The James Kennedy Column / “Rock isn’t dead, Gene Simmons, it’s been buried alive”

I don’t care much for rules, but one that I always swear by is to ignore everything uttered by Gene Simmons. Rock is dead? Really, Gene?! Have you only just joined Myspace? Some would argue that as far as killing rock goes, nothing sucks the soul and sincerity out of rock like gross commercialisation, and Gene Simmons is the literal painted face of it.

So if rock is indeed dead, it was Gene and his spandex sporting, toy-shilling clown posse who killed it. Fortunately, though, real rock and Metal are far from dead. There’s more of it than ever before – and my god, it’s good.

James Kennedy: “Nothing sucks the soul and sincerity out of rock like gross commercialisation.”

What I think Gene might be referring to is the popular observation that there are fewer new stadium rock bands. That the only bands capable of shifting those kinds of ticket sales worldwide are mostly in their 70s – and that the only younger artists doing it all happen to be pop. Even the younger rock bands who are doing it are all – if we’re honest – kinda pop.

I’ve heard many of rock’s upper echelons repeat this assertion in bewilderment, and on the surface, it does appear to be true. Sure there are exceptions, but the rule seems to hold up. So why is it, they ask? The blame here seems to be being placed on the bands – that they just don’t make ‘em like they used to. That these youngsters don’t have the staying power that the old guard does. That they’re probably too busy Tik-Tokking or something. This, of course, is just the arrogance and delusion of the pampered and disconnected-from-reality One Percenters of rock’s old premier league. The real answer as to why this phenomenon seems to exist, we’ll get into shortly.

Another undying complaint is that rock and Metal still don’t have enough space in the mainstream. Yet more cynical confirmation that rock is indeed a dying breed. But rock isn’t supposed to be mainstream.

It’s supposed to be anti-mainstream! It’s supposed to give a big middle finger to the mainstream. It’s supposed to be rebellious, non-conformist and scare the shit of your parents. The mainstream exists to give rock and Metal something to scream at.

That’s not our world, and we don’t want it either, for we are part of an enormous and beautiful global community whose connection to the music goes waaaaaay deeper than the short-term promo cycle of this week’s hot new radio monstrosity. The mainstream? We’re good, thanks. Anyone begrudging rock and Metal not being heard on the BBC is missing the point completely. Incredible new music is out there in abundance, but it’s on you to find it.

And that brings me to the point. Why are there no new stadium bands? Where are this generation’s ‘classic bands’? Well, one thing is certain – the era of the ‘classic band’ is indeed over. Once the current legion of mega-stars has all scuttled off to the place with the fire, the ‘classic band’ – and the classic song – will be a thing from a forgotten past. Why? Well, it’s certainly not because of the bands. And it’s definitely not because of the songs. So what is it?

Well…it’s you.

You see, the ‘you’ of 1975 had a very small choice of music magazines that reported on a very small selection of bands who were all part of a tiny minority lucky enough to be signed by a label and have a record made. There was no ‘record-it-on-your-iPhone-and-put-it-out-yourself’ situation back then. There was no internet, no filesharing, no streaming, no Garage Band, hell, not even any CDs.

Music was only recorded in big, expensive recording studios beyond the reach of unsigned musicians, so if you couldn’t get a record deal, it was over. And for most bands, it was over. The small handful lucky enough to get a deal would then be the only bands the public would ever hear about. And we’re talking a small handful of bands.

Back then, the lives of your favourite rock star would be sensationalised in the music press, turning them into Gods. And rather than having every song ever released in the history of the world in your pocket – you had to spend all your pocket money buying just one album. You had to learn to really love that album. You’d listen to it to death – you had to – so you would end up exploring every nook and cranny of that record, learning the lyrics, reading the inlay card, inventing fantasies about how cool these guys were in person and saving up for a concert ticket.

Multiply that by a million other people all doing the same over the same small group of bands for years on end, and you’ve got the foundation for a stadium-filling, classic band whose ‘big song’ wasn’t big on Youtube for a day – it was big on everything, everywhere for years on end.

And this happened because there was simply less stuff. As fans, we had to get really into a small amount of music. Back then, there was less of everything, so there was more room for more bands to be huge. These days, there’s no room for anyone. We’re drowning. Drowning in incredible music. And it’s both a blessing and a curse.

We can’t blame the internet. The internet has made it possible for all those other amazing artists who never got the big deal to continue to do their thing. To record their music and put it out there. To exist. And that’s a powerful thing. Great for the bands, great for the fans and great for music generally. But today, good music has become a victim of its own abundance.

Nobody can truly love 10,000 songs. Nobody can really obsess over a small handful of bands anymore, learn everything about them, dress like the singer, study the lyrics, buy all the merch and save up for months for the only gig that band are playing in their home town that year.

We’re bombarded so constantly with incredible songs that we can’t even remember them anymore. And this is why there are no new classic bands. We just don’t have the ability to keep up with all the great music coming our way, so we end up ‘kind of liking’ a hundred bands rather than ‘really liking’ five of them.

And in doing what they must, in order to try and stay vaguely memorable amongst the relentless tsunami of other bands – that is, broadcasting their every move on social media every minute of every day – they lose something else that our grandads bands didn’t. Mystique.

Gone are the days when rockstars could be dangerous and superhuman – we know too much now. We know it’s all makeup and PR stunts. We know the dude eats Weetabix for breakfast ‘cos we saw it on their Instagram. I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m just saying it’s different.

And personally, I don’t care. I like music. Yes, I sometimes yearn for a simpler time when you could really get excited about a small group of bands and become part of their world, but I also love the abundance of great music the internet has given us and the equality it has given to all musicians.

So next time Gene is whining through his spandex about there being no more classic bands or that, even worse, rock is dead, tell the out-of-touch old-timer that rock is doing just fine. Better than ever, in fact.

What’s dead is the era of ridiculous, over the top money guzzling, carbon-spewing, industry monopolising lucky bastards who left no room for anyone else. And thank God, or Lemmy (same thing).

James Kennedy is an author, musician and songwriter. He released his book Noice Damage, My Life As A Rock ‘N’ Roll Underdog in 2020, a tale about his life in the band Kyshera.

His solo album, the excellent Make Anger Great Again, was released last year.

James now fronts James Kennedy & The Underdogs.

For more details, visit metaltalk.net/tag/james-kennedy or linktr.ee/jameskennedyuk

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