Sunday, November 02, 2014

Rock, RIP

As I'm sure most people who would end up here know, Gene Simmons, professional asshole, has declared that "Rock is finally dead."

Yeah, it was almost two months ago and I would have as much as forgotten it if there weren't still responses coming in.

Joe Perry, of the former rock band Aerosmith and formerly of the criminally underrated Joe Perry Project, said, "I think he’s right in the sense that this whole era of rock & roll has dwindled down to literally a cottage industry."

Dee Snider, of, or formerly of, Twister Sister, said "Yes, the rock & roll 'business model' that helped Kiss (and my band for that matter) achieve fame and fortune is most certainly long dead and buried, but rock & roll is alive and well and thriving on social media, in the streets, and in clubs and concert halls all over the world. And the bands playing it are more genuine and heartfelt than ever because they are in it for one reason: the love of rock & roll."

Weirdly, despite how we go about putting it, we all kind of agree, don't we?

We can fuss over the details, and there's some good details to fuss over, but yes, thirty-odd years after punk rock set about trying to kill the dinosaurs that preceded it, I think they are slowly falling and there isn't a lot ready to take the place. What's the era of the last group of rock bands that can tour arenas and charge $100+ a ticket? Early '00s maybe? I'm not sure who that might be, but that sounds right.

My question is, was that ever a good thing? Was that ever a "rock & roll" thing? I remember is being a big argument in the '70s and '80s, but that kind of died out and we all learned to accept that seeing big rock bands at big arenas was what you did. And then bands like The Eagles started making you pay extremely high ticket prices along with your shitty seat and shitty sound.

I spent 20-odd years grouchy that I never saw the David Lee Roth led Van Halen in 1984. In 2007, on their reunion tour, there were a number of reasons I absolutely could not make it work, although money was certainly the top of the list. But, without that issue, working steadily and all of that, excited about a solid new album, I was ready to make it happen in 2012.

Somehow, looking at the prices and what I was getting for them, I opted to stay home. I'd have paid those kinds of prices to see Van Halen specifically, and probably a couple of bands I have a similar high regard for, in a large theater. I'd also, in only a couple of cases at this point, consider paying something like half the prices being charged to see them in a shitty arena from lousy seats with lousy sound.

That's not me complaining about how Van Halen, Kiss or The Rolling Stones go about their process. It's simply me, making a decision about what is a valuable use of my time and money, having some experience using it in various ways over the years.

It's how capitalism works.

As long as enough people want to see those kinds of shows enough to pay those kinds of prices, they will keep putting them on and making that kind of money. I don't begrudge them that.

It does, of course, also mean, if other people start joining me in staying home, we're not killing rock, we're making a decision. In fact, some of us might even be specifically shifting our spending dollars to more small bands, local shows and such. When we're at those shows, we might feel more of the energy and spirit that attracted us to rock & roll in the first place. Yes, all that stuff that Dee Snider said. Don't think I didn't notice that.

It feels to me that when Simmons says "Rock is dead", he's talking about the part of rock I wasn't that happy about it anyway.

Lady Gaga and Katy Perry make more sense to me in an arena to me. I suppose another rock fan might mean that as a dismissal of those performers, and I don't mean it that way. I do mean that they're welcome to that and, I suspect there will always be a place for that kind of spectacle, but it might not always involve distorted guitars.

I don't care what it involves, because I'm not especially interested in it.

What do I think about the possibilities for future musicians in terms of making a living or, we'd hope in special cases, do better than that?

This is no small thought for me. I have musician friends and more than that a music obsessed toddler that I'd like to be able to dream could make a success of himself in that, if it continues to be something he's interested in.

Here we see the stories about the death of platinum records all around, which people see as the musical apocalypse. We have David Byrne, formerly of Talking Heads, telling us "The internet will suck all creative content out of the world."

Maybe he's right.

I don't know.

Let me say this. I have a dream for Kim and I. I'd love it if between us we could make twice what we make now from self-directed creative work. It's a modest amount, I promise. I'd be happy to make that solid committed goal. But we could augment that with seasonal work, outside our self-directed creative work, too.

And I wouldn't make that a final goal, if we reached it, but I'd be ecstatic if we reached it and never exceeded it. I think I'd be happy if Conan were able to earn something in that range.

I live in Austin now, which bills itself as the Live Music Capitol of the World. People make money playing music here all over without ever becoming ZZ Top

(And, yes, I know they're from Houston.)

I know that with streaming services like Pandora and especially Spotify, I'm able to listen to a lot of things I wouldn't have before.

As examples off the top of my head, I've been listening to Honkeyfinger and The Detroit Cobras, both of whom were recommended to me by Spotify, based on my listening.

I've been listening to more of The Melvins than I'd gotten around to before, including side projects, etc., and found out how fucking awesome they are, when before I had merely liked them casually. That led me to finally checking out Fu Manchu, who I'd been skeptical of, but I really, really dig now.

Now I'm recommending Daikaiju and Betty Davis, both of which I have paid for physical media of, and Lexington, a fantastic jazz album by the great Wayne Kramer. Now, you can check them out, now matter how skeptical of my taste you might be.

How many of those would I have found through other means? I don't know. When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I spent a lot of time and money finding all of the music I might like. It took a lot of time and a lot of money.

As other things filled in the amount of time and money I had to spare, less went into finding new and interesting groups. I learned some, of course, from people around and happening upon articles in local newspapers and social media, but not as much and not as often.

Me learning less new bands is good for Gene Simmons. I already know his band. As I've detailed, I already like his band. The old way is better for him, worse for me.

The new way is better for me as a listener. Is it better for smaller bands? I think that's the question we're still learning the answer to. Some people have a lot of grand hopes and horrifying fears, which are both almost certainly wrong, because things very rarely turn out as good or as bad as the most extreme prognosticators tell us they will.

So, for me, who dreams of making a middle class living through art and maybe dreams the same for his so, which system sounds like it has more potential to help me and mine, not only as consumers, but as potential creators?

It's not the old way.

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