Alas Poor Rock, We Knew It Well

Rock and roll exists today only because so many have decided they're going to be rock stars or they're going to make a living as accessories to rock stars. They don't realize the era of the rock star is over.

We've seen all the clothes and poses and we've heard all the riffs. Built on ego and pretense and the dollars they require for validation, rock has become corporate and boring, with bands counting on getting signed on the way to their first rehearsal. The vogue "modern rock" format is the new Top 40, with its own share of one-hit wonders: Just as Luke Perry is no James Dean, despite the lost gaze, the likes of Bush, Sponge, and Hootie are not making important music, even if they do have stupid names.

How did rock become rote? Why did fun become meaning's sidekick? When did art outgrow the galleries and start infiltrating the genre where "Tutti Frutti" said it all? Why is everyone holding a guitar so goddamned depressed these days? Is it because they've spent so much time reading poetry they haven't had the time to learn how to play well? Hell, Chuck Berry is the greatest rock lyricist ever, and he probably thinks Rimbaud is a character Sly Stallone played in the movies.

The following albums had a lot to do with why so much of today's music is more about the hole than the doughnut. Welcome to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Mausoleum. Here are the fifteen albums that killed rock and roll:

1. Rubber Soul, the Beatles (1965). The pristine pop machine decided perfection wasn't enough; they also wanted to say something with their songs, and so they slowed them down and brought in acoustic guitars so you could hear lyrics such as "Michelle/My belle." Earlier in '65, the Beatles were rocking hard on amazing versions of "Bad Boy" and "Dizzy Miss Lizzy," as well as goosebump-inducing originals like "Eight Days a Week" and "Help!" Yet by year's end they were playing sitars and writing future Vegas standards "Norwegian Wood" and "Run for Your Life." My guess is that somewhere around the middle of '65, the Beatles found a good drug connection.

Evil spawned: The Eagles, America, Hootie and the Blowfish, Deep Blue Something, the Rembrandts, MTV Unplugged.

2. The Velvet Underground and Nico (1967). Decadence was a key part of early rock, from Little Richard to the girl groups, but the social twists were submerged in the exuberance of the music. When the Velvets just came out and sang about heroin, sadomasochism, and cross-dressing, they often played in gentle waves, with the words floating out like the self-image of someone on drugs. Rock gets real, perhaps a bit too real.

Evil spawned: Mazzy Star, Jonathan Richman, Cowboy Junkies, Violent Femmes.

3. Are You Experienced? Jimi Hendrix Experience (1968). Jimi couldn't sing, which right away made him a great role model for up-and-coming musicians, but he played the guitar better than anyone before or since. Many have imitated Hendrix, but none can match his feeling or his fingers, so you wonder why they even bother. Nobody ever looked as cool as Hendrix playing the guitar, and when he died all that was left was the footage and an army of ax-toting sycophants. Hendrix has almost as many imitators as Elvis, but like those pudgy black-haired guys in the white jumpsuits, Jimi's throng rarely gets close enough to capture the essence of the big man.

Evil spawned: Living Colour, Lenny Kravitz, Robin Trower, Frank Marino, Sonic Youth, Neil Young's Ragged Glory.

4. Live/Dead, Grateful Dead (1970). Even as the Dead had entered their most concise songwriting period, recording FM radio staples "Casey Jones," "Uncle John's Band," "Ripple," "Truckin'," and "Box of Rain" during 1970, this live LP was full of the wandering psychedelic jams that have influenced a million teens to dance with their hands. "Dark Star" has inspired more masturbation than the Dark Brothers, only in "Dark Star" they use both hands.

Evil spawned: New Bohemians, Phish, Blues Traveler, Dave Matthews Band.

5. Hissing of Summer Lawns, Joni Mitchell (1975). Stacking wisps of sound over rolling rhythms and using her voice where the soprano sax solo should go, Joni seemingly released this jazz-pop experiment so every future female pop singer would have something to listen to while coming of age. Although there are moments of magic, this LP is generally as boring as the mowing of summer lawns.

Evil spawned: Natalie Merchant, Juliana Hatfield, Liz Phair, Heather Nova, Edie Brickell, Sarah McLachlan, Sheryl Crow.

6.OneNationUnderaGroove,Parliament/Funkadelic (1978). "Who Says a Funk Band Can't Play Rock?" I do. Oh, sure, the black KISS could play anything, and mastermind George Clinton found some cool jams in his update of James Brown for a drugged-out dance crowd, but songwriting was drowned in a sea of puerile sci-fi inventions. "A mental musical bowel movement," Clinton sings on "Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis," and one can only assume that he's referring to his own work. P-Funk inspired two of the scariest things on the planet: black metal bands and white funk bands.

Evil spawned: Primus, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Faith No More, Fishbone, Billygoat, Living Colour, King's X.

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