I woke up this morning with my mind full of that cascading electric piano phrase that punctuates the Doors’ “Riders On The Storm”.
It reminded me – again – of that poignant song that, like The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” and The Beach Boys’ “Surf’s Up” LPs, acts as a musical full-stop for the wild inventiveness and assertiveness of the 1960s and the beginning of a transition into less certain times.
I was young at that time – 1971. Barely into my teens, and still a year away from seriously beginning to embrace rock music as the soundtrack of my life, so I came to these records retroactively when I was little older. When they had already begun to acquire a sense of historical destiny. It seems to strange to look at back from these days of glacial rock and pop musical development where it becomes difficult to place the decade behind a contemporary sound, let alone the year, but in the early 1970s rock and pop was moving so fast in terms of changes to style and sound that you could mark out epochs in months.
At the time, of course, I thought that this helter-skelter pace of change and development would continue indefinitely. It was only in the late 1980s, as the first slowdowns began to take effect and I became familiar with the history of jazz, that I realised that this was not going to be. Jazz had gone through similar rapid transitions from the 1920s into the 1970s, but the broadly creative stylistic movements were behind it, even as certain artists continued to produce vital work. Now it was the time of Wynton Marsalis, talented for sure, but deliberately retrograde in terms of style. Jazz passed from a vital forward looking music into a consolidating, backhoeing, form. Mining the past and developing new syntheses, still interesting but now lacking that sense of historical onrush.
Rock and pop are at the same point today. Of the mainstream forms, only hip hop and dance represented some form of evolutionary development over the past few decades, but even they have begun to consolidate into their own histories.
Does any of this really matter? Vital artists continue to work within all these traditions, these days carving out small niches that more dependent on the artist themselves rather than being allied to any movement. Broad movements instead have splintered into ever more specialized sub-movements, with the multitude of confusing and often overlapping genres represented by only a handful of artists each. Such labeling has already become essentially redundant. You are better off settling in at the level of the artist him or herself alone.
This is fine, I suppose. But what has been lost is the sense of music as a social movement, an umbrella encompassing a generation. Opened wide and clear for all to see.
I miss that.