Photo Credit: Chuck Berry via Universal Attractions (artist management)
“Hail, hail rock and roll // Deliver me from the days of old.” – Charles Edward Anderson Berry
Rock and roll always had a problem orienting itself from the beginning. It is the musical product of a dozen styles of American music blended through time and tragedy baptized and commoditized under the banner of centuries-old slang for vigorous sexual intercourse, rock and roll has always been the brand new classic.
Post-World War II, America had a problem. Boredom. The soldiers coming home from service overseas, the legion of children they would soon have, and the everyday citizens who had made it through the war years with their youth still intact were all suffering the ennui that follows the intensity of great purpose coupled with the extra purchasing power granted by a booming wartime economy. Things were good, but where was the excitement? Teen angst was a brand new idea and was enthusiastically adopted by sweet 16s from coast to coast. They just needed theme music.
Photo Credit: Led Zeppelin via WireImage
What we came to know as rock and roll with its mixture of rhythm and blues, country, swing, and gospel existed long before it had a catchy handle. But repackaged and reintroduced to a young, white population hungry for something new, rock and roll became the aural flag of the youthful and disaffected.
From the late 40s, rock and roll went through every imaginable permutation: saccharine sweet, safe versions of raucous classics, rockabilly freak-outs, the British invasion, psychedelic, progressive rock, punk, and glam. And here we are, neck-deep in the 21st century. Does rock and roll have anything new to say this far removed in time?
Photo Credit: Tom Petty via George Rose
The answer is mostly no but yes. What does that mean? It means when rock and roll functions as it is meant to, it really only has one message. That message is that there is not enough time for any of us and we need to entertain ourselves the best we can, now.
From a psychological standpoint, the message of rock and roll addresses the part of all of us aware that our youth is quickly ending, or, having concluded already, life itself is a finite resource. It is a noise that demands we stand up and change something, dance a dance, and create or destroy anything, but let it be done now while you can. This sort of lesson does not go out of style, though the medium of its dispersal may and must.
Photo Credit: The Rolling Stones via Helmut Newton
So, what does the future hold for rock and roll? The same as it ever held. For those of us who feel like making noise for the sake of hearing ourselves yell and dance long past the time when we should probably be tucked up in bed. For those of us who are filled with righteous indignation over a world unfair and controlled by people too old and too out of touch. For those of us who simply want to have a good time, rock and roll will remain forever the timeless brand new classic, and the only choice we never knew we needed.