Friday, October 19, 2007

Merchants of Soul

My Buddy Brad sent me over this interesting article from the New Yorker magazine. It talks about how rock and roll, and specifically indie rock, has “lost its soul”. In the past rock music has existed in large part due to White musicians borrowing from Black musicians. Elvis, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin - A lot of the bands that really defined the rock genre were heavily influenced by, and openly took from Black music. Even Bob Dylan is guilty of this (and still does it). However, the author points out that this is no longer the case and the influence of Black musicians on mainstream rock (aka White music) has fell by the wayside. It’s an interesting read for sure.

The author mentions the lack of success by White people in the rap genre. One of the reasons it is really rare to hear of a successful White rapper is because fans and creators of that genre put a weight on the image of the artist. This really isn’t any different than most other styles in the past. Consider R&B and the Blues. The author points out that these styles in the past were picked up by rock music and incorporated into the style. However, rock music hasn’t really been able to capitalize on popular Black music in quite a while. Rock rap is the best offering and that is certainly open to criticism.

One thing I disagree with is this idea that rock is completely void of the influences he mentions. Certainly there are lots of bands incorporating a variety of styles. However, for some reason much of the more innovative and often popular bands out there have drifted away from this. I would venture this has more to due to a desire to create something completely unique rather than them intending to “play badly”. That said I can’t think of many concerts that I have ever been to that had a diverse audience. Its usually pretty segregated.

So a few questions I think should be raised – first should rap music be incorporated into rock? I would say absolutely not. In fact, I’d argue that rap music is a dying art. However, I would argue that hip-hop in general (pop rap) definitely has filtered into rock music or at least pop music. Most of what is on the Top 40 today is a combination or rock, hip hop and dance music. Now, most of it is terrible, but that has more to do with the industry and less to do with the quality of bands out there.

I also disagree that there is no soul in rock today. Even one of the bands he talks about as not having a Black influence, Wilco, has drifted towards a soulful sound. I just think that for whatever reason these bands aren’t as popular as the used to be. However, bands like Spoon, Gomez, Josh Rouse and Band of Horses are still popular and definitely borrow from soul.

Overall, the author makes some very interesting points most of which are quite valid. But what do you think? Do you think that rhythm and soul are no longer present in rock and roll? Do you think that rock is racially divided? I think that a lot of those styles will come back. Think of all the praise the new Dylan album or Amy Winehouse get just for hearkening back to music from the past. Its just that in the rush to create something new artists often try to strip away a lot of the things that sound too familiar.

Read the article or listen to the author talk about his hypothesis and let me know what you think by leaving a comment below or emailing me.

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