the sexually-liberated pop stylings of Madonna in the 80s. Each of these performers captured the zeitgeist and almost instantaneously obliterated their forebears, rendering them obsolete. At the beginning of the millennium, Jack White and the Strokes made “real,” guitar-based rock music relevant in mainstream culture again.
Now let me get to the part where I tell you about “back in my day,” like a cynical rock & roll has-been.The Fall of 1991 saw Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” receiving regular rotation on MTV. The music felt raw, with a sense of punk rock urgency and despair usually not seen on the station. The sincerity, angst, and message spread by Kurt Cobain and his band was so passionate, everything else immediately seemed irrelevant. Our savior had descended from the heavens in the form of a skinny blonde kid from rural Washington. The popular hair metal bands of the day immediately seemed outdated and comical in both their sound and image.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit” was the first single off the band’s Nevermind, famously knocking Michael Jackson’s Dangerous off the Billboard charts. A new era of loud, challenging music garnering acceptance and attention from the mainstream began. In retrospect it’s interesting that an album with such abrasive songwriting was able to amass such commercial success. Let’s face it, the fact that a bludgeoning, punk outburst such as “Territorial Pissings” was played live on a television show is a complete anomaly.
Fast forward 24 years. The current decade has not seen a transformative rock musician the likes of a Lennon or Cobain. I wait patiently for a new artist to emerge that will forever transform our perspective on the possibilities of music. We can’t predict who it will be or what they will sound like, but I’m anxious for our new rock Messiah to appear.