Montreat writer looks for the ‘real’ rock ‘n’ roll

Joanne O'Sullivan
The Asheville Scene

For music fans of a certain generation, April 5, 1994, lives indelibly in the memory. It was the day Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain died of a heroin overdose. How a grunge band from Seattle had come to enjoy such universal success and how that fame undid Cobain wasn’t the result of a few huge albums, but rather a sea change in the music business, reflecting everything from the corporate consolidation of record companies and commercial radio stations.

Local author and Montreat College communications director Adam Caress puts this chapter of rock history into a perspective that reaches back into the ’60s and forward into the present day in his new book “The Day Alternative Music Died: Dylan, Zeppelin, Punk, Glam, Alt, Majors, Indies and the Struggle Between Art and Money for the Soul of Rock.”

Caress was a touring musician with a Boston-based band called the Troubadours and later co-founded the online music journal Mule Variations (now on hiatus). He later worked as a booking agent for many years and now teaches in the music business program at Montreat College in addition to being its director of communications.

Participating in the industry in so many different roles formed his view on how the business of music has evolved in recent decades. He acknowledges the continual back-and-forth tension between the artistic and commercial aspects, groups the turning points he has identified thematically: Art vs. Money in Rock Music (1965-1991), Alternative Nation and Rock Music for a Millennium.

Taking a social history approach, Caress blends research on specific bands and even specific songs with findings on broader trends — notably, that with the post-Nirvana rise of male-led “alternative” bands such as Bush and Green Day also marginalized women (such as Tori Amos) for a long stretch.

Throughout his exploration of genres and eras, he hews closely to the question of art versus commerce, even as we enter the age of digital music, where fans can curate their own musical selections and artists can ostensibly reach their fans directly.

By looking back in time, Caress says, he’s not trying to be nostalgic or opine the good old days when the music business was less complex. “I think right now is one of the best eras in music. There’s so much great stuff going on.”

But for those who want to look deeper at how the music business got to where it is today, “The Day the Alternative Music Died” unpacks the many layers of entanglement between commercial and artistic aspirations and the ways artists continually respond to changes.

Rock unsteady

Adam Caress will discuss “The Day Alternative Music Died” at 7 p.m. Aug. 6 at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe, 55 Haywood St., Asheville. For more, visit malaprops.com or call 254-6734.