Will rock 'n' roll outlive the baby boomers?
Seems like a good question to ask after Chuck Berry's funeral.
I started thinking about it because, after Berry died, I bought a copy of Billboard that had a special tribute section honoring "the father of rock and roll." After reading the stories about how Berry blended rhythm and blues with country and swing, adding an indelible guitar riff, a propulsive beat and lyrics that directly addressed teenage angst, I decided to look at the charts.
Guess what I didn't find much of among the best-selling artists, songs and albums? That's right: rock and roll.
Heavy metal heroes Metallica, God bless them, still sell a lot of records. But only two other bands among the Top 20 Artists could even remotely be considered rock bands—Twenty One Pilots and Maroon 5, neither of which, I'm guessing, would be endorsed by Chuck Berry.
When it comes to songs that people are actually listening to around the country right now, streaming or on the radio, it gets even worse: no rock 'n' roll recordings at all in the Top 20. Zero. Nada.
The most popular recording artist last year? Drake. Talented, yes. Rock 'n' roll, no.
To be sure, "rock" music is still a potent force.
"Rock continues to be the dominant genre in terms of album sales," according to the Nielsen Music U.S. Year-End Report. And when it comes to selling concert tickets, older rock acts really kick ass: Bruce Springsteen, 67, had the highest-grossing tour last year and The Rolling Stones, whose average age is 73, made the most money per show.
Ah, but there's the rub: Of the top ten grossing concert tours, only four featured musicians under 30 years old – Justin Bieber, Drake, Adele and Taylor Swift. And here's a good one: 19 of the 25 musicians who have sold the most records since 1991 are now over 50 years old.
Not surprisingly, "classic rock" acts are set to dominate this years' concert/ outdoor festival scene. Following the enormous success of the Desert Trip festival in Southern California last fall (featuring Paul McCartney, Neil Young, the Stones, Bob Dylan and The Who), Classic West (and East) festivals are scheduled for Los Angles and New York this summer, with headliners including Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles.
Oh, and tickets for the two-day event, with state of the art sound systems, gourmet food and luxury perks, will approach $1,000.
That is a long, long way from hearing "Johnny B. Goode" on a jukebox in the '50s, putting "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" on the turntable in the '60s or listening to the Sex Pistols on a cassette tape in the '70s.
Maybe it comes down to a definition of rock 'n' roll.
Musically, songs with three chords, loud guitars and having, as Chuck reminded us, "a backbeat, you can't lose it" will surely always be around.
But Ed Ward, who recently published "The History of Rock & Roll, Vol. 1," believes the music is inextricably connected to its cultural context of teenage identity, attitude and rebellion.
Growing up with the Internet, social media and video games means rock 'n' roll "is no longer the central cultural feature of teenage life," Ward says. Nor, he maintains, will it ever be again.
My 25-year-old daughter agrees. "People in my generation don't really have any contemporary rock bands to be interested in," she says.
She likes Wilco and other indie/alt-rock groups. But growing up, rock 'n' roll just wasn't as important to her as it was to me.
That, I think, is the difference.