Academic journal article MEIEA Journal

The Day Alternative Music Died: Dylan, Zeppelin, Punk, Glam, Alt, Majors, Indies, and the Struggle between Art and Money for the Soul of Rock

Academic journal article MEIEA Journal

The Day Alternative Music Died: Dylan, Zeppelin, Punk, Glam, Alt, Majors, Indies, and the Struggle between Art and Money for the Soul of Rock

Article excerpt

Adam Caress. The Day Alternative Music Died: Dylan, Zeppelin, Punk, Glam, Alt, Majors, Indies, and the Struggle between Art and Money for the Soul of Rock. Montreat, North Carolina: New Troy Books, 2015.

Many books have been written about alternative rock and culture in recent years. Popular among them is Michael Azerrad's, Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991, which provides a vivid and entertaining glimpse into the artists, era, and music. Another is Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture in which Kaya Oakes explores the influence of indie art and culture on mainstream society. While both of these books and others written about alternative rock and culture can contribute to a music industry curriculum, no other single volume rivals this new work by Adam Caress both in terms of its weight as an important work of music history, and in what it reveals to students of the music business.

Much more than a genre survey, The Day Alternative Music Died skillfully places us at a unique vantage point where the tension between art and commerce is brightly illuminated. To accomplish this requires a comprehensive exploration of the topic, encompassing the cultural atmosphere, the musical landscape, as well as the commercial environment. Caress succeeds in delivering this, and does so with compelling narrative.

He begins by stating that prior to the mid-1960s, rock and roll was not considered to be a serious art form, even by those creating it. Caress lays this foundation to point to the importance of beginning his story in 1964.

...prior to that, there was no tension in rock between the aspirations to substantive artistry and commercial success. Before 1965, none of the major figures in rock- from Elvis to Chuck Berry to The Beatles-aspired to create substantive art; they all aspired to be commercially popular entertainers.

He contends that from this period forward, artistic and commercial aspirations have lived in tension, alternately influencing rock music. More importantly, he states:

...what has made rock a uniquely important musical genre has been its potential to be both artistically substantive and commercially popular at the same time. Or to put it another way: rock music has had both the potential to have something to say and the potential for what it has to say to be heard by the masses.

Indeed when Bob Dylan's Like a Rolling Stone climbed to number two on the Billboard singles chart it signaled something entirely new. It was a marriage of art and commerce, both artistically significant and commercially successful. Nevertheless, it was a short-lived marriage, replaced by the more purely commercial rock of the 70s and early 80s as rock became fully mainstream. Caress contends that this set the stage for the emergence of a group of musicians that, while diverse, were connected to each other by a subculture at odds with the majority. What they created was music that was an alternative to what was repeated through every rock FM daypart.

From this vantage point Caress helps us see that, much like Dylan a quarter century before, Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit launched something from the relative underground into popular culture. From here he shines light on what can be a corrosive effect of commerce on creativity. At the same time, he deftly examines both the myth and reality of Nirvana and contemporaries like Pearl Jam with an eye for historical and cultural accuracy rather than falling prey to common misconceptions and stereotypes.

Caress often brings unique and unexpected insight. For example, as he brings us to the emergence of grunge in the early 90s, he describes the relative isolation that both artists and fans in Seattle and Portland had experienced during that period, cut off from the rest of the American music scene in a variety of ways. …

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