Talking About My Sub-Generation by Jonny Steiner

Posted: April 6, 2008 by Maximum Mike in The Rocking Chair Blog
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I was looking through a friend’s Ipod, the best way to see deep into someone’s soul, and was annoyed by all the genres. They were not poorly organized, rather there were just too many of them. He had Alternative, Alternative Rock, Alt/Rock, Rock, Heavy Metal, Metal, Punk, Punk-Rock, and more. One explanation is that he does not care about his musical grouping as I do (an almost O.C.D. attention to organization and details.) Maybe these are the ways people organize their music. It is possible. The question that begs is: What is the difference between all these Genres? It seems that in the current music industry the lines have become so blurred with the influx of bands trying to cross promote themselves, they are not even sure who their target market is anymore. Take a band like The Strokes. Are they Punk? Are they the last remnant of the long-dead Grunge revolution? Maybe they are just a Rock band trying to find their place by combining aesthetics. Ask the boys; they probably are not even sure themselves. Another example: I recently watched Madonna’s new music video. The Timbaland produced “4 Minutes to Save the World,” has an R&B sound matched with a Rap beat, and features Justin Timberlake. The target market seems to be everyone. Is it Pop? Is it R&B? The only thing that people seem to care about is that it will sell.

Let’s start off simply. There is no Alt/Rock. In fact these days Alternative itself is practically dead. Before we discuss the genre breakdown and its meaningless sub categories, let us go back to the mid-90s to relive its’ glorious, albeit brief life. After Hair Metal (shudder) came Nirvana, and essentially Grunge was born. In my opinion the term Grunge only refers to four bands. The Seattle scene’s finest: Alice-In-Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and the aforementioned Nirvana. Grunge responded to the decadence of the 80s, the end of Reagenomics, and the desire to put true feeling back into the music. Alternative then became the banner for all the hangers-on, who inevitably rode in on the trends and faded out anonymously. Grunge, and to a similar extent Alternative, started as Sub-Genres until the CDs began to fly off the shelves, prompting many record store chains to create entire sections devoted to the style. On a side note, there is nothing more irritating then going to music stores, (you remember what those are right?) and not being able to find anything because you are not sure what section it’s in. So Grunge and Alternative, let us call them kissing cousins, had arrived. After Kurt Cobain took his own life and the idea of Grunge with him, Alternative was left without its’ relative to give it legitimacy. What I find most interesting about Grunge is that in any other era Soundgarden and Alice-In-Chains would probably have been considered Heavy Metal.

These Genre lines began to crumble in earnest when the first true crossover act of the era came into prominence in the late 90s. Creed was able to borrow the heavily distorted guitar tones of Alice-In-Chains, and the hollow Eddie Vedder-esque voice of Pearl Jam, and marry that with uplifting lyrics. Their debut album “My Own Prison” had a few minor hits but was a darker affair than their 1999 follow up “Human Clay.” Its’ more hopeful outlook spawned megahits like “With Arms Wide Open,” and “Higher,” raising the band to superstardom. The music was hard enough for the guys and yet sweet enough for the girls. Many critics see this as the beginning of a sorry period for Rock, where any true originality was lost amid a sea of copycat acts.

Heavy Metal, on the other hand, has enjoyed Sub-Genre status for decades, only being realized as a commercially viable product it itself in certain specific circumstances. That almost every band in Heavy Metal is its own category is an amusing fact. Take some of my favorite bands for example. Testament is Thrash, Faith No More is Funk, and Arch Enemy is Black Metal. With so many ways to classify a Sub-Genre all the categories begin to lose meaning, because as a wise man once said “No matter how thin you slice it, it’s still baloney.”

The circumstances surrounding the peaks in Metal’s popularity came in two ignominious eras of the music. In the 80s when Thrash (more on this in the future) ruled the Bay Area, Hair Metal ruled the airwaves. Led by Motley Crue and the triumvirate of bands that are all essentially the same, Ratt, Warrant, and Poison, the music was more about personalities and having a good time then making any sort of statement of consequence. It reflected the nature of the times; the economy was booming, and the Iron Curtain was crumbling, so let’s party. The most telling aspect of the rise of Hair Metal is that almost all of their radio hits were the inevitable power ballads that made them more palatable to the layperson.

The second era was the Nu-Metal, or sometimes called Rap-Metal, scene of the late 90s and early 00s. Rap, as one of the last styles of music to carry any real countercultural weight, seemed a natural partner for Heavy Metal who had lost almost all credibility with the ceremonial cutting of Metallica’s hair. When Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park burst onto the scene, they were able to cross promote themselves to angry urban kids buying Busta Rhymes disks and with Metal-Heads alike.

To borrow an idea from Plato, (yeah I’m going there) God created the idea of Rock. The next step was for the musicians to interpret that idea. We as consumers are the lowest level of society because all we do is classify the interpretations of God’s grand idea. In all seriousness though, do we need all these Genres and Sub-Genres? Does Ska so beg to be differed from Punk? Is fusion so far removed from Jazz, and will someone please explain to me the difference between Classical and Symphonic Heavy Metal? Beyond that I think that this endless classification of musical forms says something about us as a society. In the ever pressing need to compartmentalize out lives and find our niche in the world, it seems arrogant of us to exclude new experiences because they do not fit into our narrow world view.

I get frustrated when people say they “listen to everything” and then resist new musical experiences. The endless classifications in the Rock world seem to be nothing more than self-justification about staying in one’s comfort zone. I will listen to anything, at least once. That does not mean that I like everything, but sometimes I am pleasantly surprised. Recently Michael got me into Papa Roach, who drew me in with their strong hooks and powerful riffs. With the internet and the myriad of websites that are geared towards musical discovery, it is easier than ever to expand your horizons and learn something new. In other words, do not adjust your radio, just change the channel.

What I am listening to: In order to help you broaden your minds, dear readers, I am starting this section to inform you about different music you might not be aware of. This week I am excited to start you off with…

Arc of a Diver: By Steve Winwood. After departing Traffic, he had a very successful solo career. This, his second album, showcased his musicianship (he played every instrument on the album) and arrangements. It is a tight and melodic set of songs and shows that Steve had as much to say in his second career as he did in his first.

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