LTW louderthanwarThis week the Guardian ran a piece titles ‘In mourning Bowie we mourn the end of an era when art could truly subvert’. It is a notion that we just can’t agree with.

John Harris wrote the brilliant piece but we can’t agree with with him marking the passing of the genius Bowie with a tombstone for pop culture itself with paragraphs like the following.

‘In mourning Bowie we mourn the end of an era when art could truly subvert. Rock music now seems to serve a different function. It is so ubiquitous – available for nothing, would you believe? – that it tends to either offer a comfy kind of reassurance or stand for nothing but itself. Meanwhile, as old barriers are put back up – something evidenced by everything from the loud return of feminism to renewed angst about class – mere singers and musicians seem little able to help. Shock was a big part of how we all responded to Bowie’s passing, but so was something else: in all the recollections of this or that epiphany, belated mourning for a world in which art could fracture normality, an idea that now seems strangely quaint.’

All over the world there is art challenging the status quo as much as there was art that didn’t challenge the status quo in the seventies. This debate is well worn now but rose tinted spectacles are changing the narrative. This notion that the battles have all been fought may be true if you are older and more comfortable in your skin but even if the world has partly moved on from the stuffy sixties that made even having Beatle hair seem like an act of revolution there are still battles being fought and still cultural icons fighting these battles that as on older person you won’t even notice.

That the way of pop culture. It has a nasty habit of slipping away from you and becoming someone else’s soundtrack and leaving you as parent culture – older and out of touch and telling the assembled youth ‘it was better in my day…’

Of course Bowie was pop genius in all its quicksilver beauty and brilliance…we said so ourselves.

The innovative seventies were his golden era – a time when he dominated pop culture with brilliant twist and turns but they are not the fill stop on pop culture as many commentators have been trying to tell us in the past few days.

His death in some ways does mark the closing of an era – but an era from the past – the seventies. It does not mark the death of whole culture. Pop culture still thrives, challenges and creates great sounds and ideas – Bowie himself would have been appalled by cultural commentators signifying his death as some sort of marker for the end of music culture like several have been in the last few days.

Himself hungry for the new he would have embraced the youthful and the young finding their way into their own brave new soundtracks. That kind of thing thrilled him. This nay saying about modern music from old commentators would have been anathema to him – surely that was part of his brilliance?

There are still risk takers, there are still challengers in all styles of music .

The death of the great David Bowie has understandably brought out much sadness but also a strange undertow of hand wringing about the ‘state of music’ and that the gradual dying off of the past masters is marking a death knell in pop and popular culture.

The general theme seems to be that with the passing of the ageing giants like Lou Reed, Bowie, Lemmy and many others that we are seeing the last days of pop culture and that once this generation has left the stage their will be nothing left. Ironically many of the recently bereved themselves had to put up with the same criticism when they were breaking through and upsetting another generations apple cart.

Bowie himself – a man who was always fascinated by the new would have been appalled at such notion. Whilst pop culture doesnt have to be chasing the youth edge to define itself it still has to recognise that there is a lot of great and diverse music out there that may just not be there for you as its embedded in the secret code of youth. – a world many writers left decades ago and are poorly placed to even comment on what is happening now.

Now in their pipe and slipper phase of life they believe that because they themselves have not heard any new music for 20 years therefore it can’t exist. They feel that all the plethora of music from all over the planet has ground to halt because they still listen to their tried and tested selection of albums and that this is proof of the end of pop culture.

Most rock stars may seem like they are 70 years old these days if you have no idea or interest in the whole raft of new musicians coming up. There was the debate last year that no band under 40 could headline Glastonbury and yet there they were queuing up for the spot that most of the 70 year old rock stars would not have been big enough to fill when they were the same age.

Music culture moves on. It always has.

It’s always been thus.

I’m old enough to remember the tutting at punk rock and can even remember the tutting at Bowie and glam as being a sign of ‘the end of everything we love and cherish’ – it’s not exactly the Beatles the older music heads would sigh. In those days the Guardian would have written snark pieces about the death of pop culture like they were once threatened by the Beatles for impinging on their beloved trad jazz scene.

That’s the culture cycle.

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. Like David Bowie always liked new stuff I just rembered this wonderful story about Lorde and David Bowie:
    I am so sad…

  2. “There are still risk takers, there are still challengers in all styles of music .” You say John Robb but do not give us ONE example. We might have believed your argument if you had. Too numerous to mention eh? John Harris is right. There’s plenty of good, enjoyable music about but nothing that takes risks, challenges, provokes and can have anything like the appeal of Bowie – ie more than a few hundred facebook followers or fans.

  3. Of course there’s always new music with every generation but what that article was mourning was its cultural impact. In our increasingly atomised, fragmented virtual reality can an album have the social impact of ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ or a live performance resonate like Bowie singing ‘Starman’ on TOTP? Does anyone really think rock music can truly be a force for seismic cultural change the way that it seemed to be in the 50s,60s or 70s? Great music will continue to be made but rock music may well become like jazz, vibrant and still vital if culturally somehow less pertinent.

  4. To suggest that David Bowie was responsible for a musical era and with his death that era ends is a preposterous idea. He was another talented musician in a milieu of talented musicians that have greatly contributed to popular music culture.


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