As a writer who has spent much of his life covering rock music, Chuck Klosterman has a vested interest in how the genre will be remembered, if at all, centuries from now. In a provocative think piece for The New York Times, Klosterman imagines how rock music would be discussed and debated in a college classroom 300 years in the future, when rock is but a distant memory and has no direct connection to the lives of the students. History, Klosterman suggests, tends to boil down to the stories of just a few dynamic individuals, and there’s no reason to believe rock will be any different in that respect. The Beatles, due to their long-lasting popularity, would seem to be the logical standard-bearers for rock in the centuries to come, except for the fact that there are four of them. Students of the future may only be able to commit one name to memory when forming a paradigm for rock. So whose name will that be? Klosterman spends much of his essay debating the pros and cons of two likely candidates: Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan.
“Neither is an ideal manifestation of rock as a concept,” Klosterman admits. Presley was basically out of the genre by 1973, while Dylan “never made an album that ‘rocked’ in any conventional way.” Should history choose to remember one and forget the other, it would drastically alter the enduring public perception of rock. Was this music basically entertainment or was it political? Is its decline attributable to the decadence of its musicians and fans? Did it help to define what America was? These are questions that the future will eventually decide. And it is here, Klosterman asserts, that rock critics and historians will finally exert their true power. These writers generally don’t have much say in what’s popular during their own time, but they can greatly affect how the genre is perceived in the future.