American filmmaker Harmony Korine in an interview with GQ magazine last summer said: “I don't listen to music made by white people. I especially hate anything where a guitar is used. I don't listen to white people and guitars.”
It is a tough statement to understand because back in 1995 Harmony Korine and musician Lou Barlow oversaw arguably the greatest movie soundtrack ever in the form of Kids. The soundtrack for Kids was as incendiary as the movie itself, featuring the rawest New York hip-hop and American alternative guitar music of the period. Barlow’s own group, Folk Implosion, featured heavily, but other bands like Sebadoh (another Barlow side project) and Slint nestled brilliantly well with rap acts such as Lo-Down and A Tribe Called Quest (though the latter was only used in the movie). It was the perfect marriage of yin and yang, encapsulating a skater youth culture that had omnivorous music tastes, with rock and rap holding equal importance. It was a soundtrack assembled by angry young men who love music, including that made by white guys with guitars.
Korine may now only favour black music, but why has white guitar music suffered in recent years? It’s only fair to say that black music has cheapened itself by prostituting its services to manufactured pop outfits (Wiz Khalifa being Maroon 5’s bitch-for-hire, for example), but it still has not received the backlash that rock music endured.
The truth may be that alternative music remains a genre presided over by relics of an older age. Take for example Green Day, the celebrated Californian rock band that has been in existence for over 25 years now. Green Day will release ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, and ¡Tré!, a new trilogy of albums that will be issued within months of each other. For diehard fans this news will be heaven, but one has to question why it is the same old faces that refuse to call it a day, putting out records every few years that sound remarkably like everything else they’ve attached their name to?
Green Day’s newish video for Oh Love demonstrates a great reluctance to do anything from the ordinary. Directed by ‘90s music video helmer Samuel Bayer, Oh Love has Billie Joe Armstrong and co. playing an intimate concert to a group of barely dressed models that are young enough to be their daughters. If anything, the video exemplifies exactly what Green Day has become: A bunch of middle-aged men that have nothing new to offer other than an established formula and common denominator tropes.
Green Day hit the big time in 1994 with their first major record label release, Dookie. An entire generation has passed since its coming yet the interim has struggled to offer another, younger, global rock band to take their place. In fact, the case of middle-aged rockers refusing to call it a day means that we have bands like the Foo Fighters and Red Hot Chili Peppers insisting consumers take them as seriously as they may have done when they first came to prominence. Even more ‘recent’ acts like Linkin Park, The Strokes, Muse, The Killers and My Chemical Romance have been in circulation for over a dozen years now. These people are essentially sat on their jobs, turning rock music into an embarrassing joke that wallows in an anachronistic stubbornness, refusing to be invigorated by a new generation of musicians that may take the genre into fresh directions.
Before this post is vilified for being an attack on middle-aged white guys with guitars, it must be pointed out that there is no issue with musicians of a certain age continuing to make music just as long as the material they create actually demonstrates progression. Although a band like Radiohead may be accused of being stuck in a rut, one cannot say they’re not trying to evolve and discover new sounds. What is absolutely certain is that the Radiohead of 2012 is in no way what it was back in 1993. The band has an innate desperation to avoid ground already covered, keen to circumvent looking like mature people attempting to pass themselves as being younger than their years. Although the middle-aged rockers of Green Day, Foo Fighters and Red Hot Chilli Peppers will do everything from emblazoning themselves with fresh tattoos to applying liberal amounts of guyliner and purchasing corrective cosmetic laser eye surgery in a bid to keep relevant, Radiohead has aged admirably and maintained their importance in the music arena.
Middle-aged rock musicians refusing to bow out gracefully is as much the fault of the bands themselves as it is of the music industry. As piracy and alternative means of acquiring music proliferates, the music industry is less willing to sign up new acts that will require heavy promotion and distribution in order to register with consumers. Britain’s sage middle-age rocker, Noel Gallagher, recently told the Daily Express that rock stardom is an endangered species primarily because it is impossible to make the vast amounts of money that previously came with the territory. Gallagher said: “There was a way of making money and selling records that got happened upon in the 1960s, and it worked for 30-odd years.” He went on to say, “Then all of a sudden, in under a decade, it’s gone, never to return."
Therefore, the music industry would rather preserve established acts, regardless of their sell by date, and have them reproduce the same style of music that worked for them when they first came about. 2012 has seen albums by Smashing Pumpkins and Soundgarden, alternative rock acts that were a breath of fresh air a generation ago, but have little to contribute in a post-millennial music culture steeped in diminishing sales and a stagnant music broadcasting culture.
Harmony Korine may have given up on rock ‘n’ roll but its salvation will be compromised further if bands which have had their time refuse to accept that there is something fundamentally wrong in trying to insist they are as important as they were when record companies first took a chance on them. Likewise, if record companies don’t discover new guitar bands then there will eventually come a tipping point in which younger generations will completely turn their backs on a music scene identifiable by having artists that are as old as their grandparents.
But maybe such an arrangement is cool. After all, this is a generation that is more attuned to the tastes of its parents than perhaps their parents were to their own folks. As long as money is being made and nobody is complaining loudly enough, then maybe 40 can be the new 20. After all, rock music is the gateway to transcendence.