Going Viral

A virus is currently spreading among today's young people. Like swine flu, it has made life extremely unpleasant for many, but unlike the H1N1 strain, it is exclusively passed between old and young. If left unchecked, it could have the far-­reaching effect of rendering an entire generation between ages 20 and 40 culturally stagnant.

It can't be prevented with a face mask — although earplugs would be a step in the right direction — but what's most tragic is that the young are enthusiastically welcoming it into their homes, cars and iPods. Even, after a few shots, into their karaoke parties.

This infestation is called classic rock, and it needs to be stopped.

Back when your folks were young, do you think they were listening to their dad's Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller records? Hell no. They were forging their individualism through Janis Joplin and the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones.

Their music fit the times; it was fun to smoke weed and drop acid to, and it bled into their politics, art and literature. Yeah, it could be reductive and corny, but it was theirs.

Then they grew up and got into cocaine and facial hair, but still liked to party. They picked up AC/DC and Rush LPs, maybe a little Electric Light Orchestra now and then. These new jams may not have been saving the world, but they were expanding consciousness, and again, it was theirs.

Yet somehow, all these years later, hippie, prog and arena rock still dominate the guitar-based non-country airwaves. According to recent figures from New Hampshire-based trade publication Inside Radio, there are 485 classic-rock stations in the U.S., compared to 171 modern-rock stations (Slipknot, Linkin Park), 369 adult-alternative rock stations (Death Cab for Cutie, David Byrne) and 312 rock stations (Metallica, Van Halen). Meanwhile, moldy old-timers like Bruce Spring­steen, the Eagles and Neil Diamond dominated the list of top-grossing 2008 concert acts.

Young people who subsist on classic rock are traitors to their contemporaries. The flower children had their time in the sun, and it's frankly rather sick that we're still worshipping their musical icons. And we can't go blaming Clear Channel for people's shitty taste, either, as so many stoned media-studies majors are wont to do.

"If only the corporate radio suits would stray from the formula," they cry, American Spirit cigarettes ashing onto their ironic beards, "the American cultural landscape would radically transform — overnight! — into a diverse mecca of sounds and styles."

The fault lies with the lazy listeners. As our baby-boomer parents head into retirement, we're taking over as the dominant consumers of media, and listening to the same crap they did — and do. According to Cathy Devine, vice president of Research for Inside Radio, our age group is an essential slice of classic-rock radio's target demographic. She adds, anecdotally, that we appear to constitute a significant percentage of its concert attendees as well.

Don't get me wrong, anyone without a working knowledge of Blonde on Blonde and Rumours is missing out. But the 1,500th listen to "Start Me Up" really should involve grown men crying. Our generation has no lack of quality artists, but the vast majority of us are too lazy to seek them out.

Think of it this way: Probably every other person sharing your WiFi connection at the coffee shop right now knows the lyrics to "You Shook Me All Night Long," but how many of them can sing along with a single song by My Morning Jacket, TV On The Radio, Joanna Newsom, Of Montreal or any of the other best rock artists of our era?

There are plenty of places to find ­cutting-edge music, often for free. Besides left-of-the-dial radio stations, there are Web-based and satellite radio, mp3 sites and plenty of others. Members of the so-called Internet age have no excuse for listening to classic rock other than sheer brainwashing from our parents — the same people who ruined our economy and are on the way to bankrupting Social Security, don't forget.

Still, like zombie sheep stoned on homegrown, we shell out $100 for Neil Young tickets; meanwhile, compelling local bands are playing down the street for the cost of a pint of Lone Star.

This is generational warfare, and we're losing. So let's fight back. Turn off the Jethro Tull. Walk out of dinner parties where the host puts Heart on the stereo. Bolt at the mere mention of foxy ladies.

Huey Lewis be damned, let's drive a stake through the heart of classic rock and roll until it is no longer beating. Stop kickin' down the cobblestones and, for God's sake, stop feeling groovy.

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Ben Westhoff
Contact: Ben Westhoff