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.