Why I call my rock and roll “niche-free.”

Rock and roll has always had genres or niches. Originally during the mid-sixties there was a distinction made between pop and rock. Then there evolved styles such as psychedelic rock, folk rock, blues rock, mod and beat but somehow it was all still considered generally a part of Rock ‘n’ Roll. The ‘70s and ‘80s exacerbated things until nowadays, music has splintered into so many genres and sub-genres and sub-sub genres that the term “rock and roll” is almost a historical reference. Almost. But there are bands and record labels that still cling to the seemingly antiquated concept of what rock and roll is and always has been. Radio stations that continue to play it and magazines, clubs and websites that continue to promote it. Sure they might sometimes refer to it as garage, power pop, freak beat, punk, indie or alternative but really, when you dig deep down, everybody would probably agree that it is all in essence Rock and Roll. Music made with real instruments for the most part by bands with plenty of attitude that have no problem pillaging hooks from the best rock and roll that came before them in order to create a sound that is both timeless and yet new. Sometimes it gets popular, most times it is bubbling under the mainstream consciousness but it always means the same thing to those that make the music and those that listen to it: fun, hip shaking songs that compel you to have a great time. Why do I bring this up (again)? Because I just read an article on Canada.Com entitled Rock ‘n’ roll: A to Z: A guide to music genres (by way of Music Journalist) which as usual reduces rock and roll to a bunch of genres for the supposed ease of music critics, “consumers” and the record store clerks of Wall Mart and Best Buy. When it comes to classifying music, the current rage is to add “alt” to the beginning of everything as in “alt-country”, “alt-rock”, “alt-polka” or alt-whatever so as to indicate that the musical style in question is an “alternative” to the mainstream genre. But what if rock and roll itself is not mainstream? How do you classify it? The answer is that you don’t. Instead of further dividing and classifying the music I say you drag it all back in kicking and screaming and if anybody asks what the hell this type of music is you just tell them what it is not. It’s not country (although it will gladly steal some of country’s licks). It’s not reggae (but it will help itself to its’ rhythm). It’s not blues (but it will gladly steal pretty much everything that the blues has to offer thank you very much), and it’s definitely not classical or the opera (that’s two aisles down by the Broadway musical soundtracks sir).
Am I just being naïve? Perhaps. Hopelessly retro and “unhip.” Maybe. Anxious to listen
to a rock and roll that means more than depressingly mindless drivel pounded out by electronic machines that erase all soul and songcraft from music? Most definitely. We don’t have to mindlessly retread the rock and roll of the past to create the rock and roll of the future as there is no need. As Greg Shaw of Bomp Records has pointed out, rock and roll is more like a process, a process that is continually evolving and yet builds on what has happened before it. The same attitudes and emotions, influences and passions that have kicked out the jams in the past will continue to fuel honest to goodness, niche-free rock and roll now and into the foreseeable future, whether we want it to or not. We are not condemned to be haunted by the specters of the past because this presumes that their influence is a bad thing. Bring on the Beatles and the Stones. Bring on the Pretty Things and the 13th Floor Elevators. Bring on the New York Dolls, The Runaways and The Ramones. Bring on Springsteen and R.E.M. Bring on Jet and the White Stripes. Niche-free rock and roll unabashedly builds on rock and roll’s past while continuing to provide for it’s continually evolving future. As usual, some people get it, and some people don’t. Sure there will always be the extremes that spit out crap with no sense of artistic integrity but they will never last and you shouldn’t be so concerned with that or with what is currently “fashionable.” You and I listen to rock and roll, not because it’s a “musical journey” or a “wellspring of inspiration.” No, we listen to rock and roll because it forms a direct connection with our hips and our hearts, bypassing our brain if necessary. I might not be able to describe my rock and roll in a neat and tidy package but that’s why I like it so much. That is why rock and roll continues to survive. That is why rock and roll continues to thrive. Long live rock and roll.

1 Comment

  1. I agree with you 100%. The late Lester Bangs, writing on Elvis Presley’s death said that we’d never again agree on anything like we’d agreed on Elvis. I do not wholly agree with him—consenseus on anything, like patriotism and religion, can be a refuge for scoundrels—and not merely the obvious ones, like record company bosses. But Bangs, IMHO, made a good point about how Balkanized the music scene was in 1977, and it’s even more realevent in ’04—-especially given that rock seperatism is more often based on racism, sexism, classism, homophobia and buying into record company divide and conquer mentality.

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