Gene Simmons has once again made headlines declaring the death of rock-n-roll. In an interview in Esquire Magazine (with his son Nick Simmons), the Kiss bassist blamed the dying music industry and illegal downloading/file sharing for creating the current landscape that musicians have to navigate. Indeed the current state of rock music and its place in the music industry is fairly grim. However to declare it dead is, in my view, erroneous.
Simmons is correct in his statements illegal downloading has led to the music industry lacking the power it once had. This in turn results in the industry that’s left relying on safer bets: pop and rap which are very popular and country which in addition to popularity also has an audience more likely to buy albums. It’s true that it might be difficult for people to think of bands in the past 20 years that are truly iconic. It’s also true that in our current society there is (sadly) a lack of respect for artists and their work.
However does all this mean that rock is dead? I don’t believe this is the case. The more likely scenario is that rock (and music as a whole) is evolving. This evolution is leading to bands that may not fill stadiums like Kiss but are just as well loved by their fans and are still able to make music their career.
Some factors that Simmons failed to take into account for the current state of rock music is a cultural fragmentation of sorts and a fragmentation of rock music itself. In the period he lauds as the time where many classic bands came into being (from about 1958-1983) there was a more homogenous culture. It was a time where there were only a few channels on television and where the idea of the internet would have sounded like something out of “The Jetsons.” It was easy for rock bands to be propelled to a mass audience because they had “The Ed Sullivan Show”, “American Bandstand,” and other similar programs that everybody watched (perhaps because it was one of a few choices). Now however, with hundreds of channels on television and millions of websites artists don’t necessarily have that same platform for immediate exposure to a mass audience. In some ways this might be beneficial (one can argue that artists today have many different platforms they can utilize) though I will concede that it can feel at times like shouting into a wind tunnel.
Another issue is that the genre of rock music has become very fragmented as well. This isn’t new; in the early and mid-sixties there were clashes between mods, who favored the sounds of bands like The Who, and rockers who stayed loyal to the rockabilly sounds of the fifties. In the late sixties and seventies we saw the growth of numerous subgenres including psychedelic rock, heavy metal, southern rock, glam rock, punk, new wave, etc. However nowadays there are so many different subgenres (just think of how many types of metal alone that there are) that it’s hard to pinpoint one band that defines rock as a whole. Is rock represented by the radio friendly pop sound of Fall Out Boy and Maroon 5? The retro vintage sound of Wolfmother, The Black Keys and the music of Jack White and his various groups? Is it the neo-psychedelic sounds of The Flaming Lips, the folk-rock sound of The Avett Brothers or the dark metal/grunge sound of Five Finger Death Punch? While this fragmentation of the genre certainly might make it hard to talk about a band defining rock in the way The Beatles or The Rolling Stones did, it goes to show that there is still a lot of rock music out there and a lot of rock music fans. They just might not listen to the same stations or have the same music in their iTunes libraries.
Thus, despite the continuing challenges that up and coming bands may face, rock music is far from dead. In fact, it’s just the opposite, very much alive and continuing to evolve and expand. The rock bands of the future may have more challenges to face and more of a niche audience then the bands of the past. However, in the words of AC/DC, “Rock-n-roll, it will survive.”
Bibliography and Works Cited
Simmons, Nick. “Gene Simmons: ‘Rock Is Finally Dead'” Esquire.com Article. Esquire, 04 Sept. 2014. Web. 06 Sept. 2014. .