WASHINGTON — Those gruesome news reports from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony the other night remind me of a conclusion I came to a few years back. Rock and Roll is dead. Rest in peace.
Through the years the peace of the grave has crept up on a lot of rockers, usually years before they arrived at the average life expectancy of almost any type of adult human being, including skydivers and inebriated jaywalkers. Given how preachy the average rocker became by the late 1960s, this is ironic. In their warbles they lectured ordinary Americans on what to eat, what to wear, even prayer. They lectured us on the value of the great outdoors and of world peace. An astonishingly high percentage of them then found themselves under arrest for random violence or ingesting substances that were decidedly unhealthy. So Rock and Roll, rest in peace. Besides, Rock and Roll has not come up with a worthwhile song in at least a decade.
Happily the replacement for these left-wing nihilists on radio has been the right-wing talker. Rush Limbaugh — the master of the genre — Mark Levin, the rising oracle of the genre, and of course the rising John Batchelor are total opposites from any warbler ever featured in Rolling Stone magazine and both are probably better singers. I have no doubt that they are popular because America is an increasingly conservative country and because conservative Americans are not welcomed by mainstream media with the exception of Fox. Yet there is another reason. Rock and Roll is dead.
Radio is a medium peculiarly suited for music, but there is apparently not much of an audience left for Rock and Roll. I mean, how many decades can we listen to the Beach Boys, the Beatles, and other rockers from Rock’s better days? They get tiresome, and apparently there is just not a large enough audience opening for earlier musical styles, for instance, big band or swing, jazz, or folk music. Country and Western’s audience is not replacing Rock and Roll, and classical music’s audience seems to be in decline.
Hence we hear more and more Rush wannabes. Some are dreadful, vacuous, only dimly conservative, shouters. But then as I say we have the rising Mark Levin and doubtless there will be others.
The declining audience for music on radio, however, is a secondary reason for the rise of the conservative talker. The primary reason is politics — and not any kind of politics but rather conservative politics. The wave toward conservatism still seems to be gaining strength even as the wave for liberalism evanesces. I can recall the late 1960s and the 1970s when talk radio was a very different land from what it is today. Most talk radio hosts were decidedly left. A conservative, for instance, the venerable Bob Grant, was rare. But at some point liberal talk show hosts lost the audience, probably about the time liberalism began to lose out wherever the citizenry’s vote mattered. That would be in the early 1980s with the rise of Ronald Reagan.
I think Democrats ought to give this a little thought. Almost nowhere can they start up a successful media alternative to Rush and the gang. Not even Al Gore’s opulently endowed television network shows promise. The frightful suffering of the left’s Air America is well known. Some say Air America staggers because Al Franken is not funny. But it is more than that. There just are not enough votes out there in radioland to elect a left-wing Rush.
Michael Barone recently gave an analysis of this condition that bodes drearily for Democratic politics. He did not use my radio evidence to foretell a bad day at the polls in the year’s off year election. He looked at voter trends, vulnerable congressional seats, and other traditional evidence to predict this fall’s elections. He was the first columnist to predict the 1994 takeover of Capitol Hill by the Republicans. The Democrats see themselves duplicating that feat this fall. Barone says no. The votes are just not there. Now let him explain the death of Rock and Roll.