Culture Clips: Rock’s Inescapable Decline

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“Rock is dead!”

That opinion has been bouncing around the culture practically since the rowdy genre was born. The Who actually had an unreleased album titled Rock Is Dead—Long Live Rock all the way back in 1972—just as the genre was really blossoming.

I’m not going to suggest that rock is dead. Not literally, at least. You can still find plenty of it out there if you’re willing to look for it. But a quick glimpse at rap and R&B’s dominance on mainstream singles and album charts over the last decade (at least) shows that the genre’s cultural dominance and influence certainly have declined since its heyday from the 1970s through the 1990s.

That said, there’s another rather sobering truth in play: Rock may not be dead, but it’s iconic pioneers and provocateurs are certainly getting up there. A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across The Week contributor Damon Linker’s article “The Coming Death of Just About Every Rock Legend.” He notes some legends who’ve passed recently (Tom Petty, Prince, David Bowie, Glenn Fry) as well as icons who died in previous decades (Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Jim Morison, Jimi Hendrix). Then he notes solemnly, “Those losses have been painful. But it’s nothing compared with the tidal wave of obituaries to come,” and he gives us a litany of aging rockers who certainly won’t live forever:

Behold the killing fields that lie before us: Bob Dylan (78 years old); Paul McCartney (77); Paul Simon (77) and Art Garfunkel (77); Carole King (77); Brian Wilson (77); Mick Jagger (76) and Keith Richards (75); Joni Mitchell (75); Jimmy Page (75) and Robert Plant (71); Ray Davies (75); Roger Daltrey (75) and Pete Townshend (74); Roger Waters (75) and David Gilmour (73); Rod Stewart (74); Eric Clapton (74); Debbie Harry (74); Neil Young (73); Van Morrison (73); Bryan Ferry (73); Elton John (72); Don Henley (72); James Taylor (71); Jackson Browne (70); Billy Joel (70); and Bruce Springsteen (69, but turning 70 next month).

Almost as soon as I’d read the article, two musicians whose music garnered plenty of airplay in the late 1970s and 1980s passed away: Eddie Money, 70, who reportedly died not from cancer as first reported but from complications related to heart valve-replacement surgery; and New Wave legend and Cars frontman Ric Ocasek, also 70 (erroneously reported as 75 at first). Ocasek’s cause of death was listed as a combination of heart disease, high blood pressure and pulmonary emphysema.  His estranged wife, model Paulina Porizkova, said in a family statement published on Instagram,

Ric was at home recuperating very well after surgery. Our two sons, Jonathan and Oliver, and I were making sure he was comfortable, ordering food and watching TV together. I found him still asleep when bringing him his Sunday morning coffee. I touched his cheek to rouse him. It was then I realized that during the night he had peacefully passed on.

In the wake of Money and Ocasek’s passing, tributes have poured forth (while streaming numbers for  songs such as Money’s monster 1987 hit “Take Me Home Tonight” have predictably shot through the roof), and reflections upon the two artists’ cultural influence have arrived, too. In her Salon piece, “A salute to Ric Ocasek and Eddie Money, who gave us the soundtracks to our soundtracks,” Mary Elizabeth Williams writes,

In the span of three days this past week, both ’80s hitmaker Eddie Money and The Cars frontman Ric Ocasek passed away, having lived well and successfully into their AARP years. Yet their music somehow feels as fresh and as ubiquitous today as it would have been in 1982.

If in just the past few months you watched Stranger Things, you understood its sly Cars by way of Fast Times at Ridgemont High reference. If you sat on a barstool anywhere, you found yourself drumming your fingers to the blast of Take Me Home Tonight. Between the two of them, Ocasek and Money spent the last four decades providing the soundtracks to your soundtracks, and the soundtracks to your life.

Ocasek and Money’s sad partings remind us that even though rock stars and celebrities often project a bigger-than-life personality and image, in then end they’re still subject to the same kinds of mundane and deeply human struggles we all face.

Still alive this week: Scooby-Doo, who just celebrated his 50th birthday. The beloved talking (well, kind of) Great Dane and his wacky friends arrived on CBS on September 13, 1969, with the debut episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! titled “What a Night for a Knight.”

Elsewhere in animation news, Sopranos star Jamie-Lynn Sigler has been tapped to voice Disney’s first “Jewish Latina princess” in a guest role on the Disney Channel show Elena of Avalor. The third season of the show debuts Oct. 7, and it will reportedly include special episodes that focus on ethnic holidays such as Mexico’s Día de los Muertos and the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

There was a time when Taylor Swift was deliberately apolitical. But that time is apparently over. In a new Rolling Stone cover-story interview, Swift talked about her positions on racism, sexism and LGBTQ issues, among other things, and noted, “I keep trying to learn as much as I can about politics, and it’s become something I’m now obsessed with, whereas before, I was living in this sort of political ambivalence, because the person I voted for had always won.”

Finally this week, what would you say to the idea of remaking the beloved 1987 movie The Princess Bride? Well, if your response is an instant interjection of “Inconceivable!” you’re in good company. Rumors of such a remake recently prompted reactions from stars and everyday folk alike on Twitter. Actor Cary Elwes, who played the hero Westley in the film, tweeted winkingly, “There’s a shortage of perfect movies in this world. It would be a pity to damage this one.”

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Chuck Anziulewicz 25 days ago
Ric Ocasek's death makes me very sad. I fell in love with The Cars from the get-go. Their first two albums were so refreshing at a time when disco was permeating EVERYTHING. I used to tool around town in my red Mercury Bobcat listening to them on 8-track. My sister once said, "Charles, why do you listen to such weird music?" And YEAH, in 1978 The Cars' music was pretty adventurous.
The Kenosha Kid 25 days ago
Nice memory, Chuck. And of course all those folks who were listening to disco and calling your music weird are probably going around today saying THEY used to dig The Cars too. So it goes...

-- The Kenosha Kid