Rock and Roll (1949-2011) - JazzWax

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January 03, 2011


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True enough, Marc; could the economic viability of rock and roll now be compared to, say, jazz?

Ron Kern

Excellent article. IMHO you are spot on. I've felt this way for quite a while but did not know when all of this would reach critical mass, and apparently it has.

I have only only three observations about the article from a personal point of view - 1) Dylan tickets are priced pretty darn reasonably to see a legend, 2) the last two Dylan shows that I've seen were two of the best I have witnessed and I've been going to Dylan shows for over 30 years, and 3) I, just a commoner, was able to score tickets in the third row for my last Dylan show right off the internet on the first day of sales. So, IMHO, Dylan is still doing it and doing it right.

Doug Zielke

Regarding SiriusXM...
As a subscriber since inception, I have to agree it is a mere shadow of how great it once was.
While I continue to subscribe mostly for jazz (as *very poor* as it has become since the merger),the entire service has been relegated to abysmal play lists that make you think you're listening to AM. I find I'm listening more and more to the multitude of internet stations streaming the jazz I want to hear. Right now, the only thing that keeps me a SiriusXM sub, is it's automobile portability.

Joe Linker

Good piece, continuing the "did folk kill jazz" discussion. Agree with stmichrick above re Dylan. The Jurgensen WSJ piece is balanced, but when did Dylan's voice ever win a critic's choice award? He's been trying to sound old since he was 19. Now he does not have to try so hard anymore.


Marc, this piece is right on the money - the only exception I would take with it is that I would say the patient experienced brain death a good ten years ago.


Without bothering to define genres, one could make a case that live music is dying - the role of musicians being taken over by DJs and producers. There will always be a place, however, for performers whose personalities are perceived as sufficiently glamorous or scandalous. Meanwhile, new business models are evolving. In the old days bands would tour to promote an album. Then they moved to recording albums to promote a tour. Nowadays performers tour to promote merchandise (clothing, jewelry, perfume, etc.) - not to mention ringtones.

Ed Leimbacher

You have clocked the nearing-midnight of rock. (Roll over, Bill Haley, and tell The Arcade Fire the news!) We see Dylan gone back into folk, and ditto Springsteen, the wheezing Stones soon to need wheelchairs and oxygen, and U2 sorely needing Eno and Lanois. Downloads, downsizing, and downed-levees have sent most rock that mattered straight down the tubes. Let's hope rap is next (and quickly); a return to Deep Soul music would do the religiously and racially divided globe a world of good. (Jamaica's return to Conscious Reggae is a likely good-for-the-soul development too.) But like the Baby Boomers nipping at my heels, I'm nearing too old to care.

Joel Lewis

Marc, you might say that the decline of rock began at its artistic heights -- that is, the release of the Beatles's Sgt. pepper's. After that, most bands no longer made muisc to dance -- the songs grew longer, more complex and abstract and you ended up with prog rock and the folkieish "LA Sound". Rock sufferd the same fate as jazz when it headed into bop, it lost its aspect as a social music & started loosing the core teen audience to disco.

The music of choice nowadays for teens is dance music -- it is worth noting that both Madonna and Lady Gaga both tried to make it at the outset as pop/rock types. Madonna tried to learn drums to be part of a punk band and Gaga was writing piano-based songs a la Tori Amos. Both turned to the dance music world because they wanted to maximize their audiences.

Rock exists --note that Arcade Fire recently sold out MSG -- but it is far more marginal and draws a narrower, white post-college audience, a far cry from its working class 50s audience. I rode the PATH train the last few nights and it was filled with Phish fans going to their sold out shows at MSG.

It seems that the suicide of Kurt Cobain brought an end to the creative period of rock music -- there seems to have been no band since Nirvana that captured young imgainations so throughly.

A question that has intrigued me is why elder rockers, though capable of performing their back catalog, run creatively dry at such an early age. This oppossed to jazz muiscians, who continue to compose and perform at high levels well into Social Security territory. Is this because jazz muisicians have to keep working while rockers, often sitting atop a pile of cash, tour often just to keep interest in their back ctalog.

Keep in mind, that while pop muisc genres never quite die, they do have a limited shelf life. To many kids, rock music is regarded much in the way that baby-boomers regrded big-band music -- stuff that your parents like

Kent England

Fascinating. I had no idea what state modern rock and roll was in.

On the rap side, I concur that most young people listen to rap, at least at first, but as they age they crave variety. My oldest son moved into 70-80s heavy metal for a while, but he's still restlessly looking for something new and I may have found it.

I've been thinking about the changes that have been happening to the half of Gnarls Barkley known as C Lo Green. C Lo Green has recently been releasing singles videos on YouTube of his new "album" and I was surprised to find how much I like his new sound. I call him the new Smokey Robinson of rap with an emphasis on harmony and orchestration. He hasn't abandoned rap, but he is augmenting his sound and some of his videos show that he understands the history of popular music rather well. Someday I hope he does a duet with a trumpet, but for now some of the most beautiful passages in his songs are in the transitions from his trumpet-like voice to the reeds and horns that back him up. I think he is the future of music for older (late 20s) rapsters.

My takeaway is not so much sadness at the changes that have impacted jazz and now classic rock & roll, but the fact that everything in music is changing so fast.

Matt LeGroulx

I think part of the problem here is that you're dealing with success in terms of record sales and selling out large venues. The current music scene is so atomized at this point that it may seem that less people are into rock when in fact there are so many sub-genres and so many artists that are all so accessible that there is no Beatles, Stones, etc. as there was when only a few major record labels controlled what people heard. I would argue that rock music is healthier now than ever with more variety, artists that are more independent and easier access to the music than ever before. Stereogum and Gorilla vs. Bear are extremely popular blogs that deal in today's rock music. And don't forget Pitchfork. Also, what is the stylistic definition of rock music? There has been no Wynton Marsalis, or Duke Ellington or Jelly Roll Morton for that matter, to define it for us and the boundaries are extremely blurred. So where does rock start and where does it end and how much of it might or might not be considered rock music? It might be wise to take a look around and listen to the music actually being made today. Great bands are still putting out great records that lots of people are listening to.


Got to agree with Matt above. Whatever "Rock" is now, it's perversely polymorphous. If by Rock you mean the arena variety, then good riddance, it was sterile almost since its inception. And, as someone else pointed out, the popular music scene today is so fragmented, atomized, and hard to chart (via the old-style "Top 40" gauge, anyhow) that Rock's true demise won't be recognized until years after the fact.

When I was in High School in the early '80's, most of the acts you mention were already over-the-hill geezers, far as I was concerned, fabulous as the early music of acts like the Stones may have been. No interest at all in seeing them. I had discovered the vigorous and inventive punk and "alternative" world (really didn't get the alternative label until the 90's) and I knew there was a bustling universe of spirited, fresh rock music that Pat Sajak was never going to tell you about. Which pissed me off, it did.

Anyway, in the 80's there was a very large block-of-teens that had turned its face against arena rock in favor of bands that played small and even cramped venues with a $5.00 cover charge. That music began to become more widely recognized after Nirvana's improbable success, and the band's habit of doing things like covering a Meat Puppets song on their MTV "unplugged" set (which led to somebody picking up the Meat Puppets & them having a little national hit of their own -- I think I got the time line right, there).

That said, even "alternative" music is getting a bit long in the tooth these days -- the 80's were, um, a while back now -- but a vital no-other-word-for-it-but-rock scene persists, drawing in fresh young (and far from exclusively white) fans and talent. Here in Atlanta, there are dozens of local rock bands, touring extensively in the region, nationally, and even internationally.

Anyhow, I think your diagnosis of the Death of Rock is inaccurate, mainly due to narrow focus. As to the scope of your focus, I believe you are 100% correct. And I rejoice!!


I never could stand arena rock but the club scene is still alive and kicking ever since at least the 60's and probably since the beginning of RnR. It's a parallel musical universe. Also there are plenty of do-it-yourselfer recording musicians out there now and lots of independent labels thanks to inexpensive digital technology and the music is better than ever in my opinion! You say rapidly expiring I say changing and expanding. Try to keep Music and commerce separate if you can and you'll be on track. Anyway I thought this site is supposed to be about Jazz.

Jack Charles

Music fans--and Bob Dylan fans in particular--do not take seriously the opinions of a Wall Street Journal writer. That rag's John Jurgensen should stick to his Uncle Rupert's standard game of GOP ass-kissing and leave music criticism to those who, you know, know something about music.

Jim Linderman

Yup....See HERE
Jim Linderman


Thanks Marc, very thought-provoking! As one who experienced all the rock legends of the 60's and 70's in their prime, I haven't been moved much by what passes for rock for quite a while. In fact I think the last performer in that genre that really grabbed me was Stevie Ray (and he was really a bluesman who could rock). I find myself turning back to the jazz, blues and music of earlier eras more and more.


It's a shame that Dylan gets lumped in with this because, well, it's not his fault! His resolutely low-key, live-performance-based approach to making music harks back to the era before multi-track recording and may point forward to the era of the new bar band. Two guitars, bass and drums, it's good, and you may add a fiddle or keyboard or accordion for color if you wish, as long as you don't go overboard. That may not rule the culture anymore, but hey, it's good for Saturday night. And the culture will stagger on its own weird way anyway.

Jose Fritz

This is absolutely idiotic. the entire article just says in sum " I feel old, things have changed in my life, the bands I liked are old and dying... therefore rock is dead."

it's inane. So you're old... go try some new bands.

Greg Lee

Hi Marc,
Boy howdy, that is one enormous fork you just stuck into the music of our youth! On balance, I find much I agree with in your analysis. But the final word may have to wait until the entire first generation of rockers are all gone (a time not too distant!). Personally, I knew the music of baby boom rebellion had passed me by the first time I heard the Cure. I realized then that It was not "my" music any more...fortunately, I knew jazz from age 5 and it's never let me down....
bright moments!

Irving Greines

Hi Marc:

Nice article.

I agree that rock is dead (or, at least, mostly dead),but I would extend the observation to jazz as well. The problems with both, I think, is that they became formulas, each iteration sounding and looking like th last.

I'm so sick of the "rock look." At one point, the long hair, tatoos and doper persona looked avant garde. Now looks so old, so haggard.

Concerts for the older rock groups that continue to appear, appear and appear are so boring and the audience is depressing. Old people, trying to act young again, trying to recapture a youth that is far out of reach. Holding up lighters or cell phones; swaying back and forth; toking on joints; trying to be "with" something that is long outdated. So depressing and sad.

The same seems true with jazz. At clubs and on CDs, one ofter hears the same tired formulas: Trading fours; each taking a solo in turn; obligatory (and often half-hearted)clapping after each often boring solo. It all starts to sound alike.

Jazz and rock had their days and I often retreat to listen to what was inventive and new at the inception and before the copycats entered the scene. I still love the jazz of the 1940's through the 1960's; I still love the groups that formed the early rock scene. But, I'm tired of retreads.

I enjoy going to an intimate club to catch an intimate act. An example: I was recently in New York, attended the Metropolitan Room, and caught Annie Ross and her small, very talented group. How refreshing. I didn't feel gouged; I didn't feel herded into some vast space; I was not surrounded by an audience more interested in showing off, than in listening to some good music.

Rock and jazz have run their courses. There is still some good stuff to be heard. But, for the most part, I've been there and done that insofar as most of the "new" acts are concerned.

I'm not happy about these feelings, but that's how I feel.


The idea that rock needs to be played in arenas and cannot work in smaller venues is simply incorrect. I have seen many, many excellent shows over the last 20 years by bands that would have to be classified as some kind of rock. Some of those shows have been great. I have rarely seen an arena show which touched the best shows I have seen in club. Rock is not necessarily the mainstream music anymore, and it does not signify in the culture in the same ways it did in the 60's and 70's, and to an extent the 80's. But it still does exist.

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of a Song" (Grove) and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax is a two-time winner of the Jazz Journalists Association's best blog award.

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