I remember it well, twenty or so years ago, a rock critic/teacher at a Smithsonian course in the history of rock and roll remarked that true rock and roll is a revolution of sound, turmoil, the swirling sounds of the underworld, the music of the underdog. With its roots in the jazz, the blues, and country, it was the sound of the those who hadn't made it to the so-called professions; it was the music of the truck drivers, the factory workers, the lonely, the misplaced, the unemployed, or the underemployed. It was wild and untamed, the music that was not played in polite company, on commercial TV, on commercials. It was the sound of rebellious teens, the rolled in the t-shirted James Dean, the hip, the rebels, the down and outs in the straight and narrow 50s, and into the rebellious sixties and early seventies. Back then, classical music was the sound of the privileged, the well-dressed, the upper class, the professions.
So, where are we now, spin ahead twenty years. Rock is the plaything of the corporate, the conglomerate, it entertains the millionaires, it has the corporate sponsors, there are special concerts for investors, and their friends in chic music halls that used to host classical music. Fans pay thousands for special concert packages, complete with access and swag and all else that glitters and is gold. Rock has its glitzy shows and packaged sounds, struggling for its next successful business model and encompassing all that it was once was not.
It is rare when a reunited Van Halen plays a concert "[r]emoved from their stadium-sized pedestal and placed on the foot-high stage, David Lee Roth, Eddie and Alex Van Halen seemed to be reduced to their key elements as a blues-rock power trio." The Times report is at:
It is a treat when a rock troubador plays a free acoustic concert for a protest group. It still happens and that it is when it seems to be the true rock and roll that it once was, still surviving way under the glitz of the corporate rock that has come to dominate--away from the glitz, just playing the music for what it does to the artist and the listener. It needs no costumes, stadium glitz, or any explosives, or any millionaire greed--it is just rock 'n roll after all.
Rock of old, rock of now gone underground--that is where some of the classical music seems to be headed now, striving for an audience, exploring new sounds, trying new things, doing more free shows, workshops, getting the message out to the people--artist and the listener. That is what Alex Ross wrote about in his review of the year in classical music, in his blog the Rest is Noise, at:
While"[t]here’s no denying that classical music routinely serves as an ornament for extreme wealth," it is also becoming relevant again, taking up "a more enlightened stance," a way for the music and the art to survive.
And so it is, much of the rock world labors on listlessly for its corporate sponsors in a bloated state, while classical music thins out and becomes an exploration of themes of our day including war and civil disobedience and gets out of its genre and explores new areas to play and partner with, even reaching out to its once enemy, rock, to survive. Both search for a successful business model as we are spoiled by the onrush of free information and music and accessibility on the Internet, but one seems to be seeking its meaning in life and music, and the other is over amplified, glitzy and fat with excess and the rest is noise.