Rock is Dead. Seriously? Open your ears, man!

Commentary by Steve Baldwin

So Gene Simmons of Kiss has declared rock and roll is dead. To be fair, he had a few good points. There will never be another Dylan or Beatles. The era of the rock and roll gods making millions from society’s youth alone is indeed dead. Also gone is the power of the record company executive to determine an artists’ fate in the business. Add to this equation that people have been declaring rock dead since Elvis left the building to join the army.

Rock isn’t dead. Hell, Guitar Center just opened a new store in Times Square. Young people still want to play, form bands, turn it up to 11, and rock out together. The desire to make music — whatever we happen to call it — will never die. But yes, the peculiar economics of the pre-Internet music business — and the decadent “rock lifestyle” that this system supported for guys like Simmons — is extinct, and I say “good riddance.” It’s high time that young people become disabused of the absurd notion that they ever had any chance to “make it” in a business that’s always been stacked against them. If I sound cynical it’s because the best rocking bands I ever heard failed to make it — (i.e. Big Star, Badfinger) and that was over 30 years ago, back in the “golden era” that Simmons nostalgically celebrates.

I’ve seen my share of young people burn out and actually die on the alter of an unholy illusion fostered by the music business — the illusion that they could ever “make it.” The only guys who benefited from this rotten system were club owners, producers, drug dealers, and other zombies feeding off of young musicians’ blood. They’re all gone now, and that’s a very good thing. And please spare me your crocodile tears about that 15-year old kid in St. Paul who’ll never “make it.” That young person is better off focusing on a career path that’s actually sustainable than wallowing in obsolete rock dreams.

Once you take the money — and your beloved “business” out of the equation — you can easily separate the real artists — the ones who actually have something to say — from the poseurs who simply go through the motions because there’s a paycheck and a blowjob at the end of the night. Maybe this 15-year old kid in St. Paul will never play an arena, or tour the world, or own 300 guitars, or pay alimony to three wives, but he’ll own his own soul and be his own man — not a pathetic lapdog of the corporate music state. He will, in other words, keep on rocking, while the poseurs — who as Frank Zappa noted “are only in it for the money” — will justly fade into petulant obscurity.


The Rolling Stones celebrate their 50th anniversary

You know, if someone had told me 30 years ago that the Rolling Stones would still be touring today, I would’ve laughed at them. As the Rolling Stones launch their “50 and Counting” Tour, it’s worth noting that 2013 seems to have brought with it a clear shift in the cultural zeitgeist in which vintage musicians such as the Stones, Bowie, Rod Stewart, Dylan, Lou Reed, and Ozzy Osbourne are being embraced instead of being subject to ridicule and scorn “for being too old.” For those of us who believe that music – not smooth-skinned celebrity and youth – is what really matters, one can only say “welcome back my friends to the show that never ends!

Willie Wisely says “No more albums”

I have a busy week planned (with IPO NYC coming up any day now) and I get this news from Willie Wisely’s blog basically saying  that albums are “too hulking, too far between, too all consuming” and “the whole thing is too painfully putzy to be enjoyed any longer.” So he’ll be making singles and EPs from now on. While I love a great single, and lots of people cherry pick from an LP – any one who grew up loving the long-play format will loathe its demise.

And while Bob Lefsetz may disagree, in music there is nothing better than listening to a great concept album beginning to end. Think about Dark Side of The Moon or Who’s Next. And while most albums are not worthy of that greatness, I wouldn’t want to discourage artists from trying. It’s like the 5-course prix fixe restaurant going out of business because Chipotle moved next door.

Above is a writing session demo for the first new single, Willie goes back and forth with power-pop favorite, Cliff Hillis.

Scott Miller passes away

Sadly, Scott Miller passed away on April 15, 2013.  Scott Miller has released more than a dozen albums with his bands Game Theory and the Loud Family, and his music has been described as “a cross between Alex Chilton, James Joyce, and the Electric Prunes” (Stereo Review) and “smart, funny, and instantly memorable” (Rolling Stone). Miller was a brilliant songwriter who’s biggest impact was during the 80’s, mixing both powerpop and new wave to craft a memorable catalog of albums. Some of these are being made public on the Loud Family website.

In addition to being a musician, Scott was an author of an insightful book Music: What Happened? In the sample chapter he describes how he found Seth Swirsky’s “Watercolor Day” –

“Certainly the Internet has changed how people find out about music, and one novelty there for my methods is what I’ll call canon triangulation. Searching around for the best new songs, I’ll do a web search on several songs that I consider indicators of good ears, and see what else is on those people’s list, and so on. I found “Watercolor Day” that way, I think on a site I want to credit with being associated with Audities, though I see I’m not able to repeat the search today.”

I can only hope that he was talking about — but aside from that I hope people honor Scott by playing his music today. I know I will.