Stars are falling, but the music always prevails.
Singer Don McLean wrote “The Day the Music Died” about the 1959 plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. Time magazine’s headline after John Lennon was killed in 1980 read, “When the Music Died.” And when Chuck Berry died this year, Rolling Stone magazine’s cover photo was captioned, “Farewell to the Father of Rock & Roll.”
Every generation mourns the one that came before, but rock fans have been hearing funeral hymns the past two years, afraid to check the news for fear of getting an answer to the question, “Who died today?”
A Thin White Duke (David Bowie), a Prince and his protégé (Vanity), the King’s courtman (Elvis Presley guitarist Scotty Moore), an Eagle (Glenn Frey) and an Airplane wing (Paul Kantner), one of the Earth, Wind & Fire elements (Maurice White), both Emerson and Lake (but not Palmer), a sage (Leonard Cohen) and a Southerner (Leon Russell), a wallflower (Walter Becker of Steely Dan) and a Heartbreaker (Tom Petty), a Godfather’s drummer (Clyde Stubblefield of James Brown’s band), a brother (Gregg Allman), and a father (Berry) all hit the after-party.
This doesn’t include dozens—maybe hundreds—of other members of famous bands, session players, and one-hit wonders whose obits make you say, “I remember that song.”
Is rock dead? No. Rock is just old. The genre that critics said wouldn’t last has outlasted its pioneers, or at least most of them (hang in there, Little Richard). The music that once represented teen angst now resonates with old-age wistfulness.
The mourning of rock’s stars is not entirely about the loss of the person. The sharper sting is realizing the passage of time: watching Glen Campbell’s TV show as a kid, staying up late to catch Bowie on “The Midnight Special,” seeing the J. Geils Band at that first concert, hanging Vanity 6 posters in the dorm room as Prince’s “1999” blasted from the stereo.
The cliché is “the music lives on,” and it does. And succeeding generations carry the Stratocasters and bang the Ludwigs. Despite the funeral march, rock is neither burning out nor fading away. It’s just…evolving.
In 1971, Pete Townshend of the Who wrote the lyric “Rock is dead they say.” More than 45 years later, the next line needs to be more defiant than ever: “Long live rock!”