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Death of 'Death of Whatever'

It’s time to call a moratorium on declaring trends dead

By Brian Baker · February 25th, 2009 · Music
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If you listen very carefully, you can hear the screams of the imminently demised as the media closes the lid and calls for the pallbearers to carry away the lifeless husk of someone or something that they no longer consider to be relevant or, in their parlance of brevity and metaphor, dead.

The death of careers, the death of trends, the death of fads and the death of the industry itself have all been heralded by morbid media seers from the very beginnings of Rock in the ’50s, when the mainstream media predicted that the new youth movement in music would ultimately bring about the very collapse of civilization as we know it.

What Rock wasn’t able to do in half a century, George Bush nearly accomplished in eight years — but that’s another essay.

Since the jittery assessment of Rock as the harbinger of the End Times, it’s been an endless funeral procession of pronouncements: The Death of Pop, The Death of Guitar Rock, The Death of Synthesizers, The Death of Disco, The Death of 8-Tracks (to be honest, I’m pretty pleased about their passing), The Death of Vinyl, The Death of Turntables, The Death of Cassettes, The Death of CDs, The Death of Albums, The Death of Radio (that was actually an advertent suicide, sort of like erotic self-asphyxiation), The Death of Print, The Death of the Label Structure (see Death of Radio), The Death of Everything.

Of course, death is not an end — it’s merely the launch pad for the continuation of life, so the media has always been quick to anoint the rising successor to whatever they’ve just knotted with a toe tag.

American Pop was killed by British Rock, which was killed by American Rock, which was killed by Disco, which was killed by Punk, which was killed by New Wave, which was killed by Synth Pop, which was killed by Alternative Rock, which was killed by Grunge, which was killed by Indie Rock, which was killed by Post Rock, which was killed by American Pop. Want to bet what happens next?

The problem is that a good many things that have been declared to be deceased by the media inevitably come lurching back to life in spite of their prognostications. Guitars and synthesizers have been co-existing rather nicely now for a number of years; why does one have to die for the other to thrive?

Disco came back as Dance Oriented Rock. Albums, as a collection of songs, have been around for 70 years or more; just because a batch of lightly talented artists have channeled their ADD-racked skills into making a couple of good songs and their attention-challenged fan base responds by downloading just the songs they hear through a flawed and narrowly programmed radio structure does not constitute the death of the album. I get 20-30 CDs every week and every one of them is an album in every sense of the word. I don’t think these artists see themselves as lone voices appealing to the dying of the light. I think they’re the light, and if you look closely enough, you’ll see that it’s stronger than ever.

Vinyl was bodybagged years ago and yet new albums are still available in that format. Turntable sales, particularly USB-connected units that plug into computers to create MP3s, are rising steadily. Obviously, the industry has pulled the plug on pre-recorded cassettes, although you can still buy blanks (hey, wasn’t home taping killing the industry 20 years ago?). And while tape players and recorders may be harder to come by now, they could soon experience the renaissance that turntables have enjoyed. There are still billions of cassettes out there in collections, in used stores, in yard sales, in car trunks. They will not be denied. I personally am endeavoring to transfer my cassettes to CD by way of burning, but it’s just a failsafe against a dirty capstan and a mangled tape. They will never go completely away; in my case, they’ll be stored in boxes until my kids toss them after the long predicted Death of Me.

For the record, I am not a grumpy old codger who longs for the good old days. I embrace new technology, even when I don’t completely understand it. I realize that things must change, that old modes must be improved upon and then abandoned when they are no longer viable. That is the natural order of things. What I resent is the media’s tendency to dig a grave and bulldoze whoever or whatever they deem obsolete into it. Obituaries are published after a death, not before. That’s worked out pretty well so far. Let’s keep it that way.

Unless you want to predict the end of the careers of people who are only famous for being famous, like Paris Hilton. I’m on board for that.



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