Morast: Our music of the future
Since Amy Winehouse was discovered dead this past weekend, people have been asking me if the singer's music is "classic" or "great" or even "good." Yes, yes and yes. But what they haven't been asking is if it is truly timeless, timeless enough to...
Since Amy Winehouse was discovered dead this past weekend, people have been asking me if the singer's music is "classic" or "great" or even "good."
Yes, yes and yes.
But what they haven't been asking is if it is truly timeless, timeless enough to be popular centuries from now.
In that case, no.
Because while Winehouse's brilliance was her ability to sing with an emotional depth most of us can never understand, her music isn't the kind of art that will be appreciated by masses of humanity centuries from now. Too stylized.
That raises another question: Which musical artists from this era - 1900s to now - will be still absorbed, appreciated and adored alongside future contemporary artists?
I have an idea.
But when executing this exercise, there are some truths to consider:
- Tenth-grade students in the 2211 will still have a Doors phase. This is unavoidable.
- There will always be the artistic marauders who dig for musical artifacts. And in the year 2349, this minority will be listening to acts like The Ramones or Dwight Yoakam as if they found buried treasures.
- Fashionable artists like Madonna, David Bowie, Lady Gaga and the like might sound classic now, but they'll be dated in 50 years - or less.
- In the future, hip-hop will be viewed less as music and more like critical social poetry, as snapshots of life in urban America and the pursuit of an idealized American dream.
- There will be hundreds of various songs that survive the ages, but I'm focused on pop artists with catalogs that will still be relevant and enjoyed in the future.
Here's my list:
The obvious choices
The Beatles: It's the most overrated rock band ever, but it's still the best rock band ever with music that hits on ageless connections like love, rebellion, heartache and the desire for greatness in everyday life.
Radiohead: Some of us might hate to admit it, but Radiohead is probably the closest thing we have to truly timeless tunesmiths, a mesmerizing mix of digital and organic aesthetics.
Bob Dylan: Seven minutes after Dylan dies, people will forget his myriad musical mistakes and hail him as the voice of this period. He'll be the Homer of this era.
The probable choices
Ray Charles: Can't you see futuristic people with big, bald heads and shiny clothes having swinging parties to Charles tunes? I can. And they will.
James Brown: Nobody chronicles the sex-crazed, patriarchal class system of the middle 20th century any better. And Brown does it with tunes that groove so good they feel like forbidden fruit.
Patsy Cline: She sings like a ghost you want to be haunted by. She'll possess our descendents, too.
Johnny Cash: He'll become a mythic figure whose songs tell the story of his fight with devils and humans.
Michael Jackson: No one will care about his tarnished reputation. They'll just marvel at a voice so powerful that it feels inhuman.
Jimi Hendrix: Even today he sounds like an alien. Maybe by the year 2285 his race will have made contact with us.
Willie Nelson: His music sums up the aesthetic of the American cowboy. People will always marvel at this archetype.
Elvis: The white James Brown, he sells sex without making us feel dirty. But his music also feels diluted next to Brown or Charles.
Queen: Freddie Mercury is the greatest frontman ever, but too many of the band's songs come off like bombastic showtunes.
Nirvana: The zeitgeist and the raw passion will never be dated. But I worry the music might be too simplistic to survive.
Led Zeppelin: It sounds epic now, but that will fade.
Bob Marley: Why do I feel like his music will be treated like future religious hymns?
Not going to happen
Rolling Stones: Great band, but too much of a hodge-podge of musical styles. Going to the original sources is almost always better.
Garth Brooks: He was amazing, but his tunes already feel dated.
U2: Too much effort trying to stay ahead of trends ruined the music.
Aretha Franklin: Wonderful voice, but her catalog isn't strong enough. And, in some ways, I think Winehouse is better. Prepare the hate mail.
My wild cards
Kanye West: Everybody thinks he's a jerk. But his hip-hop music is collage art pasted together with sincere emotion. He's one of those advanced artists who will be understood more as time passes.
Hank Williams Jr.: His father gets more respect, and his son has more hipster appeal. But Jr.'s music plays like an Everyman's anthem, with a redneck artistry that doesn't pander or ridicule.
Allison Kraus: Few voices seep into the soul like hers does. And while she's lumped into the bluegrass motif, her music defies genre - and time.
Yann Tiersen: Listen to the "Amelie" soundtrack and tell me this music isn't classic.
Of course, there are others worth considering - Cat Stevens, Hank Williams Sr., Arcade Fire, Lauryn Hill. And I'm certain I forgot about a few ageless artists.
That's why I invite you to send me your suggestions for this list. I'll chronicle the ongoing discussion in a future column or online. Maybe our dialogue will also be timeless.
Readers can reach Forum Features Editor Robert Morast at (701) 241-5518