"Rock is Dead" and Other Bedtime Stories

Gene Simmons (Bassist and guiding light for the band KISS, in case there are youngsters reading this post) keeps beating the drum that "Rock is Dead (and the fans killed it)". The assertion (as I read it) is that because folks can't make money in the streaming age like they did in the halcyon days of the 1970s that the musical form known as "Rock" has been somehow dispatched by its fans. Also, Gene laments, there's no new Bob Dylan or Jimi Hendrix to take the place of the old stars.

This is a pretty mercantile and myopic view of Rock Music. True, the days where bands could make it big and sell out every seat of a large sporting arena are pretty much done, but i think the main issue that Gene is describing is related to how wide-spread our culture has become online and not a factor of Rock Music (or any music) being "dead". Rather, it's more diffuse, and in order to find the gems you have to pay more attention.

Before the Internet there were only a handful of outlets for finding new music: Television (American Bandstand, Soul Train, America's Top 40, and eventually MTV), Radio (depending on your market you either had a plethora of stations or barely one), and "word of mouth" (aka recommendations, tape-trading, and the like). These fountains of musical knowledge were our shared culture. If a band made it big then all of the stations would parrot that to some degree (regional-preferences notwithstanding). That song / artist would then permeate into the shared culture. The Internet obliterated TV and Radio. Instead of having some program director tell you what you might like you got to experience it for yourself. This works well for allowing bands that otherwise wouldn't have a chance to be noticed, but it does poorly for making mega-stars like Michael Jackson and the Beatles. Not everyone is paying attention to the same sources anymore. As a result you have bands that are being noticed, but not to the degree that they did in the 1960s and 1970s.

This is good if you're a band that would otherwise be passed over, but it's not-so-great if you're still pining for the 1970s and 1980s ability to mint rock stars.

This is a problem that has plagued many of the publishing companies that were used to controlling the funnel of taste. Because folks have routed around the funnel they no longer depend on finding the tastemakers of publishing in order to get heard. But that also means there are tons of bands all over the globe that can now be heard. As someone who has put together music podcasts this is a boon for discovery, but lousy for a band to achieve anything more than cult status. If I were to pick out the bands that have permeated into the larger consciousness I'd have about a handful that I could recite from the top of my head.

But does this mean that Rock is dead? Hardly. The business of flogging Rock records may be taking a hit but the music is still vibrant and alive. You just have to pay more attention to find the tasty bits.

(That said I think Rock Radio definitely needs to become dangerous again. It's become complacent and happy to regurgitate the catalog. In that regard it's akin to Classical and Jazz: play the hits, and forget the more adventurous crap. That's a shame, and I hope that changes sometime soon. But I'm not holding my breath.)