The 30 people in my Grade 10 homeroom class could be classified as follows: three were fans of pop music; five preferred country; and the remaining 22 were KISS fans. KISS were rock stars, musicians with music, money, success and near global ubiquity. We knew this because the DJ on the radio told us so.
As we grew older and spread our musical curiosities wider, we discovered more Rock Stars: Robert Plant, David Lee Roth, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Ozzy, Freddie Mercury. Not only did we know their music, but we could recognize them within a nanosecond of being shown a picture.
I bring this up because of something Sammy Hagar said in a recent interview: “Where have all the rock stars gone?” he wondered. He wasn’t speaking of any disappearance of the old guard or of more recent members of the rock aristocracy (Cobain, Grohl, Cornell, Vedder et al), but of the current generation of rock musicians.
Outside of Jack White and Chris Martin, has the last decade produced a bona fide, worldwide, block-caps ROCK STAR? Sure, groups like Linkin Park and Muse have worldwide fan bases in the millions, but would you be able to spot Chester Bennington or Matt Belamy in a crowd? A fan surely would. Then again, even a non-fan of, say, U2 could identify Bono in a line-up.
Something has gone missing. We’re not cranking out true Rock Stars like we used to.
It could be that rock music has been over-segmented into too many separate genres and scenes for any KISS-style mass consensus to form. While many of these genres and scenes are extremely active and vital and contain their own private star systems, few have ascended beyond being celebrities amongst their own people.
This doesn’t mean that rock is dying. In fact, more people are making music than ever before. But where we once had a thousand bands with a million fans each, we now have a million bands with a thousand fans each.
Or maybe we’re seeing something new in the evolution of rock. As Bob Geldof told me in a conversation a couple of weeks ago, “It’s possible that rock is just tired. It’s not the prime mover in popular culture anymore. Maybe after 60 years, it’s time for something else and someone else to move things forward.”