Today I was trying to determine if the sphere of influence from which the indie/alternative/punk rock genres are drawn could be reduced to a handful of bands. This mental exercise has been more difficult than I suspected. With music, there is not a Latin root, a Martin Luther, or an Immanuel Kant. Rather, the task is like staring out at the ocean and trying to figure out what swell constitutes the first wave.
If I think about the various and most prominent sects of alternative rock—metal, folk, pop, indie, garage—I suppose I could come up with a list of corresponding progenitors. But can it really all be traced back to Black Sabbath, Graham Parsons, Elvis Costello, The Beach Boys, and Led Zeppelin? If so, we are still lacking rhythm, and thus the root of other offshoots like post-punk, industrial, or eletronica. Maybe we need to add Bo Diddley to the list or Lee "Scratch" Perry. But it still doesn't seem right.
A few years ago it felt like every band was the offspring of Gang of Four, Joy Division, and The Cure. Then the lineage switched over to Bruce Springsteen and the Talking Heads. But even those artists, maybe with the exception of Springsteen, didn't feel far enough back in the family tree.
Then again, a lot of the most influential bands probably drew their influences from the cracks and crevices, from old 45s and rare LPs. They discovered Soft Machine and Love, Jackie Mittoo, and Anne Briggs. They chose Sparks over Queen, Blue Cheer over Cream, and The Left Banke over The Rolling Stones.
So, my attempt to reduce the scope of musical influence to five bands was a failed one. Plus, it gave me a headache (though it did prompt interesting discussions with some friends). If all bands sprung from the same few sources we would have only derivative sounds as opposed to inventive ones. It would be Wolfmother instead of Wolf Parade, Darkness instead of Lightning Bolt, and so forth and so on.
Though it would be strange if after much research it all boiled down to someone like Neil Diamond. Thankfully, it does not.
Enjoy your weekend.