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Modern rocking at heaven's door 

Pinning down the elusive element that defines an act as "new rock" is getting tougher than fitting candles onto 99X personality Jimmy Baron's birthday cake. The "grunge" and "alternative" bands that made up modern rock's starting roster have largely either gone extinct or imploded into caricatures of themselves. Since the Foo Fighters, Jane's Addiction and the Red Hot Chili Peppers can't keep churning out second-rate material forever, what's a new-rock station to do?

The question is especially relevant considering that the format's second wave -- loud rock and nu-metal -- has also tanked of late. This year, Metallica and Limp Bizkit both released what should, with any justice, be career-ending albums: St. Anger and Results May Vary have so grossly misjudged their target audiences' loyalty and schlock thresholds that both bands' pop-cultural capital appears all but spent. (And let's face it, bands like Three Doors Down and Linkin Park can't be far behind.) Sure, there's still Nickelback and Evanescence product available to fill space between commercials, but 99X, for one, has already started airlifting emo bands (Thursday), retro novelty acts (The Darkness) and even hip-hop trailblazers (OutKast) onto its playlist. Apparently, "new rock" now simply refers to whatever currently appeals to white high-school kids (and scares off squeamish Star 94 listeners).

What's the answer? Our modest proposal: Look to your elders. The bar for what's considered "oldies music" has already been lowered to include '70s and '80s acts. Assuming the "nostalgiafication" of the '90s is right around the corner, modern-rock stations could re-purpose their playlist as "New Classic Rock" -- "tomorrow's oldies today." By abandoning all pretense to the cutting-edge, modern-rock stations like 99X could find themselves spearheading a new format that admits to what it really is: a staging ground for 96 Rock-type playlists of tomorrow.

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