If Hendrix Was a Millennial: How the Rock Icons Have Fallen

Picture this: a new Twitch channel live-streamer named JimmyHendrix_66 turns on his camera and mic for the first time. Sitting in his parents' basement surrounded by posters of his favorite musicians, he plays a Fender Stratocaster with nothing but the warm fuzz of the valve amp as the tone.

His singing voice is distinctive yet not transcendent. He’s no Bruno Mars or Sam Smith, that's for sure. He is, however, possessed like some musical shaman as he glides in tandem with his guitar, making it clear that JimmyHendrix_66 was born to perform.

After a few months, his online following grows to an impressive three hundred subscribers who tune in regularly to listen to his guitar singing and howling in a melodic cacophony. Many are mesmerized as his fingers climb up and down the ebony fretboard as their owner enters his familiar performance trance.

As his fans find him a delight, they share his handle on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, which consistently receives more than a handful of likes and even a few loves. “Wow, this guy's so talented,” is a typical comment below the latest link of JimmyHendrix_66 playing a cover of One Direction's “Drag me Down.” Few friends who comment or like seem to share the link, which frustrates those fans who believe they have discovered the next Ed Sheeran.

The Legend is True

This hypothetical scenario could have been a reality had Jimmy Hendrix waited to be born at the dawn of the new millennium. But, of course, he wasn't, and thankfully so. Jimmy Hendrix is part of the musical legend for a good reason.

His legacy is also responsible for so many incredible artists that followed. But one must ponder whether he would have had such a meteoric rise as an icon of the popular music legend. Would his talents have even been noticed?

Hendrix comes from a generation of great musicians who ascended to the pantheon of rock immortality simply by being great musicians. They played in bands and superbands; some played without singers (Kenny G., anyone?), their musicianship being center-stage as the frontman or woman.

Of course, singers deserve mention here too. Yet thanks to the early millennium advent of reality TV and its subsequent talent show boom of spectacles such as American Idol and The X-Factor, singers have never had it so good. It seems the modern music fan, however, is not so interested in the world-class musicians standing onstage anymore.

Most music fans born south of 1990 on the birthdate selection scroller will be familiar with more than a handful of top musicians from at least two decades before their birth.

Yet, unfortunately, late Boomers, Gen-Xers, and early Millennials didn't have the luxury of instant digital access to thousands of recording artists' work – the majority of it being free – and be able to carry it all in their back pocket.

Physical Media for the Win

This era of fans had to listen to the same album for months at a time – although casual bootlegging of friends' collections was rife. Vinyl lovers trudged through the rain carrying 50 lbs of records to a party they were DJing. At the same time, older fans dedicated whole walls of valuable living space to their religion, spending much of their income curating this collection.

They spent months of their lives puttering in old record stores, combing the sonic catacombs for vintage recordings and limited editions. Then, they waited patiently for new albums, not that they had a choice. In the years before streaming (BS), such was the glacial pace of some artists when recording albums, waiting was all these people could do.

As a result, these fans were obsessed. They obsessed over bands and solo musicians, but most importantly, they meditated on the works of those who wrote those ridiculous riffs and licks, drum interludes, and bass parts to religious fervor.

Then, the rock music melomaniac headed straight home to listen to their favored bands' new album — for which five years seemed a fair wait. They opened the record, cassette, or CD cover to marvel at the photography. They caught long overdue glimpses of their heroes and inhaled the new album smell.

Of course, Google Images was a sparkling light on the future's horizon back then, so even seeing photos of one's musical icons was a privilege. If they appeared in a Rolling Stone, NME, or Mojo feature, this would become part of the die-hard fan's hoard of memorabilia.

Those who listened to music on scratched-up vinyl, diminished-quality mixtapes, or beat-up 8-tracks didn't have the same level of distraction as today's younger music fans.

Current-day music enthusiasts who feast on a daily buffet of music streaming services have a much more challenging task of deciding what they love.

They have much less time to dream about an artist; naturally, their options must be overwhelming. But, much like their past contemporaries, their choices are shaped by their personal preference for video games, content creators, and social media platforms.

Maybe the difference is that without these countless dissuasive phenomena, the hungry music fan of yesteryear was more likely to take up an instrument in their free time.

Making Music of Their Own

In the '60s, it may have been Buddy Rich or Jimmy Hendrix inspiring them; in the '70s, John Bonham or Nancy Wilson. In the 80s, rock gods from Yngwie Malmsteen to Eddie Van Halen or even Phil Collins would have music store clerks waxing lyrical or showing off their version of a riff or triplet. The '90s brought us too many to name, though, was the era of Flea, Cindy Blackman, and Dave Grohl.

As we emerged from the last thousand years into the next, Napster made an ominous rallying charge at the established record labels' Tower of Babel with its free download site. We know it didn't end well for Napster, but it was an omen for those legendary stars of rock music who began to fade.

The new millennium changed the face of music promotion, recording, and profitability. A drastic shift forced acts like Mariah Carey into painful, litigious divorces from record companies as they began to halt much of their funding for new bands and artists. Along with the natural evolution of music as a digital product, lines between fanaticism and consumption blurred. Sadly, the latter has taken over to a degree.

Anybody who speaks to a music fan from this older generation and asks them about band line-ups of their era will be astonished by the knowledge. Do younger music fans have the level of geek required to be a “Lifer?”

The question must be: “Do young fans know all the bands' musicians‘ names?” Can they, for example, name all the members of a stadium-filling mega-band such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers (bonus point for the original line-up) without checking their phones?

One would like to think we still have obsessive music fans in 2022. However, one could forgive a skeptic for assuming today's average music fan is more likely to name each member of BTS or One Direction than the complete line-up of The War on Drugs.

Let's look at the top five rock albums sold in 2021 – sadly, not a single new rock album from 2021 ranks among them. This in a year with new releases from Iron Maiden; Foo Fighters' last record featuring Taylor Hawkins; and even a double-record release from Weezer.

Instead, we have Queen: Greatest Hits; Fleetwood Mac: Rumors; AC/DC: Back in Black; Nirvana: Nevermind, and Metallica's Black Album.

These make for sobering statistics for new rock bands, of which there are many to be excited about. Maybe this means the music industry is about to hit a renaissance after its apparent dip. Nobody knows, but for all those older music fans, there will be an excellent opportunity to share their knowledge and guide the more overwhelmed custodians of the scene in 2022.

For now, however, it appears to be goodbye to the rock music icon. We salute you.

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Film reviews, analysis and breakdown, sport, education, travel, food, current affairs, books - in my spare time I like to be outdoors in nature, in the waves, or on a golf course.