There’s so much going on in the NYMag piece its helpful to separate some points out:
#1 Being a musician is a shaky economic decision – this has always been the case. Even when people bought albums there were way more losers than winners. Plenty of seemingly successful acts back in the day were in debt up to their ears to their labels, lawyers etc… and most never even made it that far.
#2 The Internet/Piracy has turned the industry upside down – notice I didn’t say its made things worse because that’s not always the case. Sure, a lot of artists are losing out on a revenue stream, but would a band like Grizzly Bear be as popular as they are without a lot of people sampling them for free? I think even they would admit that’s doubtful.
#3 Succeeding in the indie rock world is incredibly tough – this is the first major genre of music that has come of age in the free all-you-can-eat-digital-buffet age. Audiences and the music “media” (thanks to blogs/comment boards there is now a huge overlap between the two) are fickle and have extremely short attention spans, therefore career cycles are incredibly compressed . There are lots of bands from other eras and genres that never got “huge” yet still tour and manage to eke out okay livings meanwhile half the acts on Pitchfork’s top 100 from just a few years ago are long forgotten. If Grizzy Bear played country, metal, reggae or something like that perhaps they could look forward to building a modest but loyal fan base that would stick with them for the long run and maybe even pay for their music even though its not really necessary anymore. In the indie world, its all they can do to hold on to the spotlight long enough to make the year-end lists.
I have to admit, I was really into hair metal bands when I was 12/13, and GNR blew them all away. Even the supposedly “good” acts like Motley Crue, Aerosmith etc… sounded like poseurs in comparison, I couldn’t listen to them any more.
The good thing was, I started branching out as a a result. I checked out some of the obvious Axl influences like Queen, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin … I wish I could say they got me into the New York Dolls or the Stooges but I wasn’t that sophisticated yet. When grunge and alternative came along I was much more receptive than I would have been otherwise.
Totally agree with the previous comment that Appetite did as much, if not more to kill hair bands than Nevermind.