Which One Metal Band Will Historians of the Future Remember?


Chuck Klosterman, whose written words about music have been consistently amazing for the better part of the past two decades, has turned a fun thought experiment into an essay for The New York Times: “Which Rock Star Will Historians of the Future Remember?” 

The basic premise: as time passes and history is coded into textbooks, only one (or maybe two) figures from any historical era are remembered as being great at any one thing, the rest tossed off to the periphery and swallowed by the sands of time. Hundreds of years from now, what will be the common understanding (if any) of rock music in the late 20th and early 21st centuries?

I imagine a college classroom in 300 years, in which a hip instructor is leading a tutorial filled with students. These students relate to rock music with no more fluency than they do the music of Mesopotamia: It’s a style they’ve learned to recognize, but just barely (and only because they’ve taken this specific class). Nobody in the room can name more than two rock songs, except the professor. He explains the sonic structure of rock, its origins, the way it served as cultural currency and how it shaped and defined three generations of a global superpower. He shows the class a photo, or perhaps a hologram, of an artist who has been intentionally selected to epitomize the entire concept. For these future students, that singular image defines what rock was.

So what’s the image?

The Beatles are an obvious starting point. Klosterman also tosses around the ideas of Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley as well as The Rolling Stones, although the artist he settles on at article’s end is the modern journalistic equivalent of an end-of-season TV show plot twist.

But what about metal? Will it be remembered at all by anyone outside of devoted music scholars? Or just lumped into rock as a whole, outshined by The Beatles or Stones or whoever?

One could make a compelling case for Metallica, who are without a doubt the most popular metal band ever to exist; even their band name embodies the genre, and if one were to ask random passers-by to name one metal band today, Metallica would probably be it. But the lens of today might not be the lens of the future. To choose Metallica would be to overlook metal’s theatricality, a crucial element to the body of work: perhaps in this regard a better choice might be Iron Maiden who, like Metallica, continue to fill stadiums decades into their career, with a visual flare that Metallica lack. Maybe Slipknot, who take that theatricality to a new level — and whose element of gore is also a key metal touchstone — could make it into the history books. To say nothing of Black Sabbath, who most people agree invented the genre, and who’s iconic frontman is a household name.

So, what say you? 300 years from now, which single metal band will make it into your grand-grand-grand-grand-grand-grand-grandkids’ history books?

Read the Klosterman essay here. It’s fantastic. Thanks to MetalGF for suggesting this one!

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