For those of you who might’ve missed it, Gene Simmons of the illustrious Kiss recently revealed in an Esquire interview that “Rock is dead” and apparently has been for some time. But, before you mourn, let’s look at his evidence and attempt to find a pulse…
Gene’s logic progresses thusly:
1) Pre-1985, it wasn’t difficult for a budding rock group to attract the attention of a major record company
2) These companies were then able to protect the band’s artistic integrity, as well as promote their music in the appropriate venues
3) This promotion allowed rock acts to continue to write superior albums, that were then promoted, purchased by fans, whose money would fund more albums, ad infinitum
4) HOWEVER, with the growing popularity of music piracy, record companies are loathe to sign acts that won’t earn money outside of album sales
5) Most musicians who make money outside of albums are pop acts
6) Rock is dead; sell your guitar, and audition for The X-Factor
While I can follow his argument, I find it flawed. First, and potentially least importantly, to suggest that record companies, pre-1980’s, were focused primarily on artist integrity is inaccurate. It isn’t hard to come up with a dozen classic rock tracks lamenting the oppression of the music industry, from Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar” to Billy Joel’s “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” In the capitalist system Gene Simmons praises in his interview, a record label’s first, most important goal is to make money – even at the expense of artistic integrity if need be. In fact, Dee Snyder’s rebuttal suggests that if rock was dead, it would be the fault of the greedy labels, and not music piracy. It is also important to note that Gene’s measure of success seems to be derived solely from an artist’s ability to make a living from your art. While this is a valid measure of success (and one of the few measures of success you can put numbers on), it is in no way the only way to denote a successful artist. In fact, it might be more accurate to say a musician who makes enough money to live is a professional musician, and not necessarily a successful one. Even still, using Gene’s financial measure of success, someone better tell U2 that rock is dead – and therefore their $100 million deal with iTunes might no longer be valid.
He also illustrates that it is easier to come up with important, persisting musical acts (rock or otherwise) from 1953 to 1983 than it is from 1984 to 2014. I find it unfair to attempt to make that comparison. You can’t figure out who will continue to be relevant ten or twenty years down the road – those predictions just don’t work. How many people were disappointed in their HD DVD players or Betamax tapes or Atari Lynxs or other “the next big things” that didn’t last? Gene suggests it’s easy to come up with 100 artists that continue to be praised from over thirty years ago is because we can clearly stand here and look back on that time. Even still, his slim list of only one post-‘83, continually relevant band is still grossly underrepresented. From The Red Hot Chili Peppers to The White Stripes to Metallica, there are a number of rock groups that have already emerged as “classics,” not to mention other, non-pop, post-’83 legends (I spent most of last week’s driving time listening to the 20th anniversary of Straight Outta Compton, and no one can deny the relevance of Daft Punk).
Rock isn’t dead; it’s merely evolved into something that Gene doesn’t recognize. The focus of today’s rock musicians isn’t financial success, as much as creating great art and sharing it with the public. In lieu of major record deals, artists are looking to Bandcamp or Soundcloud or even Youtube as promotional tools. If you want to find rock that’s alive, you need not look farther than the internet – a number of good rock acts are self-publishing modern masterpieces in their basements and garages in a “Do-it-Yourself” manner more emblematic of the rebellious rock and roll nature. In fact, if it were not for the internet, the three young preteens of Brooklyn’s Unlocking the Truth would’ve never been invited to Fun Fun Fun Fest, Coachella, and the Vans Warped Tour.
Gene, rock might be different from what it once was, but it is not dead – not by a long shot. The old road is rapidly fading, and if you aren’t prepared to lend a hand, don’t bother commenting on the new one.