Has Rock and Roll Finally Died?

There's always a danger of sounding like your dad, whenever discussing how things used to be. Back in the day – and that's another sign, the phrase 'back in the day' – when I discovered rock music and being a 'yoof', I often heard my dad passing comment on the music I was listening to, along the lines of, "he can't sing" or "that's just a noise" referring, perhaps, to an album by Frank Zappa or Pink Floyd or The Clash. He would often hark back, longingly, to the music of his own youth – Bing Crosby and other crooners were name-checked alongside phrases like 'they don't make 'em like that any more'.

In all honesty, I find myself doing the same thing and I think it's because we all have our moments in time, our eras, and somewhere along the line we turn a certain era into our default, boot-up setting, our home page, so to speak. There are people, for instance, who epitomise certain times – in my mind Dawn French and Ade Emondson, for example, epitomise the 'eighties' and if you want to be a little more 'international' Don Johnson of Miami Vice fame would fit the same bill. There are loads of people who can be pigeon-holed this way, obvious ones being famous icons of popular culture, such as Mick Jagger and Twiggy who would represent the 'swinging sixties'.

But once past the 1990s – a decade characterised by 'Britpop' – we enter a bit of a cultural wilderness that cannot be defined by a specific type of music or a particular group of bands (it's populated by X Factor contestants and hip hop artists) and that means only one thing: there are no more 'tribes' or cults, such as teddy boys, mods and rockers, punks and hippies with their own attendant group of bands that somehow support the cause and provide countless songs that define the people who follow them – and introducing the age-old 'chicken and egg' argument (in this case what came first, the band or the cult they represented?).

It's the Glastonbury weekend and these days, like most things, the festival has been hijacked by the corporate world, which means it costs a fortune to gain admission. In short, like most festivals, it's no longer the home of the great unwashed, but a place where the washed and the well-educated can play-act at being part of a phenomenon that has long past its sell-by date. The great unwashed and the middle class bohemians are either dead, mad or vagrant – or they've grown up and live respectable lives – and the entire premise behind music festivals (and the music itself) is not only greatly diminished but, in a sense, pointless – a bit like Roger Daltry singing My Generation the other week on a one-off (but soon to be repeated) TGI Friday on Channel 4. When Daltry dies, he'll definitely be 'old'.... and so will Pete Townshend.

Anthems of rebellion that might have resonated with somebody speeding their brains out in the mid-70s have somehow lost their potency in the sober new world, bringing into question, perhaps, whether they were ever potent in the first place. In fact, the aforementioned anthems, when performed by now crusty old people who manage to retain a sense of youth by dying their hair and relying upon their hefty fortunes to fight the ageing process, are often viewed by the BBC's Glastonbury presenters with mildly amused nostalgia in memory, perhaps, of a time before Health & Safety and the nanny state.

Nineteen-year-old girls in 'shorty shorts' and Wellington boots are, in short, a contrived version of those who went before them and many – according to Mark Radcliffe – are simply apeing Kate Moss from a few years ago when she made a fashionable appearance at Glastonbury and was possibly arm-in-arm with Pete Doherty. Doherty and Moss, incidentally, were pretty rock and roll and, arguably, kept the flame of yesteryear burning bright – because, like American comedian Bill Hicks used to say – I want my rockstars to rock!

A case in point, of course, is that, right now, they have Lionel Ritchie on stage. Lionel Ritchie! Back in the day it would be unwise to admit to liking Lionel Ritchie. Only 'straight people' with aeroplanes all over their round-collared shirts and little in the way of street cred liked Lionel Ritchie! Now he's headlining the festival, albeit in a kind of "while we're all pretty wild rock and rollers at heart, we like to tone it down a little now and then and appreciate the dulcet tones of Ritchie" sort of way. Or perhaps, more alarmingly, he's just headlining the festival.

Perhaps I'm mourning the loss of my own youth, but that's not the whole argument. In fact, there are many points to be made. I've got mates who would still go to, say, an AC/DC gig. Why? Are they going to drink half a dozen pints of lager in the pub before the concert and then headbang their way through the gig in front of the stage? No, they're not. They will be way back in the auditorium, tapping their feet lightly... as if listening to Lionel Ritchie!

Then there's the question of whether today's bands are as good as those that went before them. I would argue no, they're not as good – but then, perhaps I'm starting to sound like my dad again. The last album I bought and enjoyed for all the usual rock and roll reasons was Nevermind by Nirvana and, around the same time, Troublegum by Therapy?.

Lastly, there's the lack of any discernible youth culture: teds, mods, rockers, hippies, punks. You only tend to see them at certain rock concerts. Where they go in between I don't know, but they're rarely seen on the streets. If there's no 'yoof' culture what is there to hang the music on?

Equally, who cares? Perhaps it's just a case of those days are gone for good, the festivals are now corporate affairs – in the same way that football matches are no longer about grassroots supporters – and, in short, everything is 'controlled' by the authorities (and Simon Cowell) and any sign of rebellion is beaten down with a stick. If that's the case then rock and roll is dead and probably has been for years and that makes festivals and rock music 'contrived' affairs, like boutique hotels, in the same way that 'cult movies' no longer gain cult status, as in days gone by, but are produced with 'cult status' in mind. Quentin Tarantino springs to mind.

And with that I must fly as the very last Top Gear featuring Clarkson, Hammond and May is about to be screened on BBC2 – yet another example of something good leaving the building, although word has it that once this last episode is out of the way, Clarkson and the team will set to work on a new show...