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C O N C L U S I O N WHERE HAVE ALL THE ROCK STARS GONE? The stars I’ve discussed in this book were and remain cultural icons. These performers and others of their era had broad cultural currency; they had meaning for people who did not like, or even hear, their music. They embodied currents of cultural change that emerged in the 1950s and became dominant in the 1960s. Is there any figure who has emerged recently in popular music of whom this can be said? This is not meant as one of those laments about artistic decline, in which the younger generation is compared unfavorably to the great achievements of the past ones. I have no doubt that more recent generations of performers are more skilled and at least as talented as their musical forebearers. Rather, my point is that the cultural position of popular music and its stars has been diminished. Some of this change has to do with social conditions not directly related to either the production or consumption of popular music and its performers . I hope I have convinced the reader that rock stars contributed to the changes that we associate with the 1960s: the breaking down of hierarchies of race and gender; the new patterns of courtship, love, and marriage; the reintroduction of leftist political perspectives into popular consciousness. But rock & roll hardly caused these changes all by itself. Even the development of a politicized youth culture, perhaps the change most strongly dependent on the music, emerged out of manifold forces and conditions, among them Cold War rhetoric and youth’s increasing purchasing power. The ferment of the 1960s was largely over by the 1980s, and, while many of the changes that grew out of the 1960s remain incomplete, the early years of the new millennium have not seen young people associated with new movements for social change. If the Occupy movement (or was it a moment?) is an exception, we might ask where its impact in popular culture has been felt. While that impact might still come, it is possible that the economic conditions that gave rise to Occupy are not those likely to support cultural innovation . The 1950s and 1960s were defined by prosperity. Thus, we might 206 Rock Star conclude the time is not ripe for stars to take on the kind of cultural significance that those I’ve discussed here attained. Other changes have to do specifically with patterns of production, distribution , and consumption of music. The continuing decline in CD sales, the shift to music downloads, and the increasing difficulty of getting consumers to pay for music have changed the character of the music business and have contributed to (but are also partly a result of) a major shift in the way the pop audience experiences music. Between 1999 and 2009, music sales declined by half.1 The industry blames illegal downloads and file sharing, and clearly this accounts for some of the change. Older buyers, especially baby boomers, have increased their music market share, while the younger demographics’ shares have decreased. In other words, the young, the group the industry previously counted on to fuel music sales—and at whom promotional strategies continued to be aimed—are no longer buying as much music.2 Those who do buy music are purchasing albums on CD less and less. CD sales in the United States dropped by 20 percent in 2010, and there was a continued decline in 2011 of 4.8 percent, when for the first time the value of digital music sales exceeded those of physical sales.3 This change in purchasing behavior needs to be understood in the context of changes in listening behavior. Where at one time, listening to recorded music was often a social activity, with the advent of the iPod it has become an intensely private pastime. Despite the decline of music purchases by young people, popular music continues to be significant for adolescents. Many college students seem attached to their iPods as if they were lifesupport systems. Yet the prevalence of iPods illustrates one reason why popular music has lost its centrality. The 1960s equivalent technology to the iPod was the car radio, but the radio was public, while an iPod is private. Not only did young people ride around listening in groups, but everyone listening to a station—or, indeed, during the heyday of the top 40, to almost any station— heard the same records. Now, each...


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