Where is Today’s Counterculture in Music?

Sir Bob Geldof was Craig Ferguson’s guest on The Late Late Show last night. I watched the interview earlier today. Craig had seen Bob perform with the Boomtown Rats in 1977, at a time and in a location featuring social unrest. Young people, particularly young musicians, had an opportunity to react to popular culture and its musical interpretation (disco, pop) with punk music. Throughout the twentieth century, after the technology for performing and recording music became accessible, the younger generation used it to rebel against the status quo. Punk rock, and particularly the thoughtful punk rockers like Bob Geldof and John Lydon, shaped this counterculture.

In the interview, Bob and Craig agree that we are experiencing a formative period in history, one that will be viewed by historians centuries in the future. Thanks to social unrest throughout the world, money flowing into emerging markets, and dominant global power shifting away from the United States, society may be at a tipping point. I don’t think anyone can properly identify what history will choose to focus on until well after the fact, but assuming it’s true, where is today’s counterculture? Specifically, where is the music that can be identified as representative of today’s social change? Why does no one have anything to say about this?

Commercialism is quick to latch onto anything new these days, and that may be why none of today’s music seems revolutionary. A counterculture is commercialized so quickly — take hip-hop, for example — that it doesn’t have time to stand for something and no longer means anything. With artists concerned about making a living in this country, there isn’t a lot of opportunity to do something untested. Maybe we need to start looking elsewhere to find the next social movement to become representative of a generation, perhaps the Middle East, north Africa, or China.

Bob mentions how terrible the popular music was at that time, and there had to be a change. Today’s pop music should generate the same sort of reaction, but where are today’s music rebels? Watch the interview with Bob Geldof after the break.

Update: Nam wrote in with interesting comments on Google Buzz.

About Harlan Landes

Harlan Landes has been blogging since before "blogging" was a word. If you're reading this, chances are you know who I am.