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October 27, 2006

Filed under: music»business

They All Have Abandoned Their Hopes

So I whine and complain about how rock is dead, and how Nickleback should be strangled with their own vas deferens, and we're all bored with my bitter old man impression. But this post, about how black rock (i.e. rock by African-American bands) has both faded away and may be critical for advancing black communities, is thought-provoking. The author, former Black Rock Coalition PR Director Rob Fields, theorizes that the loss of public school music program played a key role in the rise of hip-hop as a replacement for black rock, and wonders about the impact of its musical form.

Now, it's possible to read this as just another kind of curmudgeonry. I'm not sure that the opening thesis is bulletproof:

In order for the vast majority of black youth to envision better lives for themselves, we need to bring musicality back into their lives. By this I mean, get them playing instruments.

After all, this doesn't preclude hip-hop. There are notable hip-hop and rap groups that perform with instruments live, including Black Eyed Peas and The Roots. Is the difference simply the way that rock champions instrumental virtuosity (sometimes to the point of extremes, and I'm looking at you, Yngwie)? And do we need to make an exception for Lenny Kravitz and Prince, or do we consider them something separate?

Moreover, I'm not completely convinced that it's purely the audience's responsibility for the market failure of black rock. Take Fishbone, for example: fans still try to figure out why that band, arguably better than Jane's Addiction or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, never broke out beyond a niche audience. Living Colour had one semi-mainstream hit, "Cult of Personality," before suffering much the same fate. And of course, anyone with a radio may notice that Jimi Hendrix is practically the only black artist played on "classic rock" stations. Is this just because the audience wasn't interested? Or is it because the industry wouldn't back them?

On the other hand, I'm in favor of anything that gets more music education into schools and more rock bands onto the charts, particularly from a range of backgrounds.

Future - Present - Past