David Brooks has addressed himself to the subject of rock music, and as you'd expect it's a total Rothgasm.
Brooks's problem is that rock is no longer a monolithic entity centered on megastars like the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, or Bruce Springsteen, because "there are now dozens of niche musical genres where there used to be this thing called rock." In making his case, Brooks pulls off a pretty incredible rhetorical trick. Watch as he explains the fragmentation of the pop-music audience:
Music industry executives can use market research to divide consumers into narrower and narrower slices... And there’s the rise of the mass educated class. People who have built up cultural capital and pride themselves on their superior discernment are naturally going to cultivate ever more obscure musical tastes. I’m not sure they enjoy music more than the throngs who sat around listening to Led Zeppelin, but they can certainly feel more individualistic and special.In other words, the fact that people are listening to a variety of different musicians and genres indicates that they are both (a) sheep who have been brainwashed by "music industry executives," and (b) posers eager to show off their specialness. Whereas back when everyone was grooving on Led Zep together, they were all free-choosing individuals, immune to marketing and peer pressure. Yes, that makes sense.
Brooks trots out Steven Van Zandt to bolster his credibility, but Van Zandt doesn't seem very interested in Brooks's fragmentation narrative. He makes a different argument: the familiar "today's music sucks in comparison to the music that was popular during the years when I was fourteen through twenty-two, which happened to be the greatest music ever made" argument.
Van Zandt "argues that if the Rolling Stones came along now, they wouldn't be able to get mass airtime because there is no broadcast vehicle for all-purpose rock." This is a bit like saying that if World War II were fought today it would be over in five minutes because the Germans would be on the same side as the British and the Americans. If the Rolling Stones came along now, they wouldn't be able to get mass airtime because everyone would think they were ripping off the Rolling Stones.
Hilariously, Van Zandt has
drawn up a high school music curriculum that tells American history through music. It would introduce students to Muddy Waters, the Mississippi Sheiks, Bob Dylan and the Allman Brothers. He’s trying to use music to motivate and engage students, but most of all, he is trying to establish a canon, a common tradition that reminds students that they are inheritors of a long conversation.Good idea, Miami Steve -- let's sit the kids down in the classroom together, the ones who listen to Justin Timberlake and the ones who listen to Radiohead, the ones who like Lil Wayne and the ones who like the Get-Up Kids, the one who's into Ornette Coleman and the one who's into Deicide and the one who just borrowed her parents' Dylan tapes, and let's explain to them that they should all start listening to the Allman Brothers, because they are the inheritors of a long conversation that culminates with bearded white men making their guitars go hoodly-hoodly-hooooo! I bet that'll work real well.