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

Here's a chord

Oooo boy. Here we go again.

Gene Simmons–never a man short of opinions–has declared 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.



Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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

  • September 8, 2014 at 10:20 am

    I get what Gene is saying, but as usual, he doesn’t voice his opinions in a sensible way.

    He’s right on a few points. Young rock bands now do not have the same opportunities as he would had. And I think downloading has changed the way things are done.

    But rock being dead?

    Alive and well for sure.

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  • September 8, 2014 at 11:51 am

    But realize that “opportunity” that Gene is referring to was a very small, highly filtered opportunity. For every band that got a record contract hundreds more went without. Moreso, those hundreds of bands had little opportunity to making a self-produced record and having it get any widespread circulation.

    Today? The barrier to recording and releasing your music is a mere fraction of what it was 10-20 years ago. Most bands that manage to build up a small following through playing local gigs can make a recording and get it online. Just look at a site like BandCamp, how many thousands of artists on there would be able to get label deals? How many of them would have been able to record and release a professional level recording 10-20 years ago?

    Also, now it’s possible for a band to contract a company like One RPM to help with distribution and promotion.

    What it comes down to is this: today a band that wants to get themselves heard can do it, but they have to be a small business of their own. The days of letting the recording industry run your business for you are mostly over, or at least on the way out.

    Honestly, long term, it’s better this way. While it’s more competitive, there’s also more opportunity than there ever was with the recording industry acting as the sole arbiter of musical fates. Many artists are now finding that they can achieve a level of success that may not be equal to that of KISS, but still allows them to make a decent living doing what they love.

  • September 8, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    Alan, your attempt to disagree and underhandedly discredit Simmons was trumped by writing an entire blog post that AGREED with him! LOL! It’s as if though you “hate to agree with Gene Simmons…so I will…but, I won’t”

    Gene Simmons is 100% percent right. Rock music today *SUCKS*. When I was growing up in the 70s it wasn’t unusual to listen to the radio on any given day and get the Doobie Brothers “Takin’ it to the streets” followed by an entire side of Yes’ “Close to the Edge”, followed by a Beatles tune. All of that before a short commercial break.

    Today, it’s Gaga, Beiber and a few more idiots, like the Foo Fighters, some rap and back again to Gaga and Beiber.

    “Rock is dead they say”…..and they[Gene Simmons] aren’t wrong.

    • September 8, 2014 at 4:37 pm

      DP – is it that rock music sucks, or is it just that it’s not what you want to hear anymore? Musical tastes change over time. The audience for rock music has always been the teenagers and college students. I can point you to an indie label that is actually run by high / college students (check out Bayshore Records on BandCamp), they are producing and releasing exactly what they and their peers want to hear.

      I agree that pop / rock radio is a wasteland these days. It’s the sign of the dying industry trying to make itself relevant with a bunch of acts that really only appeal to pre-teens and the brain damaged.

      Gone are the days when the music that teens want to hear is on the radio. They’ve started taking the music in their own direction, and doing what they want, how they want.

    • September 11, 2014 at 5:50 pm

      and guess what, people in the generation before you listend to that shit and said “back in the day.. it was sam cook… elvis etc etc now it is that shitty kiss and doobie brothers”

      might as well go “baaa hum bug! youngins this days!!”

      Did you at least wear long sleeve shirts to cover up the liver spots?

  • September 8, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Alan, I think your answered it better. There was an era between 1965 and 2005 and it was awesome. Unfortunately now it’s over.

  • September 8, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    Have you seen what clubs pay these days? Unless you catch a break and get a marketing machine behind you, there is no making a living in rock and roll. It is haves or have nots – no in-betweens. And that will seriously diminish the pool that incubates the stars of the future. Yes, idiots like me will continue playing for the love of it, but it will be seriously discouraging for anyone who seeks to make a living of it. I think Gene has a bit of a point here…

  • September 8, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    Oh, and additionally, money WAS being made in the 50’s and 60’s – it just wasn’t getting to the artists. Unscrupulous middlemen were co-opting it.

  • September 8, 2014 at 6:30 pm

    There are plenty of bands out there making a decent living in Music. As Mr. Cross mentioned, they hit the road and sell concerts. I’m a jam band fan, and many of these bands put their music out there for free downloads (i.e.: audience recordings). When they are on the road, their concerts sell big. Then they have their catalog of Soundboard concert recordings which are sold outside the audience recordings. I’m sure they also have other sources of revenue which I’m not aware of.

    New world, new business model. Never thought much of Gene or Kiss, even though I did see them once around ’77.

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  • September 11, 2014 at 5:46 pm

    The problem here, are people ROMANTICIZING about something. Even in the article he used the fact that they have difficulty naming new “rockstars”

    But guess what, even if rock was dead.. Who cares? Why is that essential for music to continue on?

    You have got to have your rock and roll bias glasses to act like it really matters. He could have said “rascal flatts” and people will see them as a “rocking” band that happens to call itself country…

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