I've read article after article going after Chuck Klosterman for his prediction, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that rock music will eventually be distilled to a single artist in the mind of popular culture. The prediction appears in his new book, But What If We're Wrong . I'm biased. My awareness of music neatly coincides with the rock era. I love rock music and would love to see it last forever.
I can understand the arguments against this thesis and I have a lot of sympathy for them. But, I'm going to play devil's advocate here and try to side with Klosterman on this one. Here are some reasons he could be right (note: I haven't read his book yet. I've read the reactions of people who think he's wrong, so I could well be repeating his arguments without knowing it):
1. 100 years is a long, long time. Most entertainment loses any relevance long before that. When I was in high school, books written in the 1880s used a very different language than what I could enjoyably read. Without relevance, it's hard to argue that it will stick in the cultural memory.
2. In fact, I've never heard of most of the authors of the 1880s even though their work may well survive. Print is pretty durable. The fact that the work of rock musicians will still be available does not imply that they will be remembered.
3. Genres tend to dilate as they fade into the rear view mirror. I remember the 80s like they were yesterday, but if you go by the radio, most bands only had one song, and there are fewer and fewer artists from that era getting any airplay. Heck, the 90s have already been culled to the Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins, and Nirvana.
4. The subgenres get it worse. Reggae = Bob Marley.
5. Content is being created much, much faster than it was, pushing the old stuff further back faster than what we experienced. In the 80s, 60s music was "classic" and 50s music was so alien as to be unlistenable. This process is accelerating
6. Revivals make the old stuff seem even more alien, not less (see: Stray Cats, The or read Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's marvelous Phonogram books).
7. Musical genres have historically had about a 30 year shelf life. Over the last 100 years, the most popular genres have been marching band, dixieland, crooners, swing, jazz, proto-rock, rock, and now rap and R&B. You can break it out however you like, but the idea that rock will still be culturally relevant and well-remembered in popular culture in 100 years seems unlikely.
8. "Pop culture" IS culture and everything else is old people stuff. Popular culture is the only culture that matters.Some people might have you think that classical music, ballet, and theater are "real" culture, but for the people who are creating and experience the culture of 2016, Justin Bieber is more important.
Personally, I like rock. I still listen to it, even the new stuff, but even I can see that it's being pushed to the margins. I'd hope that the things that mean so meant so much to me would continue to resonate throughout the ages, but realistically? I've had my turn. My grandfather, who played in big bands, used to play me records of the giants of his era whose names I didn't know. My eyes glazed over when he told me their stories. I'm not proud of it, but I was 18 and, like many 18 year old, I knew everything worth knowing already. It's probably better for everyone if we keep making space for each generation to create their own culture and not expect them to venerate ours.