Sunday, August 03, 2008


And I'm young enough to look at
And far too old to see
All the scars are on the inside
I'm not sure if there's anything left of me
- Blue Oyster Cult

Veteran of the Psychic Wars

The other day, as I travelled around midtown doing some errands, rocking out to BOC's Fire of Unknown Origin, those lyrics struck me. Not as incredibly deep, or moving, or even pretentious, but as highly... nerdy. And it hit me that that was a really big thing in the seventies. People like to credit They Might Be Giants, or even go back to Devo, as the progenitors of nerd rock, but really, it was people like Led Zepellin, with they epic songs about hobbits and elves and wizards, or Blue Oyster Cult with their rockin' singles about Godzilla, or the works of Michael Moorcock(the aforementioned song is narrated by a thinly veiled version of Jerry Cornelius). Hell, even Kiss and Alice Cooper fell into this category, only they were more spookshow oriented.

So if rock and roll in the seventies was all about mythology and fantasy, in the eighties it started to become about the myth of rock and roll itself. Bands like Metallica or Motorhead or even Bon Jovi started to take the focus away from 'isn't this cool and epic?' to 'aren't we cool and epic?'

And then come the nineties, where grunge came along and everyone misunderstood how close to arena rock these musicians actually were. It was, again, the focus that had changed. Grunge was about deconstructing the myth of rock and roll, it was about taking the focus away from the band and putting it back into the hands of the people. If that makes any sense.

Here's a story I read, that is both funny and sad. In the late eighties, Axl Rose of Guns 'N Roses apparently sensed some sort of camaraderie with Kurt Cobain, and he actually tried to get a project off the ground with the rising grunge superstars. You see, in Axl's eyes, they were two of a kind, both making a statement about the stale, corporate world of arena rock. They were both voices of their generations counter culture. But in Kurt Cobain's eyes, Guns 'N Roses were the precise form of cock rock they hated so much, and were so against.

That story made me laugh when I first heard it, but the more I think about it the more tragic it seems. Axl Rose had just been laughed out of the building by the voice of a generation, so of course he fired his band and has spent the last dozen or so years in seclusion, spiralling further into drugs and working on an album that will at this rate only be released posthumously.

Sorry, got off on a tangent there.

So if the rock in the 70s was about mythology, and in the 80s it was about mythologizing rock itself, then the 90s were about deconstructing all of that. That means that the 00's are all about looking back and trying to reclaim some of those styles that were rejected by other generations. Bands like the Darkness or Eagles of Death Metal are reviving the sex and glam of rock, while Tenacious D are handling the mythology front. Bands like The Strokes, The Killers or Franz Ferdinand and even Coldplay are bringing back 80s arena rock. And then you have Nickelback regurgitating all of the worst aspects of grunge.

A friend has a theory about music, and although he probably wont read this, I'll give Eric credit anyway. He says that every genre has three good decades. The first decade, it's unknown. The only people aware of it are the people doing it. In the second decade it's still unknown, but it's starting to catch on. The third decade is where it gets popular, and after that it's a slow assimilation into the generic world of popular music. It happened with country and bluegrass, and now it seems to be happening simultaneously with rock and hip hop.

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