Response to Gene Simmons: “Rock Is Dead”

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THIS EDITORIAL WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED THROUGH TAYLOR MARKARIAN’S GRIMM ROCK REVIEW AND IS RE-PUBLISHED HERE VIA THE AUTHOR’S CONSENT.

“Rock ‘n’ roll” is a heavy phrase. It carries with it sex, drugs, death, youthful rebellion, dreams made and dreams broken, all culminating in a unique spirit that has all but become synonymous with America itself. Unfortunately, folks, it’s all over.

Gene Simmons told us the bad news on September 4th in an interview with Esquire— “Rock is finally dead.” So all of you up-and-coming’s out there can pack your bags, clip on a tie, and major in finance, because none of what you’re doing matters. The kids lined up around the block hours before the show can go home. Warped Tour? Mayhem Fest? Shut ‘em down. And all of those band t-shirts in your closet can be sewn into a nice dark quilt for grandma because there’s just no arguing with Gene.

Really, who are we to point out that Warped tour garnered $23.4 million last year and is the longest running musical festival in the country (Billboard Magazine)? Or that numerous acts such as My Chemical Romance, Green Day, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blink-182, The Foo Fighters, and The Used have become landmarks of rock and of American pop culture post-1983, the year Simmons demarcated as the last of true “musical anythings that are iconic, that seem to last beyond their time”? How can we dare to worship albums like Senses Fail’s Let It Enfold You or Taking Back Sunday’s Tell All Your Friends 10 years after their release? And what miscreant keeps plastering the words “sold out” on almost any venue hosting Asking Alexandria, Pierce the Veil, Lamb of God, or Avenged Sevenfold?

The answers to these snarky questions are multi-dimensional and interconnected. In all seriousness, Gene Simmons is partly right. That amorphous, umbrella term—“Rock”—is dead, in that its dozens of subgenres have made it relatively meaningless. No one can be just a rock band anymore, because it’s simply too broad. What are you? Metal? But what kind of metal? Thrash, Nu, Black, Death? Are you hardcore? Meaning, are you post-hardcore, hardcore punk? The lists and divisions go on and on.

Another reason Gene Simmons is right is the same reason that he is laughably, infuriatingly wrong. His definition is limited. He equates rock with acts like (what a shock) Kiss, The Beatles, The Stones, and U2. For him, rock is dead because it is no longer main stage. The arena shows are reserved for Justin Bieber. Radio time is given to endless repeats of the latest Katy Perry club mix.

Well—and let me be as professional and eloquent as possible here—DUH! It’s 2014, not 1980. (And it’s not 2008 either, by the way. The “file-sharing” argument is not news. So if Gene Simmons was going to announce the vicious murder of music, meaning all music, it should have been during the golden age of Limewire, not in 2014 during an LP revival.) The technology has changed, the entertainment market has expanded, and the media is over-saturated. Of course when we develop new electronic gadgets every five minutes the mainstream sounds of our generation are going to be pop, hip-hop, and EDM-centric. The enormous technological shift finds its echo in a shifting cultural paradigm, so it makes sense that the gritty, raw texture of Beartooth is going to be passed over for smooth, shiny, easily-digestible Deadmau5 nine times out of 10.

But does that make all rock music irrelevant and the victim of senseless slaughter? Of course not. To stand by such an assertion would be flagrant and ludicrous reductionism. All genres have their time in the spotlight, and if we’re being true to the meaning of rock, the “underground” is exactly where it should be right now anyway.

“The meaning of rock.” What’s that? It’s a question that can engender thousands of answers, but if we’re speaking historically, rock is fundamentally counterculture. Rock always needs something to resist. Whether it be The Sex Pistols or Bob Dylan, rockers of all branches have been “anti—” and controversial for decades. They even oppose each other.

On the other hand, rock is and has been one of the most uniting forces the world has ever known. It provides much needed respite for the world-weary, the angst-ridden, the broken-hearted. Kids who might otherwise have wanted out of this life decided to stick around because of that one chorus in that one A Day To Remember song.

So we pick up our guitars. We set up our kits. We plug in our amps and attempt to dial them past 10 even if we won’t ever book Madison Square Garden, because house parties and club venues and even empty basements are just as good. We don’t scream the lyrics for the money. To paraphrase a Dangerkids song, we do it because “there is something in us that won’t leave us alone.”

So, in the spirit of all that is rock ‘n’ roll: Fuck you. Rock is alive and well.

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