"Rock Is Dead"

Chad W. Lutz
People have been declaring the end of days since there were days to declare done. Evangelists Harold Camping and Herbert Armstrong both notoriously laid frequent claim to the idea the world was coming to an end, going so far as to make the bold statements on national stages. While many followed their predictions as dogma, most of the general populous considered the theories as crazy or baseless. Both men died without ever seeing the "end of the world."

When Alan Freed first coined the term "Rock N' Roll" in 1951, little was assumed about the longevity of the music genre. To the conservative majority at the time, Rock N Roll was a nuisance and a way for teenagers to misbehave or the general populous to get rowdy and break their moral codes. By the end of the 1950s, Rock N Roll was an epidemic. Elvis and Buddy Holly helped catapult the genre along with the likes of Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, and Bill Haley. The early sixties gave birth to a new consciousness, that of Rock N Roll as religion, with millions taking up the gospel and following its sounds wherever it might lead them, even if it was 2,000 miles from home.

In the mid-1960s, Rock N Roll hit what many consider a high water mark, and the rising steam reaching a critical mass with help from The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Byrds, The Kinks, The Hollies, Steppenwolf, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Doors, Bob Dylan, and Buffalo Springfield spread out across the world and then settled into its far-reaching crevices. By the last few years of that decade, many in the industry were already calling for the death of the genre. "Rock is dead", became about as commonplace a statement as "The End Is Nigh!" And by the 1970s, it was almost assumed the end was just around the corner.

In a 1972 interview with filmmakers during the filming of the documentary Live at Pompeii, which chronicled the recording of the now infamous Dark Side of the Moon as well as a concert performed in the Pompeii amphitheater, Pink Floyd front man and bassist Roger Waters spoke candidly about what he felt were bogus claims that the industry of Rock N Roll was going to fold. In the interview he said:

"When the great economic collapse happens, it's going to happen right across the board. But, I don't think rock and roll will go first. I mean, the market at the moment in rock and roll is expanding a phenomenal rate. People are constantly saying it: 'Rock's dying.' You know? Every six months someone says it, with enormous conviction! It's not gonna happen!"

At the center of the 1970s Rock N Roll scene was a band called KISS. If you knew anything about Rock N Roll during this time period, you knew who KISS was, even if you didn't like their music. Their iconic makeup and costumes and rabblerousing lyrics about staying out all night and partying until your face hits the floor instantly resonated with both youths and average listeners with tastes for catchy hooks and suggestive lyrics. And at the center of KISS was this behemoth bassist who would breathe fire and spit blood on crowds. Gene Simmons was every inch a part of the success of Rock N Roll in the 1970s, and helped paved the way for acts of the 1980s like Guns & Roses, Whitesnake, and Jon Bon Jovi.
Gene Simmons proclaims Rock N Roll is no more. (A&E)
But the spirit pulsating the City of Cleveland that brought Alan Freed to a fever pitch and the same spirit that guided KISS along through their stardom is dead according to the onetime Rock N Roll god. On September 4, 2014, Esquire published an interview with the former KISS band member conducted by Simmons' son Nick. In the interview, Gene detailed, elaborately, his accounts of why the genre is dead, saying:

"Don't quit your day job is a good piece of advice. When I was coming up, it was not an insurmountable mountain. Once you had a record company on your side, they would fund you, and that also meant when you toured they would give you tour support. There was an entire industry to help the next Beatles, Stones, Prince, Hendrix, to prop them up and support them every step of the way. There are still record companies, and it does apply to pop, rap, and country to an extent. But for performers who are also songwriters — the creators — for rock music, for soul, for the blues — it's finally dead."

Who does Simmons think is the culprit? You.

Part of Gene's interview discussed the hopes and dreams of today's youth and the would-be Rock Gods of tomorrow already set up for disaster because their "neighbors" are illegally downloading music and adding to the destruction of the industry, throwing guitars on the fire, if you will. But what about the sentiments of Roger Waters, who felt that with the advent of new technologies and the "expanding market" mentioned in the Pompeii interview, neither would ever allow for something like the Rock N Roll industry to die (save for total economic collapse)? There was a time Rock N Roll was so popular it moved John Lennon to make the claim The Beatles' popularity rivaled that of Jesus. So why the sudden change of heart in someone who was literally lapping up every opportunity Rock N Roll could provide a young man in the 1970s?

According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), an estimated 30 billion songs were illegally downloaded between 2004 and 2009. Another music industry watchdog, Frontier Economics, estimated counterfeit downloading of music results in as much as $20 million of profit loss annually.

Simmons continued to say: "To blame [changes in musical taste]…is silly. That was always the exciting part, after all: "What's next?" But there's something else…. The masses do not recognize file-sharing and downloading as stealing because there's a copy left behind for you — it's not that copy that's the problem, it's the other one that someone received but didn't pay for. The problem is that nobody will pay you for the 10,000 hours you put in to create what you created. I can only imagine the frustration of all that work, and having no one value it enough to pay you for it."

In response to Gene's sentiments, Foo Fighters front man Dave Grohl recently posted to the band's Facebook page basically calling the aging rocker's shots. A boisterous status, including the Esquire article, posted two days later merely said: "Not so fast, Mr. God of Thunder."
While Gene thinks Rock is dead, Dave Grohl holds other opinions. (
It appears as though the conflicting voices Roger Waters called attention to in 1972 may only stand as strong as the treble with which their thrown. Forty years is a long time for the chickens to never come to roost. Ink your way back through the 1990s with the birth of the alternative genre, the nu-metal and industrial genres of the 2000s, and the dubstep/rock crossover genres popping up in the last four or five years and its plain to see Rock N Roll is still around. Rock N Roll as a poodle skirt and greaser jacket phenomena might be dead. Most would probably argue the oompa pleasures of rock died in the 1960s. What we have today is a mature rock and violent rock; a self-aware rock that is patient as much as it is still seductively poisonous to the ear. It doesn't take a Facebook post by Dave Grohl to know that artists like Father John Misty, Gary Clark Jr., Bon Iver, and even pop-associated acts like Imagine Dragons still carry the same torch handed on from Holly to Hendrix to Harrison and the many other H acts since. The light might not shine as bright, but rhythms of the fires still move us in the same ways.

I wouldn't argue that illegal downloading hasn't hurt the entertainment industry. I've had many close friends who are artists shy away or feel buried under the immense pressures of knowing there are only independent labels to seek out and there is an extreme pecking order. The chances of your music personally blowing up overseas or becoming national hits on the radio are slim, but with the advents of YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify, and Pandora, there are literally millions of ways for artists to share their music with the masses, and that's not even including the obvious social media outlets Facebook and Twitter. Rock N Roll will live so long as people like Dave Grohl tend the light; so long as people like you and I still pick up guitars; and so long as the chunk and scratch of record needles still excites us as we gather around with friends and listen to our favorite songs, even as we face the forecast of the certain end of days.