Gene Simmons: Confused Luddite

Gene Simmons, the bombastic and outspoken bassist and sometimes lead singer of ’70s supergroup Kiss, recently conducted a short interview with Esquire magazine. In it, he claims that “Rock [music] is finally dead.”

Wow. While chart-topping Foo Fighters and thousands of other current—and relatively successful—rock bands are politely disagreeing, it’s the logic behind Simmons’ words that really defies intelligence, not the statement itself.

And who—or rather, what—does Simmons blame for the death of rock music? Technology.

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In particular, file-sharing. “My sense is that file-sharing started in predominantly white, middle- and upper-middle-class young people who were native-born, who felt they were entitled to have something for free, because that’s what they were used to,” he told the magazine. I’m sure no immigrant kids ever used Napster or ripped a CD from the library or a friend. Simmons is ignorantly—or stupidly, depending on your perspective—blaming a technology, file-sharing, for acts of piracy committed by humans. People’s potential sense of entitlement pertains very little to the particular mechanisms employed to satisfy that perception.

The 65-year-old former rock star isn’t only a big bag of crazy, but also seemingly can’t link cause and effect or understand how technology is actually more help than hindrance. Just because today’s music scene is different than in his roughly forty years ago heyday, Simmons somehow thinks it’s all gone to hell. Gene, things change. Today it’s a different world (and not just because we have really crappy reality TV shows). You might want to get used to it, dude.

Yes, CD sales are in the toilet. But bands have typically made more from touring than the sale of physical media (the Beatles being one major exception, but it’s only because they had a disdain for touring). From both small garage bands you’ve never heard of to big acts like Lorde, Taylor Swift, and Macklemore, the bulk of their income typically is derived from performing live, not selling shiny discs.

During the interview (which was conducted by his son Nick; no conflict of interest there), Simmons states: “If you believe in capitalism—and I’m a firm believer in free-market capitalism—then that other model is chaos. It destroys the structure.” What structure? The music industry model from the 1970s and ’80s? Pre-Pandora? Pandora and Spotify are chaos? Really. And here for all these years I thought they were pretty cool companies that increased convenience for consumers while giving exposure to old and new bands alike.

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Yes, the theft of intellectual property is a bad thing, but it’s something in which the vast majority of Americans don’t engage. Napster has been gone since 2002. For 12 years, there have been almost no popular-with-the-masses file-sharing services or schemes available. Litigation by the Recording Industry Association of America ensured that (and good for them; intellectual property theft is bad for producers and the economy alike).

“I am so sad that the next 15-year-old kid in a garage someplace in Saint Paul, that plugs into his Marshall and wants to turn it up to ten, will not have anywhere near the same opportunity that I did,” laments Simmons to his son/interviewer. Wait a second. Today, teens (or anyone) who wants to produce music, paintings, interviews, poetry, writing, fan fiction, videos—literally any form of art—has a plethora of outlets for both their core work and the promotion thereof.

Podcasts on iTunes, videos on YouTube, opinion pieces on blogs, and streaming music from a web site or dedicated service are all readily available—and typically free—for Simmons’ hypothetical Minnesota-based garage band teen to publish the results of his creative impulses.

I don’t know about Simmons, but when I was a kid, one had to beg the owner of the local pub or music venue for a chance to play on a sparsely attended Tuesday evening. Promoting one’s work outside a few small venues or one’s local area was extremely challenging. Today, people in Tokyo or Sydney can effortlessly listen to music from kids in Vancouver or El Paso (regardless of whether any money is made off the relationship).

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Hmmm, let’s see. Napster was released in 1999, 15 years ago. How many good rock bands have come up—and prospered—during the past almost two decades? Foo Fighters, Imagine Dragons, Breaking Benjamin, Rise Against, Linkin Park, and dozens of others don’t count? Simmons said he could identify only two “iconic” rock bands: Nirvana and Tame Impala. Gene, you’ve forgotten to take your medication again, haven’t you?

But wait, it gets better. In an October 2013 interview with Scotland-based Team Rock Radio (only 11 months prior to the Esquire interview), Simmons contradicted his most recent statements, claiming that Kurt Cobain, Nirvana’s famous frontman who committed suicide in 1994, was no icon. “Kurt Cobain—no, that’s one or two records, that’s not enough,” he said. With flip flopping like that, Simmons should run for Congress. Of course, during the same interview, with no sense of sarcasm or humor, he called the internet “a fascinating experiment.”

Gene “God of Thunder” Simmons seems to be confusing file-sharing with music streaming. I have two music-loving teenage daughters. When I queried them, neither had even heard of Napster and both were unfamiliar with BitTorrent—used mostly to steal movies and TV episodes like Game of Thrones, not illegally download music.

While I would disagree that streaming services are killing opportunities for new bands, that’s the core argument. Not whether yesterday’s file-sharing craze is responsible for the state of rock music (which isn’t as dire as Simmons claims; just ask Dave Grohl).

Gene, give up the ignorant technology bashing and go back to doing what you do best: Selling Kiss-themed lunch boxes and biting a blood pill on stage in those ridiculous high-heeled boots you apparently stole from Elton John’s basement.

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Curt Robbins


Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:

You can follow him on Twitter at @CurtARobbins, read his AV-related blog posts at rAVe Publications, and view his photos on Flickr.

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