Which Rock Star Will Historians of the Future Remember?


The most important musical form of the 20th century will
be nearly forgotten one day. People will probably learn
about the genre through one figure — but who might that be?

(via the New York Times Magazine)

MAY 23, 2016

lassifying anyone as the “most successful” at anything tends to reflect more on the source than the subject. So keep that in mind when I make the following statement: John Philip Sousa is the most successful American musician of all time.

Marching music is a maddeningly durable genre, recognizable to pretty much everyone who has lived in the United States for any period. It works as a sonic shorthand for any filmmaker hoping to evoke the late 19th century and serves as the auditory backdrop for national holidays, the circus and college football. It’s not “popular” music, but it’s entrenched within the popular experience. It will be no less fashionable tomorrow than it is today.

And this entire musical idiom is now encapsulated in one person: John Philip Sousa. Even the most cursory two-sentence description of marching music inevitably cites him by name. I have no data on this, but I would assert that if we were to ask the entire population of the United States to name every composer of marching music they could think of, 98 percent of the populace would name either one person (Sousa) or no one at all. There’s just no separation between the awareness of this person and the awareness of this music, and it’s hard to believe that will ever change…

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/29/magazine/which-rock-star-will-historians-of-the-future-remember.html?_r=0


While I found this a worthwhile article with a fun premise, it’s a premise I don’t necessarily accept. True, we’ve reduced marching music to Sousa, as he was head and shoulders above his contemporaries in the field. And Marley will undoubtedly be used similarly as shorthand for reggae someday for the same reason.

But the phenomenon of a single artist becoming synonymous with a genre breaks down when you consider classical music.

Centuries later, the music of a wide variety of classical composers still lives on and no single one sums up the genre for us. Perhaps J.S. Bach represents the baroque period best, and Beethoven the romantic era, but Mozart will never be forgotten and none of these three, as great as they were, can sum up the genre the way Sousa does marching music.

I think it more likely rock music will similarly live on without being reduced to a single figure as representative. It’s rock music’s diversity that separates it from reggae and marching band music, and that diversity will afford it a more complex legacy.

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