So What’s This About Rock Finally Being Dead? I Beg to Disagree, Gene Simmons [UPDATE]

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Here's a chord

Oooo boy. Here we go again.

Gene Simmons–never a man short of opinions–has declare rock to be dead in an interview with Esquire. I quote:

Rock is finally dead.I am so sad that the next 15-year-old kid in a garage someplace in Saint Paul, that plugs into his Marshall and wants to turn it up to ten, will not have anywhere near the same opportunity that I did. He will most likely, no matter what he does, fail miserably. There is no industry for that anymore. And who is the culprit? There’s always the changing tide of interests — music taste changes with each generation. To blame that is silly. That was always the exciting part, after all: “What’s next?” But there’s something else. The death of rock was not a natural death. Rock did not die of old age. It was murdered. And the real culprit is that kid’s 15-year-old next-door neighbor, probably a friend of his. Maybe even one of thebandmates he’s jamming with. The tragedy is that they seem to have no idea that they just killed their own opportunity — they killed the artists they would have loved. Some brilliance, somewhere, was going to be expressed, and now it won’t, because it’s that much harder to earn a living playing and writing songs. No one will pay you to do it.The masses do not recognize file-sharing and downloading as stealing because there’s a copy left behind for you — it’s not that copy that’s the problem, it’s the other one that someone received but didn’t pay for. The problem is that nobody will pay you for the 10,000 hours you put in to create what you created. I can only imagine the frustration of all that work, and having no one value it enough to pay you for it.It’s very sad for new bands. My heart goes out to them. They just don’t have a chance. If you play guitar, it’s almost impossible. You’re better off not even learning how to play guitar or write songs, and just singing in the shower and auditioning for The X Factor. And I’m not slamming The X Factor, or pop singers. But where’s the next Bob Dylan? Where’s the next Beatles? Where are the songwriters? Where are the creators? Many of them now have to work behind the scenes, to prop up pop acts and write their stuff for them.

He makes some interesting points and goes on to make a few more, but this is “read is dead” lament has all the elements of crying wolf when there’s only a chihuahua running about. And it’s not like we haven’t heard this bullshit before:

  1. 1957: Death: Elvis goes into the army.  Counteraction: The Beatles
  2. 1969: Death: The debacle of Altamont. Reality: An isolated incident.
  3. 1970: Death: The Beatles break up.  Resolution: Led Zeppelin, the Stones reach their zenith.
  4. 1972-75: Death: The awful music dominating AM radio. Fixed by: punk.
  5. 1976-79: Death: The unstoppable advance of disco. The truth: a fad.
  6. 1977:  Death: Punk arrives. Yes, there were plenty of people who believed that punk was the death of rock’n’roll. The fix: Er, punk.
  7. 1980-83: Death: The rise of techno-pop and synthesizer-based modern music. “Guitar bands are dead!” What happened? Eventual peaceful co-existence.
  8. 1984-1989: Death: The Whitney Houston/New Kids on the Block years. Resurrection: Grunge.
  9. 1997: Death: Turntables start outselling guitars and more kids get into DJing.  “Hip-hop is the new youth music!” Life after death: Indie rock
  10. 2001: Death: Napster. It is risen: Acceptance and eventual exploitation of new technologies.
  11. 2009: Death: Justin Bieber et al. Life: Seriously? People think that Bieber is killing rock?
  12. 2012: Death: The explosion of EDM.  Honestly? Detente. Another option for music fans.

Here’s another spin on Gene’s opinions. He’s right in the sense that rock ain’t what it used to be–if you look at the period between, say, 1965 and 2005. During that time, it was possible for an artist to make a gajillion dollars from selling music and concert tickets. But that time frame was an anomaly in the overall all history of music.

Before 1965, artists made their money as working musicians, which meant playing live whenever they cold and taking jobs wherever the work led them. It was only after the star-making machinery of the popular song began to ramp up (and the corporatization of the industry that came soon after) that artists began to make serious money from transactions involving pieces of plastic.  We’re simply going back (okay, backwards to some) to the way things used to be for musicians.

Yes, rock isn’t the cultural force it used to be. There are so many other genres and entertainment distractions leading people away from rock (examples: food, tech, gadgets). And yes, the music industry has done a shitty, shitty job of creating new rock’n’roll superstars this century, acts that we’ll still be listening to in twenty years and filling stadiums on their reunion tours. Seriously bad.  We’ve got Arcade Fire, Jack White, Coldplay, Muse and…um.  Give me a minute…

But that’s also comparing apples and oranges. In the 60s, 70s and 80s, rock was THE thing, THE voice of youth and THE vehicle for rebellion.  Today, it’s just one of many such things. Add in elements such as multi-culturalism, the instant access to millions of songs via the Internet and the diminished influence of the traditional cultural gatekeepers (radio, video channels, record stores, music magazines and, of course, record labels) and no wonder the environment for rock is so different. The competition is fierce. In other words, Gene, yes, the old rock business is dead (or at least dying) but rock itself is just fine.

The truth is that kids are still discovering the glory of three chords and an attitude. And you’ll never kill that.

 

UPDATE: Dave Grohl is on my side in this one. Here’s his response to Gene.

 

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