[On March 21st, 1952, Cleveland Arena hosted the Moondog Coronation Ball, an event widely considered the first major rock and roll concert. So this week I’ve AmericanStudied that concert and other groundbreaking rock and roll figures and stories, leading up to this special weekend post on 21st century rockers carrying the legacies forward!]
On a handful of the many contemporary rockers extending the genre’s legacies.
1) Dave Matthews Band: I wrote in that post about the ways in which Matthews and his band reflect Cville’s cross-cultural and diverse story, and would say the same, as I’ve argued throughout the week’s series, about rock and roll. But the thing DMB are best known for is their epic concerts & jam sessions, and it’s important to wrap up a series inspired by the first prominent rock concert by coming back around to that idea—at its heart, rock has always been about performance, the experience of live music for all involved, and no contemporary artists have embodied that more than DMB.
2) The Counting Crows: It’s easy to say that early rock music wasn’t so much interested in lyricism, and it’s true that many of those songs were quite minimal and repetitive lyrically (although some, like Chuck Berry’s “School Days,” were lyrically amazing nonetheless). But soon enough the genre expanded to include folk-influenced voices like Bob Dylan, artists whose lyrics rival the great 20th century literary works (as the Nobel folks recognize). And in the 21st century, I don’t know any rock artists who have extended that poetic lyricism more than Adam Duritz and the Counting Crows (who echoed and name-checked Dylan in their early hit “Mr. Jones”). Listen to “Raining in Baltimore” if ye doubt the claim!
3) Lenny Kravitz: Long before the Crows engaged with Dylan’s legacy, one of the truly great American rock artists produced a searing cover of his “All Along the Watchtower” that quite simply obliterated the original. That artist was of course the towering talent that was Jimi Hendrix, an artist to whom Lenny Kravitz has been consistently linked and compared throughout his decades-long career. I’m not here to make the case that Kravitz is as great nor as influential as Hendrix (and he doesn’t have to be to be worth our listening of course)—but both of their careers reflect, among other things, the central role of covers and echoes, of comparisons and next generations, throughout rock history. And, for that matter, the still-too-often under-remembered role of Black rock artists.
4) The Killers: What, you really thought I was gonna get through an entire weeklong series on rock and roll without a Springsteen reference?! Even before they dueted with Bruce last year, remaking one of my favorite of their songs in the process, Brandon Flowers and The Killers had been in conversation with Bruce throughout their long and evolving career. But to my mind it’s their stunning newest album, 2021’s Pressure Machine, that truly echoes and yet challenges and extends the legacies of singer-songwriter storytellers like Bruce (and many others, including another new collaborator with Bruce, John Mellencamp) and their portrayals of profoundly American settings, communities, histories, and lives.
5) The Linda Lindas: All those artists have been around for decades, though—and ultimately, as the Moondog Coronation Ball reflected clearly (even if they didn’t get to crown their teenage king and queen), rock and roll has always been a young person’s game. And it doesn’t get much younger, nor much more rock and roll, than this group of badass California teenagers. Moreover, the presence of an artist like Varetta Dillard on that 1952 bill reminds us that women—and women of color in particular—have been part of rock from the jump, as artists just as much as audiences. Here’s hoping that more and more multi-cultural young women like the Linda Lindas keep extending that legacy into the 21st century as well!
Next series starts Monday,
PS. What do you think? Other contemporary (or historical) rock and rollers you’d highlight?