Notes From A Passerby: Where Have The Heroes Gone?

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The Beatles. Rolling Stones. Led Zep. Ask most people, and they will acknowledge that these are legendary artists. Everyone knows them, and (at least) respects them at some level. Every decade has had a band like this to show off.

This discussion has always got me thinking: What modern artists will be remembered 50 years from now?

This topic has been brought up quite often, but it’s plenty relevant. As bloggers and music fans, we are try to find the next best thing. The purpose of finding a new hot band used to be to find the next big band. Now it’s just an arms race to see who can find a hot band first. It’s more about being there first then actually finding a quality act. The thing is, even when we find a quality act, do they matter? Sure, they may do decent album sales, play Letterman, and maybe even get billed on Coachella and Bonnaroo. Give it a few years and then what? There’s no guarantee that people will care for bands anymore. Bands have a duty to constantly prove their worth. If they don’t, we will just move on.

When I ask this question, the usual answer is Radiohead. I probably will agree with this at some level. However, I don’t know if most people today would agree with this. I mean, look at the radio charts. Radiohead does get some mainstream radio play, but no where to the level of pop artists and rappers. If we play that card, will people give a damn about The Black Eyed Peas in 50 years? They may remember them, but it’s hard to argue their status as our generations best band.

Maybe that’s the problem. Music is arbitrary after all, and there really isn’t any one band that’s defined great anymore. Music has become do it yourself, and that’s exactly what fans are doing. We go find our own artists and decide that they are our favorite. It’s great that we can all have unique taste and admiration for different artists, but there is no longer that one artist that is truly defining our generation.

I don’t think we will ever have a band like The Beatles that is both critically and pop culturally adored. The playing field has changed. Personally, I just feel like we are missing out. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could all just absolutely love a band together? It would be pretty awesome if a band could cause a Beatlemania sensation again. I guess I’m just jealous. I feel like we truly missed out.

Don’t get me wrong. We are lucky to have acts like Arcade Fire, Radiohead, and Coldplay. These are bands that have achieved both commercial and critical success. They are all popular as hell, but how many people would call them the defining band of the decade? I probably would, but I don’t know about the rest of the world.

Having a musical hero just makes life easier. It connects people. Look at how the world reacted when Michael Jackson died. Music can be larger than life, it’s just that we need to find a reason to believe it.


8 comments for “Notes From A Passerby: Where Have The Heroes Gone?

  1. anon
    March 24, 2011 at 1:26 AM

    we’re lucky to have… Coldplay? huh? this is the most half-baked piece of writing I’ve read since your last PCC post.

  2. March 24, 2011 at 1:27 AM

    Yes, I do believe their a band that achieves commercial and critical success. Hey it’s just my opinion.

    Thanks for the hate anon! Be sure to come back next Wed! I’ll be fully baked, just for you sweetie.

  3. sue
    March 24, 2011 at 3:11 AM

    we wont know until then..

  4. Nathan
    March 24, 2011 at 4:18 PM

    What you seem to be missing from the entire essay is a historical understanding of the music industry and radio. Yes, bands like Led Zeppelin and The Beatles enjoyed huge commercial and critical success but this also came with huge help from radio and a music industry that fostered artistic growth. In the 60’s and 70’s these bands were able to find radio play on a much more diverse and open radio system. Now, radio is largely owned by a few massive organizations who own the local ‘alternative’ station in every major market. They largely have the same playlist and do not allow for variety. You and I may go out searching for new bands on blogs and the internet but the vast majority of people, the majority that made Zeppelin and the Beatles huge, don’t. They still get their new music from radio.
    Another change that the music industry brought on itself was that they stopped fostering talent. Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, and Bob Dylan, to name but a few all released lacklustre debut albums but had the support of their labels to grow as musicians both in the live forum and more importantly, in the studio. Major record labels simply don’t give their artists that much time anymore. They chose instead to push a few really big pop acts (britney spears, justin bieber, etc. maybe even black eyed peas, at least in the post-fergie incarnation) over growing artists people would support for decades. Instead, interesting artists get pushed to (or choose) indies who cannot offer the publicity to get them to a international audience.

  5. March 25, 2011 at 1:27 PM


    You’ve made some really good points. I’d like to add that the significance of The Beatles, Led Zepplin, Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan must also be understood in their historical context separate from the music industries contemporary changes.

    During the late 60s and 70s you have the first “mega bands.” The Beatles are widely noted as the first international sensation, which has to due with several factors including mass distribution, politics (music as a form of revolt), Woodstock (the first major festival exemplifying the unifying characteristic of music in a culture environment), and these are just a few points.

    I really believe, whether it’s a good thing or not, Will.i.Am has transcended into this discussion. Headlining both the Super Bowl and the World Cup are two significant examples to show he’s a world leader.

    It’s easy for us “critics” to be caught up in the idea that these “leaders” have to be amazing “artists” as you point to Radiohead or Coldplay, but a leader in my mind must transcend borders on a massive scale.

  6. March 26, 2011 at 3:31 AM

    Weren’t the Beatles and Zeppelin panned (the early reviews on Zep were atrocious… been documented time and time again as one of the key instances in pop music history of where critics had their heads entirely up their asses because they didn’t understand what was going on) during the periods which are being regarded here as periods of “critical success”? Regardless… there are countless ways of approaching this subject… a few of which have been mentioned.

    Had a discussion with a roommate of mine a few years back when we were in college. Our question was a little simplistic: what would replace classic rock? Radio stations, magazines, yada yada yada, all dedicated to a broad period and broad genre (25 years-ish)–what’s taking its place? We couldn’t think of anything. We were at this party one night and asked some people if they knew bands like Live and Collective Soul, who had been popular when we were growing up, but they hadn’t heard of them. The people we asked were only three or four years younger than us and we ended up asking quite a number of people. Guess my point with that is simply that it is what it is. Music was allowed to breathe, like Nathan’s saying, but also, there was simply less of it accessible and far less of it pushed. It’s not like those people didn’t like music (in general, or didn’t know anything about music) because they hadn’t heard of a couple of mainstream alt-rock bands… they were just into something else. There’s so much music in the world and with each year that passes it becomes easier and easier to access. At the end of the day though… 50 years…? I could really give a shit. World’s ending in a few months anyways… let’s dance.

    (PS: fuck Coldplay.)

  7. March 28, 2011 at 9:53 PM

    I totally agree with you. I know I may be a fan of Arcade Fire, Radiohead and Coldplay (closet fan), but the rest of the world may not be. Like people asked “who is Rococo?” yesterday when Arcade Fire performed at the JUNOS (a CANADIAN award show for heaven sakes). They may be big in some sense but not in the large scale that the Beatles were and in most places Commercial Hit Radio determines what the mass population will listen to. It’s kind of disappointing to think that when we have our own children. Who will we be telling stories about?

    It won’t be about the Black Eyed Peas that’s for sure (unless I’m speaking of the worst Super Bowl performance ever.. but I feel like there’s more of those to come). I mean maybe the outrageous ones like Gaga, will be remembered, well for being outrageous. But sooner or later, her hype will die down too, and the growing ADD in people will make them move on to the next “thing”.

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