The Day the Music Died

By Matthew Lowe

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When one thinks of the 1960s in general, certain things will always stick out, regardless of your historical awareness – drugs, sex, war, protest and a soundtrack that could shake an entire universe. But as I reminisce on a decade 30 years before my time, I can’t help but lament some of the societal advancements we’ve made – especially in regards to music.

Now when I think of iconic trends of our generation, I hear blaring dubstep. No more vocals, no more guitar, no drum sets – just beats and noise. Maybe I’ve just got an old soul but to me, dubstep sounds like the cat got stuck in the copier. And that isn’t particularly awe-inspiring.

Of course, there is a thing called the “hindsight bias,” which would explain the phenomenon in which we all look to the past and say, “Man, times were so much better.” Still, I don’t think that’s what this is. If our parents are always talking up The Beatles and The Rolling Stones (before Mick Jagger thought it would be okay to keep performing at the tender age of 69, hearing aids and all) and we are too, there’s something obviously positive to be said about the talented and timeless nature of the ‘60s.

For those of us ‘90s kids, we have our own brand of noise that will never get old. We relate to Blink 182, Red Hot Chili Peppers, 311 and a musical genre that represented a divergence between our taste and that of our parents. Though it held a certain immaturity about it, to this day we remember all the words to “All the Small Things” and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The music made in the ‘90s was still done without auto-tune and relied on actual instruments in a recording studio. It was created with the traditions of musical production generations before it. Then, almost as if overnight, the music scene changed radically and, in my opinion, for the worse. But what changed?

As the ball dropped on New Year’s Eve of 1999, we sat around with our soda pop (or a glass of champagne we stole from off the table) and ushered in the new millennium. In our minds, the image of floating cars running on hydrogen and holographic video games amused us. But thinking about the future wasn’t exclusive to wide-eyed kids and adults hoping for new market alternatives.

The corporations that influenced the way we wore our clothes and perceived the world around us were on the edge of their seats as well. Specifically, the music industry was faced with the age-old question: “What will we do next?” It’s as if the year 2000 drove corporations into a frenzy trying to find “the next best thing.” And when originality simply would not suffice, the music industry opened up the file cabinet and looked for cheat sheets in the past.

After what feels like minutes of thought and research, what we found was that a cocktail of concepts could be ground up and stirred into a soup that would be labeled and marketed as “the sound of the future.” This cocktail was comprised of the electric influences of the ‘80s, the sociopolitical commentaries of the ‘70s, the sexual appetite of the ‘60s and an eternal drug dependency that seems to be characteristic of music as an institution.

Conceptually and theoretically, it seemed foolproof. In practice, however, the result was artists like Skrillex and Ke$ha, Skrillex, relies on button mashing on a console of pre-recorded music clips and Ke$ha uses lyrics a child could write and sex appeal that is drier than a desert. But it isn’t the lackluster “swagger” of these new artists, it’s the effect they’ve had on the industry around it and the people who subscribe to them.

It’s as if Saturday nights are now dedicated to dumbed down songs about how fun sex can be or what it would sound like if robots attempted to procreate. Is this really what we’ve become?

I’m always looking to the skies for a hero to save us. Different capes and purposes, but heroes nonetheless, individuals seeking to better humanity and continue pushing it forward. This time, I’m looking for a guitar hero – one that uses an actual guitar though, not a wireless, plastic Xbox guitar. I’m looking for someone to bring back rock and roll and express the tumult and desire of our generation through words and picked strings as opposed to “UNTZ, UNTZ, UNTZ.”

Matthew R. Lowe is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]