- Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com
- Nipsey Hussle
Last week was not a good one for music.
On Sunday, the Grammy-nominated rapper Nipsey Hussle was gunned down in cold blood outside a retail company he’d opened in South Los Angeles. In a cruel twist of fate, he was scheduled to meet with LAPD officials the next day to discuss the issue of increased gun violence.
The following day, the Drudge Report — a scandal sheet best known for breaking the story of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair — reported that the Rolling Stones’ tour cancellation was due to the fact that Mick Jagger would be undergoing heart surgery later in the week. Fortunately, the procedure was a success and, as of this writing, the 75-year-old singer and his band are expected to be out touring the States as early as July.
All of this comes at a time when the music world was already mourning the recent deaths of surf-rock pioneer Dick Dale, English Beat vocalist Ranking Roger and avant-pop icon Scott Walker. Like Prince, Aretha, David Bowie, Tom Petty and so many others before them, they possessed an artistic vitality that’s all the more conspicuous in their absence.
As each year passes, it’s inevitable that more and more rock and rap devotees will be coming to terms with the mortality of their favorite artists, just as fans of blues and jazz did in decades past. What’s changed is the context in which it’s all happening.
Back in the late ’60s and early ’70s, entertainment industry marketing subdivisions made repeated attempts to appropriate youth culture, usually in ways that were embarrassingly obvious. Teenagers were warned not to trust anyone over 30, and assured that The Man couldn’t bust their music. The artists themselves expressed those sentiments more earnestly, the oft-cited example being the Who line “I hope I die before I get old,” which has taken on more and more shades of irony as the years go by.
Decades later, while Kurt Cobain was becoming the poster boy for latch-key youth, he expressed wry amusement at an album of cheesy instrumental covers called Grunge Lite. “It’s great, sure,” he told an interviewer in a clip that’s been dug up and posted to YouTube. “It’s an obvious thing to happen. It’s the last chapter in the book of grunge.”
Ironically enough, it was also part of the preface. According to a New York Times article from that era, the Seattle-based company Muzak, which had become famous for turning pop songs into instrumental “elevator” music, was an early employer of the future founders of Sub Pop records as well as members of Tad and Mudhoney.
- J. Stone / Shutterstock.com
- Mick Jagger
So it’s only natural that, in more recent years, we’ve seen the increasing “Brooklynization” of consumer culture. The era that once gave us ironic sweaters and artisanal beards is now inspiring upscale objects of desire that range from retro typewriters — with built-in Bluetooth — to the limited-edition Absolut Brooklyn, a red apple and ginger flavored vodka that’s being promoted as a “celebration of stoop life.”
But while the ironies abound, there’s also a more sobering side to these attempts at shrink-wrapping youth culture, to which many of us are now reciprocating by creating our own selfie-driven brands on social media.
As a friend once told me, Elvis was killed early by fame, but took a long time to die. And as we’ve seen over the past week, eternal youth was never an option.