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What accounts for rock music’s lasting appeal?

So what’s the big deal about rock music anyway?  I mean it’s one thing to see Elvis shaking his hips on primetime TV in the United States in the 1950s. It’s another to see Chuck Berry break the race barrier with his amazing guitar virtuosity and catchy rhythms.  It’s definitely mind-blowing to see Jimi Hendrix play and hear The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, but it is also very easy to think that a lot of this music is really a product of their time. Nobody can really say with a straight face that The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, as seminal, ground-breaking and earth-shattering as it might have been for its time, would sound fresh today.  Sure, you can definitely identify with the sense of angst and ruthlessness that a lot of the tracks have but there is contemporary music that does that.  It doesn’t have to be rock music.

This is the primary challenge people have to overcome when it comes to any kind of discussion regarding the long-lasting appeal of rock music.  A lot of people are all too eager to dismiss this appeal as essentially baby boomer nostalgia.  The argument goes along these lines: Since baby boomers pretty much control a lot of the cultural apparatus of the Western world and in particular America, then it goes without saying that a lot of their preferences, assumptions, expectations and other cultural baggage is going to be front and center.  In other words, we have all these cultural biases in terms of musical taste crammed down our throat regardless of whether we like it or not.  In fact, a lot of people are saying that this is really a giant galactic form of some sort of a cultural and musical manufactured consent.  I wouldn’t go that far.  I would say that the reason why rock music continues to have an appeal to this very day, regardless of whether you’re listening to Led Zeppelin 1, The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil, any kind of The Beatles album or any rock album before or after for that matter, is because of its emotional vocabulary.

You have to understand that in the age of USB devices and downloadable music, Spotify and all sorts of streaming musical media, we still have not, as a species, escaped the powerful emotional appeal of music.  I don’t think we would ever overcome this because this is seared into our genes.  It’s part of our DNA, and to give in to the conceit that somehow, someway we have evolved past that because we have evolved our technology, tools and trinkets is really a bit too much.  In fact, it’s a bit overblown.

As the old saying goes, “You can take the boy out of the small town, but you will never take the small town out of the boy.”  The same applies to our species’ susceptibility and vulnerability to the emotional range music brings to the table.  You can never take that out of us regardless of where we go.  Whether we end up mining asteroids from the far corners of the galaxy or setting up colonies at the dark side of Mars, there will still be a part of us that yearns to hang out with other fellow primates in front of a campfire and open our mouths in this amazing sound concern.  There’s still a part of us that yearns to listen to somebody beating on a stick or some sort of hallowed out piece of vegetation or some sort of dried debris.  That’s part of what makes us human, and all this really highlights that long-lasting appeal of what makes rock music so raw, so primal and so basic.  It transcends cultures just as it transcends time.