BLOG: Gene should put his money where his mouth is

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"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."

Gene Simmons’s comments as reported by Andrew Roberts on Uproxx Music are very interesting.

By any measure, Gene is a genius at making a living out of rock’n’ roll – seen his house? Oh right, we all have, endlessly, on A&E. Seen his arena football team? Been to see him on the road this summer? Gene certainly knows how to squeeze a dollar out of an image. He reputedly squeezed a million out of registering the Monopoly logo and selling it back to Hasbro. No fool is our Gene.

Now, might I suggest that maybe the 2000 KISS Farewell Tour, that began in Phoenix in March of that year, might possibly have outrun its welcome? Outlived it’s ethic?

If it has, that would be a real shame. KISS on the road have the ability to bring along and help develop genuine new talent – like that band of youngsters from the UK, who they brought along this year - what’s their name? Oh right, Def Leppard.

Let me get to one observation. One of the many, many, reasons that the music business is in the condition it’s in is because of selfish greed. A greed on the part of labels, lawyers, and yes, bands. For one thing, most headliners are completely and solely focussed on maximizing their profits on the road. Have you seen contemporary ticket and merchandise prices?! Gene is not entirely wrong to decry music thieves. But that’s only one problem.

Greed is a personal choice and prerogative, but it’s a little disingenuous, on the one hand, to complain that downloading has killed a music form while not, on the other hand, making any conscious effort to give something back to that medium. By supporting worthwhile new talent for example.

Furthermore, the essence of rock’n’roll resides within the spirit of those who create it. At the least it’s the voice of the disenfranchised that honours the worth of every soul, not just those of the One Percent. Yes, even urchins from under the street are of equal value.

I rather wonder if cynics who are only in it for the money devalue that spirit and sense of purpose. I rather wonder if even an inebriated audience can sense that they are merely a cash cow for the posers on stage.

Gene observes that there was a golden period that pre-dates 1984. Well, thats rather obvious. From Freewheeling and Revolver, right up until the months of punk in ‘76 and ‘77, the form of rock music was forging new boundaries. The form has since then been somewhat defined. What has never been defined is the spirit and voices of the artists that have come since. Gene seems to have forgotten Guns N’ Roses, to name just one band, that has created a timeless legacy of a particular character since 1984. In fact the late 80s were a very prosperous music period, following the industry recession of 1980, and corporate formula became the stifling norm. But listen to Hair Nation today and much of that material is beginning to sound pretty good compared to contemporary label releases. Bet ya never thought you’d ever have that thought!

Whats more, I see 16,000 people come to Mayhem, in 110 degree Phoenix heat, in the name of rock’n’roll, to celebrate the small victories that the 99% sometimes get to enjoy. Now I’m not entirely convinced that all the bands on that bill are there for the same reason. My point, however, is that there is an audience that still hungers for the spirit of rock n roll to be expressed. There is still a hunger for the brotherhood, and sisterhood, of the medium. There’s still an urge to say ‘fuck you’ to The Man, to the machine.

Perhaps those who ride in limos and G5s and stay at Ritz Carltons are removed from that spirit. Perhaps for them it’s all about cash flow and overhead. Perhaps it’s survival for them to charge $35 for a t-shirt.

Perhaps the rock’n’roll One Percent have lost the plot, and by circumstance are no longer able to write anything that’s relevant to the audience.

I am surrounded by young musicians whose souls are afire with passion and sense of outrage at contemporary social conditions. They all have their own personality in their way of expressing their observations and attitudes. They have relevance in their compositions.

One thing they don’t have is headliners sharing their tours with them. Damn, you even have to pay to play in a mangy fuckin’ club.

It’s all rather short-sighted on the part of the promoters. If there are no worthwhile bands developing a connection with national audiences, then who’s going to headline in five or ten years? Fail to bring on the next wave and all your venues will be scrubland in the future, tumbleweed rolling in the aisles.

Furthermore, Irving Azoff’s company is apparently attempting to corner the market in the old 80s bands that still breathe, in order to control and exploit the nostalgia gigs and festivals. I have been told that his company has no intention of putting young talent on those bills. I hope that this is not the case.

My question for Gene is what are you in it for? Is it just the money, honey? Longevity for its own sake? Damn, Gene, roaches will probably outlive us all, just by their relentless permanence. Quality over quantity, always.

Los Angeles, the world’s music industry centre, has never firmly held the plot. It has always been exploitive and maybe greatness was an accidental byproduct of the music industry’s exploitation of the mundane and superficial in the interest of making corporate shareholders happy. One damned Katy Perry after another. Rock’n’roll is an outlaw attitude. Most of the time it was at loggerheads with the corporations that tried to harness it. Even someone like Eric Clapton did not have a career – he has a life. He follows his muse and instinct rather than employing an industrial calculation. By contrast, if I get one more freakin’ e-mail hawkin’ and shilling for Joe Bonamassa…

Does KISS represent that outlaw attitude? Or has it been a triumph of superficial image over substance? Of selling, as opposed to connecting? Merely an act? I dunno, and that’s for y’all to assess.

What I will say, is from where I sit, rock music is healthy. Every time I see Slash play I experience at least a couple of moments of genuine spontaneousness and unpredicted brilliance. He brings his soul and reveals it every night.

Its the industry, and certain attitudes, that are not healthy. Invest cynicism into the means and the method and cynicism will be the audience response.

Gene? Open a label again. Share your experience and expertise. Open an LA club that books on the basis of talent, rather than the ability to buy stage time. Put talent on your television shows. Take a fresh band on tour with you and allow them to break even. You’ve got the means and I have yet to see a hearse with a luggage rack.