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Who makes the cut?

James DuBray | Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Clash, The Ramones, Bruce Springsteen. Can the list go on and, more importantly, do we deserve to let it? Would adding Nirvana to that list be like blaspheming Mary, the M.O.G.? Does anyone really love rock and roll anymore? Why would they?It’s been said there exists a rock and roll canon. There are a select few artists who only Noel Gallagher, moron that he is, would dare to cross. Sure, they’ve all had their missteps. Neil Young writes a terrible album about every five years. Dylan couldn’t escape the 1980s. Mick Jagger refuses to put his Megalodon away, and Springsteen has tried to make the same record about seven too many times. Yet, these artists have all blown the minds and broke the hearts of baby boomers. Not just the cats, too. From hedge fund managers to Neomarxists, everyone sings along to “Under My Thumb.” Their kids have benefited from growing up to melodic acoustic numbers and avant-garde crashes. These storytellers have bashed exes, while also swooning at first sights.Sure, tons of songs have been misinterpreted, bastardized and made cliché. “Born In The U.S.A.” is played on the Fourth, while half of “Sgt. Pepper” is used in cell phone commercials. Despite these problems, traditions have grown as 25 year-olds and their mothers cry simultaneously when “In My Life” adorns first dances. Enough evidence – a canon exists, and it means something. Now to the bloody point: Do the children of baby boomers have, or even deserve, a spot at the table? One thing is certain: there will never be another consensus top dog. For one, rock and roll exists on the idea of community: the feeling that there is something about both being young, and having a sense of alienation. Music provides an oasis, a place to exist outside of mainstream society. The idea is still inside every young person. The fairytales drugged us (Thank you, Conor Oberst). There is no Prince Charming or glass slipper. Yet, this sort of introspection seems rare in today’s society. In a world based so much on corporate-driven definitions of success, rock and roll probably doesn’t have a place. Drugs don’t open the mind; they get you a semester at home. Money and speed rule all. For our generation, the best job is the one that makes the most money. Forget about relationships, friends, or discovering something about yourself. Put on your tie, check today’s calendar on your Blackberry, and network, network, network. Today’s Woodstock would be full of people exchanging LinkedIn accounts. Let’s deviate from the negativity for a second. The 1980s gave some contributions to the list, although they were few and far between. Springsteen and Petty made some great albums, while Billy Joel established himself as a bigger joke than Neil Diamond. Yet, R.E.M. created something that would become alt-rock – whatever that means anymore. The ’90s used a suicide and a surge of anger to produce grunge, a rock spin-off that today is even funnier than it is off-putting. Can you imagine how Cobain would feel at an Everlast show? Apologetic, I’m sure. Flash to today, and the 1990s seem like more of a breeding ground than anything else. Radiohead belongs in the conversation for a couple reasons. One, they have followed in the tradition of the greats by never settling. When “OK Computer” was crowned king, Thom Yorke and the boys responded by kicking out the guitars. When politics suddenly became a popular song topic, Radiohead made “In Rainbows,” one of their more apolitical records to date, and released it for, well, whatever you wanted to pay. Just like the children of the ’90s discovered “Exile” over a double Whiskey Coke, so will some of the children of the future find “Kid A” and “Yankee,” and maybe even “The College Dropout.” Yet, they probably will come at these records much more earnestly than their parents came to their own parents’ vinyl. Consensus may be out of the picture, but great musicians aren’t. Radiohead, Wilco, Kanye West. That’s what I think we’ve got so far. Contenders exist all over the board, including The Decemberists, My Morning Jacket, Lil Wayne and The White Stripes. Yet these artists have a long, long way to go. Let’s just hope that Jack Johnson and Coldplay eventually get the Neil Diamond treatment. That’s how we’ll know they “get it.”The views in Scene and Heard are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Observer.Contact James DuBray at [email protected]