Groggy morning conversations at my place run the gamut: sometimes I sing Rihanna songs with a gob of toothpaste in my mouth, sometimes my dude has finally remembered a dream and wants to share, sometimes we just grunt at each other and pretend it's a conversation. The other day, we kicked off our morning with the Bad Seeds cover of the song "Black Betty" and the listen sparked a conversation about who would be in the Justice League of aging rockstars. Nick Cave--because he is already a cartoon character--was a given; Patti Smith, another we added to the list without a second thought. Iggy Pop warranted a mention because he will never age beyond deeply tanned hide, and has survived living in Florida, so he's pretty much immortal. David Bowie would be invited to meetings and promise to come, but he'd never actually show up since he hates flying so much. Any member of the Beatles or Rolling Stones is disqualified from participation because they have become t-shirt icons at Wal-Mart and have thus lost most of their credibility.
I will be the first to admit that I thoroughly enjoy pop music. I love to sing, and there are few things better to belt along to than an Alicia Keys or Lady Gaga single. But I also like to feel bass in my lungs on the regular, and there just aren't big rock acts cracking the Billboard Hot 100 the way they used to. There is an awful lot of Pink, though. She has at least five songs in the rotation on the Boston pop playlist. Recently, I took my mom to a Pink concert at Madison Square Garden and returned home for a Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds show on the following Sunday. Pink has an attitude that's always read as rock and roll to me, even though she started out making R&B records about "real love." There are songs on her most recent album I would love to hear on the radio. The ones with guitars and sneering. Not the one with the fun. frontman whose voice has made me cringe since he was in a band called The Format. In my perfect world, Pink and Nick Cave would duet instead, and pop radio would be far better for it.
The radio is playing from 8 to 5 at my office job Monday through Friday, and any song they play that's termed as rock just depresses me. I think, "If this is what rock music sounds like now, I am no longer a fan of rock music." If you listen to pop radio with this level of frequency (I don't recommend it), you'll find a serious dearth of hot blooded rock music. Plenty of Maroon 5 and the like, but nothing that hasn't been neutered before being broadcast. Pop radio has been much of a rock and roll stronghold anytime in the past fifteen years or so, but a girl can dream, right? In my perfect world, Ke$ha and Andrew WK would live on the same station playlist, and they'd be partying with Queens of the Stone Age and Ryan Adams and Nico Vega and Warpaint. In my perfect world, Brand New would never have disbanded and Fall Out Boy would never have erred on the side of such sparkly production on their new album and the acts playing the TD Garden would still have guitars in them at least half of the time. I wouldn't have to listen to the same fun. song every 45 minutes or hear the radio talking heads refer to them, in seriousness, as "rock."
There's an annual mini-festival in the Somerville square where I live called Deep Heaven. A bunch of psych-rock bands play at two venues and you pay for a wristband to wander back and forth between shows. As the city was settling down from a manhunt, I ended up at Deep Heaven to see some friends play, and their set was the best rock I've heard in a long time. Hard, heavy, unpretentious. Good sounds I could feel in my chest. No anemic anthems for the disaffected bar crowd. There weren't even any lyrics. Just a wall of sound the be listened to and felt at once.
It's been a year since FNX went the way of the dodo, and nothing has stepped in to fill the gap. I'm not worried about the state of rock and roll--I know there are bands out there doing it loud, rough, and right--but I am worried that the music we consume on a daily basis has become a lot like fast food. There's a product that sells, and for some reason it is full of banjos and faux-earnest crooning. The future of popular rock better not be Mumford & Sons. Or fun. Or any other such nonsense. There's no heart there. None of it bleeds. There are no junior members of the Rock and Roll Justice League with label support and radio play fighting the good fight, and it's a damn shame.