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  • Jia Sharma

Rock and Roll: A Reluctant Eulogy

TW: Drugs and substance abuse

Rocked and rolled by: Jia Sharma (she/her)

One of the many struggles I face in my day-to-day life is the constant reminder that most of my favourite musicians are either dead or too old to function. The fact that I will never get to see David Bowie or Freddie Mercury live is the sole reason for my bitterness. At this point, I just pray the few bands I have left do a reunion tour so I can hear them play live before they bite the dust. Even then, I’m sure it would be a very depressing and underwhelming experience with most ‘rockstars’ being unable to sing anymore. I'm looking at you, Axl Rose.

First, let’s start with a bit of rock history 101. We saw our first glimpse of rock and roll in the ‘50s with artists like Elvis Presley, influenced by RNB and the blues. The ’60s brought The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and, from there, rock music branched off. In the ‘70s came Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, and The Stooges, as well as guitar bands such as Cream. It also brought glam rock, which Elton John, Iggy Pop, and David Bowie dominated. The ‘80s brought hard rock bands such as Mötley Crüe and Guns n’ Roses, and prior music became outdated. By the 2000s, pop-rock replaced rock and roll on the charts.

My point is, from the birth of rock and roll until the ‘90s (when grunge took over), there were eras that defined each decade. Just by listening to the music and observing the band's style and album covers, you can easily pinpoint which time period of rock music it belongs to. When you see leather, teased hair, and enough hairspray to damage the ozone layer, you know it's from the '80s. And if you hear a song that sounds like the whole band was tripping on mushrooms, chances are it's from the '60s.

Today, rock music doesn’t dominate the scene. Rather, a much smaller pool of bands and artists keep the genre alive. As far as modern (kinda) rock bands go, there are Queens of the Stone Age and Muse. While these bands are great, I think most people would consider rock and roll as a movement dead, or at least on an extended break.  

I’ve been a massive classic rock fan since I was twelve years old (the first time a boy told me to name three Guns n’ Roses songs). I entered this piece with the intention of persuading the universe to revive the spirit of rock and roll; after my research, I’m questioning if that’s even possible. Especially with ‘80s classic rock, the era is defined by the lifestyle that comes with it. Sex, drugs, rock and roll. It was full of constant hedonistic temptations, and was ultimately destructive. I had the opportunity to talk to the co-founder of Flying Nun, Roger Shepherd, about this topic and he said, “There’s also that whole tricky thing of being a band, playing live at night, and what you do afterward”. 

What appealed to people was a combination of the music itself as well as the scandal and glamour. Rock and roll, as an era, was all about rebellion. The lifestyle associated with it could only exist at that time. The 1980s saw an increase in the variety and availability of consumer drugs. The list of prominent musicians in that scene who struggled with substance abuse is frighteningly long and has resulted in the loss of so many talented performers. The lifestyle was so destructive that each band could only last so long at their prime. 

Look at Guns n’ Roses, who have been labelled ‘the most dangerous band in the world’. Their accurately titled album, ‘Appetite for Destruction’ reflects their riotous lifestyle and their readiness to crash and burn. Their scandalous reputation was their reality: doing drugs left and right, committing crimes, and mistreating women. They were unpredictable and therefore dangerous to everyone around them, whether it was their record label who invested money in them, the media and staff to whom they were verbally abusive, and especially fans. ‘Groupies’ were a big part of the scene, often underage, often targeted by members of the band, and even travelling with them on their tours. 

I remember watching The Dirt, which is the story of Mötley Crüe, and being so concerned about what was on the screen. All you really need to know is that you get to watch Ozzy Osbourne snort a line of ants, and that there were more lines of coke than lines of dialogue. While the film isn’t entirely based on fact, I don’t think there was a single person who watched it and thought “Oh my god, they’re so cool”. 

For the longest time I obsessed over Hollywood in the ‘80s and the Sunset Strip, going to gigs at the Whiskey a Go Go and The Troubadour. Realistically, it’s probably the last place I would like to be. However, I’ll still always love the music and sound. I still want to hear an evolved resurgence of this kind of music.

It’s unrealistic to expect a genre or movement to stick around forever, as is true with any art form. “People are keen on novelty”, as Roger Shepherd says. He used this metaphor about schools of fish. One band always has to be at the front and there’s this mass behind them who all keep together. The cycle of popularity constantly shifts, with bands moving from the front to the back to the middle, eventually disappearing completely. 

When I raised the question of whether rock and roll could exist without the lifestyle that came with it, Roger said, “I’d like to think so. If there’s drugs and drinks involved it’s a bit of a ticking time bomb, you can’t sustain a life with too much of any of those things… sometimes they have a terminating effect”. While musicians have always used drugs, it's now more common for music and drugs to be separate.

I’d like to be an optimist, I think it can come back. I agree with Roger in the sense that in order to come back it needs to freshen itself up, it needs to be more than just about the look. While I desire a rebirth, I know it will never be the same, and that’s not a bad thing. It would be unbelievably boring if it was. I think most people have an era of music that they are nostalgic for, even more so if they weren’t around to see it. It’s the same with other genres like grunge and punk that aren’t as prominent as they used to be, and fans of them now have to search for a glimpse of it in a much larger pool than there was fifty years ago.

Obviously, there are still rock bands around, I know they didn’t go extinct at Y2K. However, its potential to come back matured and more about the music itself as a prominent genre is constantly teasing me. If anyone wants to introduce me to some great modern rock bands, please do. I’ll be grateful if I’ve just been completely oblivious this whole time. Until then, I’ll be putting on my Fleetwood Mac records and blasting Silver Springs. 


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