I read an article in the Montreal Gazette this week by Nick Marino of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution called “Choosing Art Over Charts” discussing R.E.M.’s peculiar relationship (or so it would seem) to rock and roll and mainstream popularity. Unfortunately I can’t find a link to it but it is a good read especially for those of you who may be dismayed by “Around The Sun” and feel that is time the band hung up its boots. One of the things that Marino discusses is the waning popularity of rock and roll in general and R.E.M. in particular. In response to this Peter Buck opines:
“Rock ‘n’ roll isn’t superhip anymore. You’re never gonna have a new Beatles or Who, because most people just aren’t interested in a rock group writing and singing and playing their own songs that have meaning to them, and ideally meaning to the audience. The people that like that kind of stuff, that like the Strokes, the White Stripes and us or whatever, it’s a smaller market.”
Now that is pretty much an accurate statement but the problem is that the mainstream press always seems to be looking for the next Beatles when in reality rock and roll is so beyond that stage. We have to shift the context of the debate from quantity or mainstream visibility to quality and artistic integrity. The choice these days is almost overwhelming. There are more quality bands and small indie record labels now then probably anytime in history. Of course there is a lot of crap out there but so what. The wheat always separates from the chaff in the end, plus some of the best rock and roll is blatantly and wonderfully crap! Peter Buck, as a fan and collector of rock and roll doesn’t believe rock and roll is dead, he just believes that it has lost its mainstream glow and in a way that’s a relief. Rock and roll may be a niche in the overall music biz but my oh my, what a great niche to listen to. When I look at the all CDs I still want to get and all the MP3s sitting on my hard drive that I still haven’t had time to listen to, I am relieved that rock and roll is so “unpopular.” If I have to listen to all of my rock and roll on indie labels and see it at tiny live clubs then to me the time has finally arrived where rock and roll has returned to its roots. If you had to chuck out all the “enormodome” concerts and bullshit major label politics I would say “good riddance.” As long as bands want to play there will always be people who want to listen and dance. Rock and roll is dead. Long live rock and roll.