Paul Heinz

Original Fiction, Music and Essays

A Giant Sucking Sound? What will become of Rock and Roll?

In 1992, presidential candidate Ross Perot warned Americans about the “giant sucking sound” of U.S. jobs fleeing to Mexico if NAFTA passed.  It did, and – for reasons probably having nothing to do with NAFTA – the U.S. went on to have eight years of rapid growth.   Maybe this example of exceeded expectations is reason enough to be slightly optimistic about what will happen to rock and roll once the current wave of aging rockers crashes into a shore of social security, nursing homes and…cemeteries. 

But one could be forgiven for having a slightly bleak outlook.

Just one look at the Chicago area concerts this summer gives reason for concern.  Consider the following acts:

Jimmy Buffet , Paul Simon, Rush, Styx, Bob Segar, Peter Gabriel, Steely Dan, Robert Plant and Journey.

The average age of those acts – not including Styx’s and Journey’s young replacements – is about 61.  Paul Simon will be turning 70 this year.  Jimmy Buffett?  65.  And then there are other aging bands coming to the area: Foghat, Asia, Yes, Nightranger, Motley Crue – the list goes on and on.

In ten years, when all of these acts are gone, what will fill the void?  Sure, there are plenty of popular young musicians on tour this year: Kate Perry, Taylor Swift, R Kelly, Rihanna, Josh Groban, Carrie Underwood…but you have to wonder whether in twenty years people will be willing to shell out wads of cash to see – say – an aging Lady Gaga.

And this really isn’t a knock on today’s artists; there are plenty of bands today that excite me.  But times have changed, and the age of long-lasting rockers with huge followings could be over, replaced instead by musicians who are compartmentalized by geography or niche genres. 

Gone are the days of the nurtured band who’s allowed to grow and audience over time, gaining allegiance and hard-core fans who can name the deep tracks.  Record companies can’t afford to do this anymore, and we as listeners have adjusted the way we listen to music, withholding the devotion, patience and money that music careers so often require. 

Purchasing a song on iTunes for 89 cents doesn’t really ensure a long career or even a follow-up album.  Have you heard anything recently from Daniel Powter?  Do you even know who he is?  Billboard Magazine named Powter the last decade’s top one-hit wonder.  “Bad Day” might have been a huge hit five years ago for Powter, but he couldn’t sell out an arena today, partly because few people actually purchased his album; they purchased his song, and a song does not an arena band make. 

Of course, there have always been one-hit wonders, and one can hope that the Foo Fighters, Kid Rock, The Counting Crows, Kings of Leon, Dave Matthews Band can hang in there for a while and hold down the fort while other acts build an audience.   I’ve no doubt that new performers will rise to the challenge. 

But it could be a couple of ugly years.

Copyright, 2017, Paul Heinz, All Right Reserved