Post Modern Rock: From Jake to the Many

‘Some inspire, some take away / Which do I want to be, at the end of the day’ [End of the Day by Jake Chisholm]

As a music patron and child of the 80’s, I stopped pursuing ‘new rock’ sometime in the 90’s. With Jake Chisholm and fifteen years later, I got a chance to ask, so what are the new sounds of rock? Are they still sounding a lot like the old? Or are the stations still just playing the old?

I was trying to catch Jake Chisholm on whatever spiral he was on in Toronto’s aging, youthful, swing-revival thing, when I discovered that he’s not doing it anymore. He went independent or alternative. He plays rock.

Jake had a good thing going with Jake and the Blue Midnights. Him and his baby-face band, in the three-piece suits, put the jump back into jump blues during the mid 90’s, Toronto, Canada. The city lined up outside the Reservoir Lounge to hear him play. He brought us back to Louis Jordan and the pre-era of rock; a familiar sound fronted by a fresh young face.

But the suits came off and Jake decided to play his own music. And for Jake, this new chapter into rock music is not a continuation of any kind of ‘revival.’  Jake believes that rock is alive and well even if popular media doesn’t seem as interested anymore.

He stated, “Rock musicians are musicians who have the balls to be themselves, speak the truth about their experience no matter who’s listening and always play and sing from the place in themselves that only they can get to.”

As much of a cliché as this may sound from the lips of a rock musician, Jake can attest, performing rock is not about reviving old sounds or ideas; it’s about making the cliché mean something again. Jake is an example of exactly where rock music is today. He stopped trying to take us back to where we were and moved forward on his own.
Being familiar and safe does not make it rock.

Rock music roots are political, social and individual. Toronto may miss Jake’s cute and snappy swing-thing but it was inevitable that he begin looking to express something more personal and original.

What is rock? From Doo-wop to Hip hop? From Little Richard to Alice Cooper? Arguably, all a form of rock? Or maybe rock was an amalgamation of all of them?

Piero Scaruffi states, “I think rock is a music of synthesis, and therefore I still use the term "rock" to signify a synthesis of styles, from electronica to post-rock. This has inevitably become a federation of styles rather than one monolithic style. It was already that way in the 1960s, when the Stones were playing blues music, the Beatles were singing pop tunes, the Byrds were folk-rock, etc.”

“Eventually one gets to musicians that play a music wildly different from Chuck Berry's,” Scaruffi continued. “But they owe their existence to a socio-musical revolution that started in the 1950s with rockers such as Berry. Thus, it's "rock". However, as the sub-genres multiply and differentiate, we are in desperate need of a better term.”

Piero Scaruffi is a poet, historian, free thinker. He is most famous as a critic and historian of rock music, on which he has been writing for over 20 years for over 30 magazines worldwide. His most recent book on this subject is A History of Rock Music 1951-2000  (2003).

Whatever mutation/evolution rock has undergone, all forms of rock music share a disinterest in commonality. Rock came when media was becoming very mass and the idea of the ‘individual’ was something to be celebrated. Even when the Beatles wore their own suits, Lennon wasn’t ripping his throat apart in Twist n’ Shout because he wanted to settle for ordinary.

Wasim Muklashy believes that, “rock is freedom without structure or judgment. Rock itself grew from blues, R&B, and jazz, so it's not surprising (nor is it discouraging) to see people recognizing its roots, especially in this day and age in which most people are just looking for a quick fix before moving onto the next. It's important to understand the history of what you're doing and listening to, otherwise, you'll never understand the future.”

Wasim Muklashy is the editor in chief of WAV magazine as well as music editor of Get Underground.com.

"In my opinion 'Rock' was, and still continues to be a form of music that combines blues and jazz into one cohesive expression of energy, passion, heart and soul," states Brother Anubis Re of the band Cosmic Brotherhood of Ra. “It has become dumbed down through the years by mass media, greed and the corporate quest for the next big marketing ploy, but rock is still there swimming at the bottom of the murky entertainment pool.”

Jake had an excellent start in his music career. He had peer support, formal education and played with some of Toronto’s most seasoned musicians such as Terry Wilkins and Jeff Healey.

“Basically the intellectual side of my brain is fed by theory study,” he commented, “but the rest and biggest part of my education comes from fellow musicians and records. I think every musician, just like any other person, is a stew of there own experiences.”

Being true to the heart of a musician, he wanted to explore those experiences with his own sound and begin accepting a very simple and obvious fact about music:

“I’ll never sound like anyone except me. But I don’t consciously try to “authentic.” I’m not sure I even know what that means.”

Jake’s new sound is no longer backed by a full horn section or fronted by swing-dancers. The Big Bang has fallen inwards becoming quieter and more reflective, verging towards the psychedelic. His guitar’s plaintive response to his deep voice carries a bit of a haunted sound. Although, the sound and stories aren’t radically different from anything else we’ve ever heard, they are his.

Despite rock’s many shoes, this is why it exists; this is what makes it real. Our simplest human stories about love, anger or wonder are carried and played by one more individual putting his fingerprint on that universal vibration of harmony versus conflict.
All good rock music can be traced and have traces of the best of the originals, but are personal enough to stand on their own ground. Even the 80’s had a few unique gems and, as Piero Scaruffi commented, a few good gems has always been the standard harvest for rock in any given season.

“Mainstream rock ‘sucks’ as much as it did in the 1960s,” Scaruffi said. “Alternative rock is as creative as it was in the 1960s.”

But of course, to each his/her own. The qualifying rock from my youth (80’s rock) ranged from the Clash to the Smiths.

According to Dave Cusick, “Good music is still exhilarating and transcendent after adolescence, but many people find it hard to hear of new music that they might like because they have less daily contact with friends who can tell them about music, and their lives become busier, making it harder to look for good new music.”

Dave Cusick runs the online, college radio show Post Modern Rock from Portland, Oregon.

Chuck Berry & Keith Richards
Chuck Berry & Keith Richards

“I coined the term Post Modern Rock about 4 or 5 years ago,” he explained, “to refer to music that is truly alternative, rather than Alternative with a capital 'A.' After all, what exactly is Nickelback an alternative to, if it's getting played 35 times a day on the radio?  Modern Rock had been a synonym for alternative for years, but since the definition had devolved so badly, I decided that there needed to be a new term for good music; a cut above the rest, that doesn't get a lot of exposure.”

But despite the 90’s grunge era having its own gems, at this time I finally began preferring the new sounds of House and Hip Hop.

The 90’s dealt an over-saturation of sound. Technology and the Internet opened up a seemingly unlimited library of sounds and samples from around the world. DJs and producers were selling mixes of old and ‘world’ sounds and making them new again. The goods, in these genres, were familiar enough to catch us, but enough of a Frankenstein mix to make it live on its own. Contemporary R&B, Dance and Hip hop, having grown out of the DJ culture, were ripe to use these resources of sound and electro-experimentation.

Lyric-wise, House was the urban gospel and Hip Hop, being so text-based, was a better told story than the aging rock being served on the radio.

London Calling
The Clash

 

In the 90’s, the rock/alternative nightclubs had fallen to playing the same damn songs for over a decade. What we forgot was that new rock wasn’t being spun on a record or disc; it was being played live in some dark corner of the city.

“I actually feel that today's best rock music is more adult than it was in the 1960s,” said Scaruffi. “Rock music used to be a music for young musicians only because young musicians were the only ones willing to experiment, and young listeners were the only ones willing to listen to their experiments. This is still true to an extent, but not as much as it used to be in the 1960s.”

Today’s rock musician must be a student of music; a balance of history, experience and technology. Rock is not dead and needs no revival. Like Jake, rock is the desire to take off the suits that other people want you to wear and bring down the sound and the stories that are uniquely you. Passion, such as this, is timeless. Methods for craft and distribution are not.

October 2005
 
© lyw