The Day the Music Un-Died

Music died around 1993. I was there at the funeral, on the staff of Riff Raff, a failing rock magazine that realized too late that, post-1993, the music biz would mainly be about recycling pieces of the corpse of the Great Tri-Decade (1963-93), when music was actually alive and capable of growth as a multi-dimensional form of cultural expression.

I must have had an intuition, as the column I was writing at the time was a troll-like humor page by the name of “The Fly Column.”

When the music died, I knew there would be consequences. First of all, I edged away from my own nascent career as a musician. Secondly, I realized that music journalism would only ever be a good for getting backstage at gigs and hanging out with famous people, not a way to make an actual living. But, of course, the death of music also had bigger consequences for society in general.

Since at least the 1950s, when rock n’ roll–the ur-form of the music style of the Great Tri-Decade–held sway, music had been the main system for defining and organizing youth.

In the movie Quadrophenia (1979), set in the 1960s, it was Mods and Rockers. Then there were hippies (including the Manson Family), glam, and heavy metal. In my own youth, I was a New Age Rocker with NWOBHM and prog leanings–in contrast to Poodle Rock or Hair Metal, while a lot of other kids identified as Goth or Punk, or were into the various sub-sects of druggy, dance music–Madchester . . . something or other.

So, the effective death of music in the 1990s also meant that the organizing principle of youth culture disappeared. Maggot forms of it–I am thinking here of grunge rock, Britpop, and various forms of thrash metal and rap-metal–lingered on through the ‘90s into the Zeroes, but the associated “tribes” were half-hearted at best. This was the time when youth realized that ID-ing through music was a joke–hence the rise of the atomized bedroom or basement culture of the Millennial age. The vacuum had been created, and the vacuum also had consequences. So, how was it filled?

One clue was in the name of the movement, with which I have now become associated, as a kind of “founding father”–its Alexander Hamilton or John Knox Witherspoon. Yes, I am referring to the Alt Right, and in particular the “Alt” part of the term, which to anyone from Gen-X evokes the whole idea of “alternative music”–namely music that was cool, detached, and grass-roots-up, rather than dictated by the profit motives and sleazy designs of the big record companies, the “Lügen-labels.”

This “Alt” aspect is what made the Alt-Right cool and worth belonging to, but also there was an odd sense of déjà vu in play. Here we were, some of us not so young, but existing on the kind of stretched teenage time that modern society makes possible, organizing as a kind of youth culture–only this time without actual music, for which blogs, podcasts, and memes soon became a substitute.

And like any music-based youth culture of the ‘60s to ‘90s period, we soon found ourselves splitting off into camps and having the occasional shindy or disagreement, like Mods and Rockers at the Brighton sea-front.

There were those of us who felt the need to impress with their technical proficiency, their grasp of heavy-hitting philosophy . . . Cue NRx and a few impressive “solos” on Evola or Heidegger.

Then there were the Hardcore Punk kids, who liked it hard and simple, the kind of morose little mofos that want to be body-slammed and pride themselves on being into more abrasive and unlistenable forms of music than each other. . . Cue The Daily Stormer, Iron March, and the ragged edges of TRS. This part of the Alt Right could conveniently be termed “Nazicore.”

Then between “the fire and ice”–to use an analogy from “Spinal Tap”(1984)–there is the “lukewarm water,” the equivalent of mainstream rock fans, those guys who admire the occasional prog exuberance or chuckle along ironically to the head-banging of Beavis and Butthead, but find their comfort zone somewhere between Guns N’ Roses, Dire Straits, and –ulp!– U2. These are the guys who will buy the records they like, even if they come from the big labels, but who are also prepared to shop around and “go Indie” if they have to.

The music-tribe analogy even extends to our gay disco and glam divas–Milo and co.–towards whom we cast either a tolerant and half-embarrassed glance or a withering glare and “Disco Sucks” malevolence.

Yes, take another look at that ever-fragmenting and multi-mutating organism called the Alt Right, and tell me, is it really that different from the music tribes and sub-tribes of the Grand Tri-Decade? In place of the music and the fashion, we now have metapolitics, but then we are also putting the “fash” back into fashion, and thanks to the likes of Paddy Tarleton, Walt-Bismarck, White Hot Takes, Xurious, and others, we even have the music.