Which Rock Star Will Historians of the Future Remember?

The most important musical form of the 20th century will be nearly forgotten one day. People will probably learn about the genre through one figure — but who might that be?

.. the worldwide memory of Bob Marley will eventually have the same tenacity and familiarity as the worldwide memory of reggae itself.

.. The defining music of the first half of the 20th century was jazz; the defining music of the second half of the 20th century was rock, but with an ideology and saturation far more pervasive. Only television surpasses its influence.

.. (the Doors, R.E.M., Radiohead). It still projects the illusion of a universe containing multitudes. But it won’t seem that way in 300 years.

.. The symbolic value of rock is conflict-based: It emerged as a byproduct of the post-World War II invention of the teenager, soundtracking a 25-year period when the gap between generations was utterly real and uncommonly vast. That dissonance gave rock music a distinctive, nonmusical importance for a long time. But that period is over.

.. what we’re left with is a youth-oriented music genre that a) isn’t symbolically important; b) lacks creative potential; and c) has no specific tie to young people. It has completed its historical trajectory. Which means, eventually, it will exist primarily as an academic pursuit.

.. But it might work in reverse. A more plausible situation is that future people will haphazardly decide how they want to remember rock, and whatever they decide will dictate who is declared its architect. If the constructed memory is a caricature of big‑hair arena rock, the answer is probably Elvis; if it’s a buoyant, unrealistic apparition of punk hagiography, the answer is probably Dylan.

.. Gioia is touching on a variety of volatile ideas here, particularly the outsize memory of transgressive art. His example is the adversarial divide between punk and disco:

.. But I’ve noticed — just in the last four or five years — that this consensus is shifting. Why? Because the definition of “transgressive” is shifting. It’s no longer appropriate to dismiss disco as superficial.

.. More and more, we recognize how disco latently pushed gay, urban culture into white suburbia, which is a more meaningful transgression than going on a British TV talk show and swearing at the host. So is it possible that the punk‑disco polarity will eventually flip? Yes.