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KISS’ Gene Simmons Explains Why He Keeps Saying “Rock Is Dead”

"'Rock is dead' -- you bet your ass it is -- not because the talent isn't there"

KISS' Gene Simmons explains rock is dead
KISS’ Gene Simmons, photo by Autumn Andel
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    KISS singer-bassist Gene Simmons made headlines several years ago when he declared that “rock is finally dead.” He recently doubled down on that sentiment just before the band played a streaming New Year’s Eve show to ring in 2021.

    At the time of his initial statement in 2014, he explained in an Esquire feature, “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 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.”

    Heavy Consequence recently checked in with the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer to discuss his new G² line of guitars with Gibson. At one point, we posed the question to Simmons of whether it made sense to launch a line of guitars and basses when he keeps declaring that “rock is dead.” The veteran rocker replied with a detailed explanation behind his bold statement.

    “The point is, yeah, rock is dead because if we play the game from 1958 until 1988, which is 30 years, you had Elvis, The Beatles, The Stones, Pink Floyd, and on and on and on,” began Simmons. “And you can go to the heavy part of it, which is Metallica, Maiden, if you want to put KISS in there, that’s fine. AC/DC, on and on and on. Even U2, Prince, Bowie, Eagles. And then you get to disco stuff, and Madonna, and that stuff, and Motown, of course. And then from 1988 until today, who’s the new Beatles?”

    He continued, “I’ve heard a reaction of Foo Fighters, one of my favorite bands, but you’re kidding yourself. There’s also the boy bands: NSYNC, One Direction, BTS, and [sarcastically] XYZ, PTA, and good for them that they’ve got success. Don’t kid yourself. As soon as those girls are gonna grow a little bit older, that’s going to go away. It’s like sugar: you taste it, it gives you that little energy boost, and then it’s gone forever and you don’t care. But don’t kid yourself, it ain’t The Beatles. They don’t write songs, they don’t play instruments, it ain’t that. And we all love Elvis, never wrote a song in his life. There’s just nothing that compares to The Beatles.”

    Simmons then went on to suggest that file-sharing and streaming have been a death knell for new rock bands trying to achieve success. “The reason for that is not because there’s a lack of talent, but because young folks, that kid living in his mom’s basement, decided one day that he didn’t want to pay for music. He wanted to download and file share. And that’s what killed the chances for the next generation of great bands. The fact that the music was for free. So nowadays new bands don’t have a chance.”

    Getting poetic, Simmons further explained, “It’s like flowers — people water them and make sure there’s enough sun and all that stuff. And as soon as you take your eyes off and you don’t water the flowers, they will die. And people wonder why there aren’t beautiful flowers. Well, because you don’t water them. You get what you pay for. So nowadays, if you download a song, the artist will get 1/100th of one cent. Even Spotify … the artist sees very little of that. So you get what you pay for.”

    In the end, the KISS rocker said that while album sales will never be the same as they once were, there is still a way to support up-and-coming rock bands, and that’s by going to concerts.

    “‘Rock is dead’ — you bet your ass it is — not because the talent isn’t there, but because the business model just doesn’t work,” remarked Simmons. “And so that leaves live performances. And I really hope once this vaccine takes hold — you better get shot up twice — that people go out to the local clubs and see all the new bands and support new bands. Like a baby that’s on the floor, go up there, pick that baby up and coddle it, give it love, because those new bands need your love.”

    He concluded, “It’s not going to affect me. I make a living, but the new bands need the love and attention. Don’t just go see Metallica and Taylor [Swift] or KISS. On the weekends, go to a place that’s got live music. And I don’t mean guys that press a button and do EDM. That’s fine, too. But that guy, if you put an instrument in his hands, wouldn’t have a clue what to do with it — never wrote a song, wouldn’t know what an A minor, A major or a seventh is. You need to support the new generation of talented people who are musicians and writers and so on. Don’t let the robots take away everything.”

    In addition to launching his new line of guitars, Simmons hopes to resume KISS’ “End of the Road” farewell tour, once it’s safe to do. As of now, the rescheduled North American leg is set to kick off on August 18th in Mansfield, Massachusetts.

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