When I saw School of Rock for the first time, I was struck by just how accurate Jack Black's character was when teaching kids the meaning behind rock music. Telling the one girl with the great voice to listen to "Great Gig in the Sky" or letting his students know that "one great rock show can change the world" was not only touching, but dead on accurate.
In case you hadn't noticed in the last, oh, 20 years, rock music is not the forerunner in popular culture, let alone the Billboard charts. Not since the grunge movement of the early '90s has rock been relevant for the everyday music fan. Oh, sure, there have been occasional exceptions, but for the most part, rock music is largely irrelevant to mainstream Americans, who prefer pop, hip hop and country.
The things that have defined rock music for decades have waned and, in 2012, it's time to right the ship. The following guidelines are not meant for every single band and artist in rock music, but they do make for good general rules to help it regain its dignity even if ascending the charts and dominating the world isn't an available option.
10. Be outrageous.
Remember when bands used to destroy hotel rooms and have tell-alls written about them that were actually worth reading? Rock music was always about rebellion, but it has become safe and polite. I'm not saying musicians need to go out and start fights and shoot heroin. I'm just saying a little mischievousness never hurt anybody.
9. Try something different.
Music has become so genre specific that we now have sub genres for every breed of metal and every tiny offshoot of punk. That niche can help a band define itself, but staying inside it is creative and popular death. Bob Dylan understood that plugging in was going to piss off the folkies who considered him their leader, but he did it anyway and it changed his music and opened him up to a wider audience. Even Korn (God, did I just compare Korn to Dlyan?) decided to leave the confines of nu metal and edge into dubstep. Maybe it will work or maybe it won't, but at least they are open to the creativity that pushes artists to new and different things.
8. Entertain people.
Whether it was the whole shoegazer thing or something else, rock musicians don't seem to want to put on a show anymore. Yes, the whole troubadour-standing-in-the-single-spotlight-getting-poignant thing is fine for one song, but no one wants to stand around for two hours and watch a band go over their material as if they were at a recital. Have some personality. Have some stage presence. At the very least, blow some shit up!
7. Stand for something.
Rock music used to be so closely linked to social and political causes. Remember Live Aid, Farm Aid, Band Aid, for Christ sake, Hear 'n Aid? John Lennon had "love ins." Bono has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Rage Against the Machine punched you in the face with politically charged lyrics backed by ass kicking riffs. Rock the Vote used to be a real thing. Rock music is supposed to be about shaking things up or, as Jack Black so eloquently put it in School of Rock, sticking it to the man.
6. Write an anthem.
One of the wonderful things about really great rock music is it moves you. It makes you want to hold a fist in the air like Judd Nelson at the end of The Breakfast Club. Anthems -- be they old folk songs or modern rockers -- make people feel connected and, more importantly, sing along. They can be cheesy -- "We're Not Gonna Take It" -- but they can also be transcendant -- "We Are the Champions."
5. Brag a little.
Craig Hlavaty and I were talking yesterday about how we wished more rock musicians would take a cue from the hip hop world and talk about themselves more often. Great artists, like great athletes, have swagger. Sometimes that can turn into dickishness, but, when harnessed, it can turn an average guy into a badass who gets all the chicks. That's what we want from our rock stars.
4. Cross over.
It's nice that rock musicians occasionally play with others, but we want to see more. It seems like half the pop and hip hop songs released come with that "ft" tag meaning it features some other artist. Seeing Jay-Z get on stage with Linkin Park made that angry white boy band sound other worldly. We need more of that. We want to see more of this:
3. Get your groove back.
Maybe it is because music venues, like music genres, have become so musically segregated or maybe bands just got lazy, but too few rock bands play music people can dance to. In fact, rock music was a popular choice for dancing dating back to the '50s. The Beatles played dance music covers in strip clubs to get started. The Rolling Stones could get anyone off their feet. Bruce Springsteen used to cover r&b tunes at the dozens of club dates he did each year. Somewhere along the way, bands forgot that music is as much about dancing as it is about expressing yourself. Shaking that ass is not a bad thing, rockers. Try to tell me this ain't funky:
2. Have a hook.
There's a saying that goes, "Don't bore us, get to the chorus." In today's world of music, there tend to be bands that write the big hooks and melodies and band that do everything they can to avoid them. Great hooks don't have to be lame. Ask AC/DC. They wrote a shit ton of them. Oh, and hooks don't have to only be vocal either. Guitar riffs are a place to start, but try listening to Motown and tell me that the musical arrangements aren't as memorable as the vocals.
1. Stop taking yourselves so seriously.
There is certainly a fine line when it comes to partying in music. On one hand, you have the "we take ourselves very seriously because we are a serious band with a serious message...seriously" crowd and then you have the "woo hoo, fuck yeah, let's party with hot chicks" group. Both can be fine at times, but how about a happy medium every now and then? Music is supposed to be fun, after all. Stop pouting and whining and yelling and berating people long enough to make us laugh or want to party. It's fucking liberating!
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