I’m sure we’ll all agree that 2016 hasn’t got off to a good start. In the space of a few weeks we’ve already lost Lemmy, David Bowie, and now Eagles guitarist Glenn Frey. As the world of music is in mourning a hard truth suddenly becomes apparent: How long do our other musical icons have left. It’s not a nice thought but many of the greatest artists and musical pioneers are getting on a bit. One day we will enter a world without Bob Dylan, without Elton John, without Aretha Franklin, without Bruce Springsteen, without Paul McCartney, without Stevie Wonder. Who will carry the torch once the greats are gone?
The sad fact is that we may never again have such massive music icons. The current music industry is too much of a business, too afraid to take risks and thus stunting progress. Pink Floyd’s ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ remained in the album charts nearly 15 years after it’s release, a feat that has never even come close to being matched. These days such an album would never have even made it into the charts. Unconventional masterpieces like ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘Stairway to Heaven’ wouldn’t see the light of day in todays world. Great singers like Janis Joplin wouldn’t get anywhere near as much media attention as more attractive performers in today’s image heavy environment. These great people pioneered music and now the industry acts like there’s either nothing new left to discover, or they are simply too scared to try.
Popularity is a fickle thing these days. A few years back Lady Gaga was hailed as a revolutionary cultural icon. After what seems like a short spell in the spotlight her music career has taken a step back. Taylor Swift has in the space of a year become the most influential woman in music. Justin Bieber, once a by-word for the worst music imaginable, has “reinvented himself” by moving up from fucking awful to just plain mediocre and is now for some reason breaking chart records. Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of amazing people that have become the next generation of musical heroes. People like Dave Grohl, Adele, Jack White, Florence Welch and Ed Sheeran are among those that spring to mind. But when you draw up a Venn diagram of “immensely talented artists” and “immensely popular artists” you get a rather exclusive club in the centre.
Will the best modern artists live on the way that the icons of the past have? Will their albums still be selling by the thousands in ten years? What about 20 years? Will any modern artists be remembered in 50 years? That’s what makes our most cherished artists so important, long after they are gone their music is still changing the world. And whilst the artists of today are working hard to live up to their influences, we must make the most of the time we have left with music’s greats. They won’t be around forever and the world will be a very different place without them.