Danko Jones erklärt in VISIONS 263, warum Rock nicht tot ist
Nächste Woche erscheint das neue, siebte Album von Danko Jones. Schon ab heute gibt es alles darüber in der neuen VISIONS-Ausgabe zu lesen - und Jones' Essay zum Thema "Rock Is Not Dead" exklusiv hier bei uns im englischsprachigen Original zu lesen.
Die kanadische Rock'n'Roll-Maschine Danko Jones stattete dem Berlin VISIONS-Büro Anfang Dezember einen Besuch ab. Es entwickelte sich ein langes Gespräch, in dem es einerseits natürlich um Danko Jones' siebtes Album "Fire Music" ging, das ziemlich wütend geworden ist. Zum Teil lag das wohl am ständigen Schlagzeuger-Problem. Gut, dass jetzt Wunderwaffe Rich Knox auf dem Schemel sitzt und Jones optimistisch in die Band-Zukunft blicken lässt.
Irgendwann kam das Gespräch auch darauf, dass Leute wie etwa Kiss' Gene Simmons den Rock für tot halten. Jemand wie Danko Jones kann so eine undurchdachte Aussage natürlich nicht einfach so im Raum stehen lassen. Anstatt alles mit ihm auszudiskutieren, baten wir Jones - der sich in den vergangenen Jahren längst einen Namen als Journalist gemacht hat -, seine Sicht der Dinge aufzuschreiben.
Das Ergebnis ist ein schlüssiger Essay. Den gibt es unten im englischen Original zu lesen - während sich Autor André Boße für das Heft darum bemüht hat, ihn nach bestem Wissen und Gewissen ins Deutsche zu übertragen.
In Kürze tritt Danko Jones dann auch mit seinen Kollegen in Deutschland auf - zunächst im Form einer Show mit Erik Cohen vor unserer kommenden VISIONS Party Dortmund im FZW, danach auch in weiteren deutschen Städten. Karten gibt es bei Eventim.
06.02. Dortmund - FZW | ausverkauft
07.02. Hamburg - Rock Cafe St. Pauli | ausverkauft
09.02. Berlin - Privatclub | ausverkauft
19.03. Berlin - Postbahnhof
20.03. Köln - Bürgerhaus Stollwerck
22.03. Wiesbaden - Schlachthof
24.03. Leipzig - Conne Island
26.03. München - Backstage
27.03. Nürnberg - Hirsch
Essay: Danko Jones - "Rock Is Not Dead" (englischsprachige Originalversion)
Panic only lasts for a few moments until I remind myself we live in the internet age, where everybody now has a platform to pitch their uninformed opinions to an uninterested crowd. So, when someone posts careless catchphrases like "Rock Is Finally Dead" and I catch wind of it, I remind myself that it isn’t written in stone but rather a transitory slapdash bullshit remark meant only to drive online traffic towards whatever its source is peddling. Most of the time these quotes fail to gain any attention and fall by the wayside. However, in the case of the phrase - "Rock Is Finally Dead", it was uttered by a very influential commandeering figure - Gene Simmons.
Gene Simmons, bassist/singer for the rock band Kiss, despite him being in the public eye for 40 years, has only recently risen to the coveted status of pop-culture talking-head. We can thank reality television and the perpetual need for online content that encourages people like Gene to talk continuously. He’s savvy enough to know full well that the more sensational the statement, the warmer the spotlight. But the spotlight can eventually burn and his tendencies to provoke and prod have cost him dearly in the court of public opinion. His remarks on depression, immigrants, Islam, his open worship of money and his corny gloating over sexual conquests have done much to tarnish his image, leaving him even villainized to some.
When headlines started to emerge back in September of last year with Gene’s proclamation that "Rock Is Finally Dead" in Esquire magazine, the internet exploded with a giant middle finger pointed in his general direction. People were lining up in droves to hurl their epithets at him before even reading the entire article. But when the dust settled and the knee-jerk reactions faded from view, what we were seemingly left with was an innocuous fatherly Gene extolling the new generation and lamenting their lot as have-nots.
Despite it being carefully crafted by the writer to make Gene look compassionate (the writer being Nick Simmons, Gene's son), going so far as to insist he wasn't "an out-of-touch one-percenter" by name-dropping Tame Impala, it still came off more like a publicity stunt meant to improve his dilapidated public persona rather than a genuine gesture of sympathy.
So delusional on the subject he speaks and unaware of the impression he leaves, Gene goes so far as to blame the consumers, the fans themselves, for killing Rock by downloading the music. He even blames the bands if they’ve engaged in downloading too. This is classic ivory-tower-thinking - laying blame on what you see beneath you rather than looking around and above you.
If Gene was capable of applying critical thinking to his hasty thesis, he’d realize that it was in fact the record labels themselves who started this mess when they willingly introduced the liquid digital medium of compact discs into the marketplace. This was all motivated, not by the need to increase consumer value but for the assurance of an inflated boom period that lasted from the mid-80s to the late-90s, where almost overnight the record consumer was sold a bill of falsely inflated goods. Vinyl records costing $7.99 to $10.99 were stocked alongside their supposed audibly superior compact disc counterparts for $17.99 to $24.99. Catalogue titles went even higher, sometimes at $44.99 a pop.
Record company coffers filled to the brim as people scrambled to update their record collections basically swindled into re-buying what they already owned. When the industry introduced the word "remastered", they were able to yoke gullible dimwits a third time but most of us caught on to the racket. As Gene is keen to point out in the Esquire article, the public decides what floats or fails with the placement of their dollar and to this day they’ve decided to hold on to their money so as to not get hoodwinked yet again by record labels.
But the most offensive idea he put forward in the article was his clumsy definition of Rock Music, assigning it validity and relevance only to as many units it can move. If the art form in question fails to sell a lesser amount relative to past figures, it is, by Gene’s assertion, dead. It’s an arrogant and absurd notion to put forward, especially when the subject matter in question is still alive and arguably robust. It diminishes Rock music’s worth and meaning, stripping it down to nothing but dollars and cents. Being thought of as arrogant and absurd is surely taken as some kind of backhanded compliment by Gene but these notions he’s put forward are those of a village idiot.
While Gene Simmons prematurely announces Rock's death, like some internet troll disseminating gossip about some wayward celebrity’s false passing, others have taken it upon themselves to "save" it. Who better to assume the role than the Irish powerhouse quartet, U2, fronted by none other than philanthropic, all-around Samaritan - Bono.
Bono’s many charitable causes like his One foundation to fight global poverty and his Red charity to fight Aids in Africa have been so widely praised it’s threatened to overshadow his musical output. So when the music business is thrown into crisis and threatened to be dismantled, Bono seems like the only logical choice for saviour.
Never mind that his pleas to donate don't include his own band, when they moved their publishing company to The Netherlands in 2006 to avoid the burden of paying taxes in their native Ireland; taxes that theoretically go back into the infrastructure and economy of their homeland. Never mind Bono’s private equity interests with Elevation Partners, who have invested in computer game companies like BioWare Corp. and Pandemic Studios that produce games like "Destroy All Humans 2" and "Mercenaries 2: World In Flames" respectively, seem a tad contradictory to his humanitarian public face. And lest we forget U2's much publicized clash with SST Records in 1991 when Island Records sued the independent record label on behalf of the band after Negativeland released their “U2” EP - a move seen by many as an act of war against the independent spirit.
How did U2 attempt to save the music industry? By stealthily slipping their new album, “Songs Of Innocence” innocently onto unsuspecting iTunes subscribers for free…without telling them; kind of like how a vaccine contains the causative agent of the disease its trying to prevent. Except in this case, it only caused more problems than it solved.
In one fell swoop and quite literally overnight, U2 turned the concept of the Rock album into spam. However, unlike the spam you get on your computer telling you it will cure your erectile dysfunction, U2's album rendered Rock albums flaccid. I wanted it off my computer as fast as I want those unwanted mails in my junk box folder containing trojan viruses off my computer. The argument can be made that incessant downloading had long rendered albums worthless, but by partnering up with iTunes, U2 not only became a culpable party, they made it “officially” worthless.
Downloading music “illegally” has never bothered me. It’s an activity that keeps music lovers engaged with music, helping to create fanatics, aficionados and supporters that might not have had ready exposure or access. But when the creators themselves refuse to put a value on their output, that output instantly has no value. And much like a virus, this idea has now confidently spread like wildfire, setting the example for others to dangerously follow.
Whether Rock's monoliths (Gene & Bono) acknowledge it or not, they consciously or unconsciously seem to relish the idea of Rock dying out in a pathetic stab of self-preservation. If this were indeed true and Rock was to actually die, it would leave their respective legacies permanently uncontested and pristine much like the ancient statues of emperors and their empire relics we see on television’s history shows.
Mirroring old empires, it was this bygone music industry that made stars out of mere glimmers of light and Chaim Witz and Paul Hewson into Gene Simmons and Bono, respectively; a music industry that seems alien by today’s standards. When Gene declares Rock’s death, what he means, whether he realizes it or not, is the music industry that reared Rock music, as he knew it, is dead. Even though he would have us believe the music industry was once a perfect system, one doesn’t have to look too deeply to see its cracks which covered up its flops which covered up its utter mess. I feel sorry for Gene the way one does when you see the aged grapple with their own mortality and lug their rose-colored reminiscences against the crushing truth of constant change.
Being in the music game for 18 years, all hope and excitement were quickly dashed after having every major and independent record label slam the door in our faces. Our band never got the courting or label-wooing other bands did. A majority of those favoured bands have to open for us now. So much for A&R expertise. A lot of those A&R record label employees who laughed in our face, never returned our calls and talked shit about our band are now selling used cars. So much for industry intuition and astuteness. We ended up aligning ourselves with a little punk rock label in Sweden (Bad Taste Records) who were told of us through another act on their label 15 years ago and who we are still working with to this day. So much for a Rock band’s fickle dispositions.
Despite Gene's depiction of a music industry that nurtures and assists bands, being on the other side of the fence, I have a very different experience. And while one must not forget this delicate marriage of art and commerce inevitably yields to the dollars and cents, it also must be acknowledge people’s fragile dreams are being handled here. I have seen bands sign lopsided record deals and their careers stop instantly. I have seen bands with boundless potential crushed by some temporary expert telling them they had none. I will never forget when we sent a demo of songs to the president of a major label (that shall remain nameless) only to be told that she couldn’t hear any “songs”, we promptly took those same songs on that demo and toured the world with them. She ended up signing a rap-rock act that quickly broke up so forgive me if I seem like I have an axe to grind because I admittedly do.
Every time I hear about some record label employee who rejected our band get demoted, dismissed or willfully leave the music biz, I smile. I smile, not because someone has lost their job but because it is a quiet confirmation that we were right all along. I find it to be somewhat poetic justice when the impenetrable megalith that was the music industry, that churned out smug rock stars like Gene Simmons, was toppled by tiny 15 year-old kids they tried to dupe into buying remastered compact discs. It’s a modern day remake of The Pied Piper of Hamelin, only this time the piper’s pipe came from the factory defective.
So, where does Rock music go from here? I concede, most of the income generated from music these days, and consequently funnelled back in, comes from other genres like Pop music (Beyonce, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga), Indie Rock (Arcade Fire, Mumford & Sons), Electronica (Skrillex, Deadmau5) and Rap (Jay Z, Kanye West, Drake) so it makes it harder for Rock bands to siphon tour support, recording budgets and much-needed marketing money from labels. Nightmarish 360 deals, whereby a label takes more ownership of a band (i.e. merchandising and live guarantees) has reared its unavoidable head too.
Still, Rock hasn’t died, its playing field’s been levelled. Now everyone has an almost equal chance to be heard. The new Audrey Horne album got to my ears quicker than the new AC/DC album did this year. I heard the new Pallbearer before I even heard Judas Priest had released a new album. And this is because I am susceptible to the strongest form of marketing out there - word of mouth. People informed me, through blogs, Twitter, Instagram, hanging out with friends and music magazines. Proof that Rock music has been cast off by its strong-arms and released back to its reverent flock to prove just how virile it can be.
Even though Rock Music is well past its glory days, supplanted by more modern sounds, it continues to trudge on like a cockroach, ebbing and flowing depending on the musical tide but never receding. And while I do get nervous hearing that it has yet again been pronounced dead on arrival there is a side of me that takes pleasure from it being so hastily eulogized. When freed from the burden of needing to be relevant and alive, Rock music can quietly fade into the background, free to draw breath far away from self-appointed pundits’ judgement, their imposing confines and warped interpretations, to begin anew.
People like Gene assign relevance only to what is directly in front of them - a cloudy top-shelf view of the world. What is it with the American directive to only place relevance and import on things classified as "number one"? It’s amusing but terribly frustrating. It's like insisting on eating only the icing on a cake without trying what's underneath; sooner or later you're gonna get sick. We all know what "number one" is because the mountain top has the best sight lines but those of us with voracious musical appetites want to know what’s underneath. I want to hear “number two”, "number three", all the way down to "number one thousand". And if there were 50 million people who bought “Back In Black”, I’m damn sure I’m not the only one.
Let's make one thing very clear - there is no “death” here. There is no mourning needed here. Nothing has died. Nothing is in danger of disappearing. In fact, when I hear bands like Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, Broken Teeth, Mos Generator, The Biters, Giuda, Biblical and The Night Flight Orchestra, I know Rock is as active and buoyant as ever. But if people insist on Rock being dead then let them mourn its passing. Let them move on with their lives and find new interests to pass their time. Let the pop stars of today flood the marketplace. Let the indie rock heroes coddle everybody. Let electronica luminaries numb its horde. Let the rappers overload demand. Let’s allow Rock to go the way of Jazz, complete with perfunctory show and obligatory nods and be done with it.
Rock music is not a music to represent the masses anymore. It’s been kicked and beaten down, unquestionably the result of over-exposure, kind of like when wine gets “corked” (who needs to hear “Stairway To Heaven” ever again?). However, it now wears its scars on its sleeve and has become darker, more sinister and less vulnerable to bullshit. Sure it comes with baggage but it yields to no one. It’s hardened, just like it’s supposed to sound, and it's glorious.
This is a gestation period for Rock; a time where it’s meant for only those who love it and watch over it. Rock music should fade from the foreground, slip into the underground and reclaim its rightful outsider status. Its deserved place should be in the shadows - rising from time to time, of course, to appear on the cover of a music magazine.
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