Generational Music Gap

Dean Esmay notes the passing of an era:

[R]ock is as dead as Glen Miller and Sammy Davis Junior. Dead and gone. Fondly remembered, still an influence on future generations, but gone.

Vestiges of rock do survive in the niche market known as “Hippy Jazz,” mind you, in groups like Phish and Widespread Panic. Nods to rock can also be found in much pop music. But as an art form, Rock lost its cultural relevance, and its vital animating force, some time ago.

This realization was underscored for me when I read a recent Blogcritics thread wherein people in their 30s and 40s complained that their kids don’t rock as hard as they do. These folks who grew up loving Metallica and the Clash and AC/DC and the Ramones and so forth are disappointed because their kids ask them to turn that music down, it’s too loud! They also complain because the kids think stuff like Matchbox 20 is “hard rocking” and can’t handle the power chords of some old-school Black Sabbath or Guns ‘n’ Roses. Why, these kids don’t even know what real punk rock is all about! The Violent Femmes would kick Avril Levigne’s ass!

I didn’t have the heart to tell them that the kids today who want hard core, intense music don’t listen to rock. The kids who want hard core listen to rap.

I think it’s just that two generations of parents grew up listening to rock, so it’s not rebellious music anymore. Groups like Staind, for example, would probably be more offensive in a 1970s context than any of the groups back then but the parents are accustomed to it. Rap, at least the hard core type, is the music of a criminal underclass, so it still has the ability to shock a middle class, suburban audience.

I’m not sure what’s going to displace rap–which has now been around 25 years in its own right–in another generation. Kids will either be listening to music about necrophiliac cannibals or they’ll be listening to the equivalent of Frank Sinatra. That is, the shock level has to continue to ratchet up or else it will be rebellion as counter-rebellion. Sort of like Alex P. Keaton rebelling against his hippie parents by going Republican.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kate says:

    “Kids will either be listening to music about necrophiliac cannibals”

    In 25 years? How about 25 years ago? LOL

    I don’t know that he had any cannibal tunes, but Alice Cooper’ had his “Cold Ethyl”

    And then there was….

    “Dead babies can take care of themselves”
    …. a song about child abuse, but that escaped most of the critics.

  2. I suppose if you define Rock as Metallica, The Clash, AC/DC, the Ramones, Black Sabbath, Guns ‘n Roses, Violent Femmes, et al, then maybe Rock is dead. I was going to add a snarky comment, but I’ll let it pass.

    I define Rock differently, and I’m constantly surprised at the durability of Rock themes over the past, oh, 40 years or so. Which is not to say I love all of the music that fall within that genre, but it just doesn’t go away.

    Every so often, I hear a “modern” Rock piece and think, “This would have been popular back in 1970!” or, I’ll play an oldie, and my kids won’t know whether it’s from my dusty ol’ archive, or if there’s a new song that they haven’t heard yet.

    I have to say that, at least for me, Rock LIVES!

  3. McGehee says:

    I’m not sure what’s going to displace rap

    Klingon opera. More violence, and better singing.

  4. Dean Esmay says:

    Oh, I define rock’n’roll as everything from Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry to Soundgarden and Paerl Jam.

    Yes, you can hear “rock themes” in a lot of pop, rap, and other music. What you don’t hear is much in the way of new rock being produced that gets much of any airplay, nor do you hear many young kids listening to rock except a minority who are fans of oldies.

    Speaking of which, in most of the country, if you move up and down the radio dial, you’ll find practically no rock music that isn’t on an oldies station. And by the way, ’90s music is now “oldies.” 😉

    Just to be clear, I’m not annoyed. I like a lot of new music. My tastes are quite eclectic. I merely note that rock, as a cultural force in its own right, is quite dead. It is now a niche genre. A big one, with lots and lots of sub-genres. But that’s all it is.

    The rebellious kids today are listening to rap, while the rest are listening to pop music, some of which has rock overtones (sort of like The Partridge Family was in the ’70s).

    I’m not mad about it. A bit wistful perhaps. But life, and music, moves on. 😉

  5. From that perspective, you’re probably correct, Dean. I was thinking purely in terms of the music rather than as the force Rock music was in the past. I also have to recognize that I’m looking at this as a man in his late 40s rather than as a teenager. Makes a big difference.