Is 2016 the Year the Music Died?
On the morning of April 21, 2016 multiple news outlets began to report the death of Prince Rogers Nelson, better known as simply “Prince”, at the age of 57. The artist, who has gone by a variety of stage names throughout his career (featuring my personal favorite of the untypable symbol), is only the latest of the famed musicians in the past four months that have died under shocking, and otherwise unprecedented circumstances. The musicians we have lost since the year’s beginning reads more like a guest-list at a Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame ceremony; David Bowie, Merle Haggard, and Phife Dawg were all instrumental in the rise of their respective genres. Founding members of Earth, Wind, and Fire, Emerson Lake and Palmer, The Eagles, and Jefferson Airplane were lost since Jan. 1. Even one of popular music’s most renowned producers in George Martin past away earlier this year.
It’s not as it was seven years ago that the world was floored by the death of Michael Jackson, a man from a generation of music who many considered too young and fresh to be falling. This was within a year of comeback albums from Guns N Roses, AC/DC, and Kiss. Today, the King of Pop is just one of many blips on the list of musical superstars that remain indestructible only in the fact that their music can’t become any less recorded than it already was. It’s already out there, so it won’t be going away. That’s not the point; the point is that we aren’t losing legacies, but the people who have created them.
On the topic of AC/DC, let us not forget that in the last two years not one but TWO of their instrumental members have called it quits due to serious health concerns. The Who has been fielding rumors of retirement for years. Rush retired and then possibly unretired and then maybe re-retired (I’m fuzzy on this one). Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, David Gilmour, Neil Young, Roger Waters, and Bob Dylan are all over 70-years-old. Although they are reportedly pretty healthy, just think about Bowie; his illness was a well-kept secret for almost a year. Even Kurt Cobain would have turned 50 next February if he were still alive. Say what you will about how much you like these bands, but their impact to the industry isn’t up for debate.
So where does this leave us? Well, in the words of Lucas Wozniak, a former colleague of mine and a former member of WIUX, “The greatest musical development we’re going to hear in 2016 is the tragic, guttural crescendo of our collective defeated groans. It’s only April, for God’s sake.” Mr. Wozniak isn’t wrong; in fact if we take a quick review of the year so far, the best part of the music industry is a toss-up between Sony’s firing of Dr. Luke and the class-action lawsuit against Kanye West for his whole “The Life of Pablo is exclusive to Tidal” debacle. At this point, the music world is looking like a “lesser of the evils” competition. The domination of the industry is currently in the hands of producer Max Martin and his cookie-cutter team that have written and doled out most of the biggest hits of at least the last half decade. Sure, the holdouts like Alabama Shakes, Courtney Barnett, and whatever project Dave Grohl is working on this week still exist and will for some time. But when you think about rock and roll’s existing pioneers, we seem to have a fleetingly slim list to pull from nowadays.
We are quickly approaching the end of something important. The music that cried out for the baby boomers, and then their children, and even their children’s children. The music that spoke wonders for the equality and advancement of our society for years. They were (and will remain) the originals; the first ones to take pop culture and shake it until it had no choice but to stand on it’s head. They are the ones that created the mold that Max Martin is cutting cookies from, but the difference is that Martin and his team will never capture what it was they were trying to do. Here’s to hoping that the celebration of the former industry elite will never cease. Pull up YouTube and scream the words to “Purple Rain”, and maybe even convince your parents to do the same with the cassette version that they bought over 30-years ago. Is this the year that the music died? Maybe. As I write this, my roommate is arguing over my shoulder that it’s been dead for years. I don’t have such an authority to say it is or isn’t dead. What I can say is this: it won’t die until we let it. We are absolutely nearing the end of a musical era, but that means we’re making room for something else to fill the gap. For someone else to step up and reemphasize the exciting and captivating art form that music has always been. That’s what it’s here for.
And back to Prince, who’s death sparked this article to begin with. He can sum it up much better than I can.”Music is rea! It affects people, it’s real. … The other night I went to a club and I watched a DJ control an entire room. Even politicians can’t do that.” If that’s the case, I’m looking forward to the industry taking that control back.