Rock and Roll is Dead!


“Rock and Roll is dead!” is a line most of us have heard for most of our lives. From the anthemic screams of punk rockers to the classic rockers suggesting, “Today’s music ain’t got the same soul,” everyone has enjoyed repeating a version of this line. For most of our lives, however, this has been little more than snarky criticism of the current status quo. For some of us, this has been based on the idea that our favorite strain of rock is no longer prominent, that we don’t appreciate the new direction rock was headed in, or that we have simply aged out of it. Looking at it from a rational perspective, rock and roll has always been able to survive based on young individuals crafting creative derivatives of what came before, and those derivatives develop movements that lead to greater sales and continued power, for rock in the music industry. On both planes, it does appear that either rock music is in a severe and prolonged downtrend, or that it may, in fact, be dead in terms of it being a powerful force in the music industry.

“For generations, rock music was always there, and it always felt like it would come back, no matter what the current trend happened to be,” Eddie Van Halen told Chuck Klosterman in a 2015 interview. “For whatever reason, it doesn’t feel like it’s coming back this time.”

As Klosterman writes, in his book But What if We’re Wrong, Eddie Van Halen said this at sixty-years-old:

“So some might discount (Eddie Van Halen’s) sentiments as the pessimistic opinion of someone who’s given up on music. His view, however, is shared by rock musicians who were still chewing on pacifiers when Van Halen was already famous.”

Thirty-seven-year-old singer of the band Muse, Matt Bellamy, echoed Eddie’s statement saying:

“We live in a time where intelligent people –or creative, clever people– have actually chosen computers to make (sic) music. They’ve chosen (sic) to work in tech. There’s an exhaustion of intelligence which has moved out of the music industry and into other industries.”

Chuck Klosterman then adds:

“We’ve run out of teenagers with the desire (and potential) to become (the next) Eddie Van Halen. As far as the mass culture is concerned that time is over.”   

If the reader is as shocked as I was to read a high profile, classic hard rock performer, coupled with a more modern artist, and a rock enthusiast on par with Chuck Klosterman, discuss the end of an era in such a rational, and persuasive manner, you’re not alone. It does not appear to me that these individuals were intending to be provocative. They were suggesting that it now appears that those of us that proclaimed, “Rock and Roll will never die!” were wrong, and that historians may view rock and roll as nothing more than a prolonged, influential, and cultural trend. My interpretation of these comments is that there will always be some musicians who make rock music and albums, but the powerful force that once helped form the backbone of America might be over. That trend may have been such a prolonged staple that it’s been around longer than most of us have been alive. Yet, if we are able to remove the emotion we have vested in the art form and examine it from the perspective of creativity and album sales, it is more than likely that hundreds of years from now historians will view rock and roll as a trend that began in the mid-to-late fifties and ended somewhere around 2010.

The Creative Power 

The one aspect of Bob Dylan’s memoir Chronicles that an interested reader will learn about the man, more than any other aspect of his life, is how much depth went into Bob Dylan’s artistic creations. Dylan writes about the more obvious, influential artists that affected him, such as Woody Guthrie, but he also writes about the obscure musicians he encountered on his path, that affected him in ways large and small. He also writes about the manner in which reading literature informed his artistic persona, reading everyone from prominent poets and fiction writers, to the Ancient Greek philosophers, and he finally informs us of how other experiences in his life informed him. The reader will close the book with the idea that the young Dylan wasn’t seeking a road map to stardom so much as he was learning the art of craftsmanship.

On this subject of craft, as it pertains to the death of rock and roll, the bassist from Kiss, Gene Simmons, informed Esquire:

“The craft is gone, and that is what technology, in part, has brought us. What is the next Dark Side of the Moon? Now that the record industry barely exists, they wouldn’t have a chance to make something like that. There is a reason that, along with the usual top-40 juggernauts, some of the biggest touring bands are half old people, like me.”

On the subject of craft and being derivative, we could argue that Dark Side of the Moon was derivative. We could also argue that Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin were all derivative. We could argue that rock and roll, itself, derived from rhythm and blues, and that rhythm and blues derived their sound from the blues, jazz, and swing music. There is no sin in being derivative, in other words, as most artists derived something from another influence, but the question of how derivative an artist is has often haunted most artists that derived their craft from other, more obscure artists. The question most artists have had to ask, internally and otherwise, is how much personal innovation did they add to their influences? Perhaps more important to this discussion is a question of how much room was left in the zeitgeist for variation on the theme their influence created? To quote the cliché, a time will arrive in any art form, when a future artist is attempting to squeeze blood out of a turnip, and while the room for derivatives and variations on the broad theme of rock and roll seemed so vast at one time, every art form eventually runs into a wall.

One could say that the first wave of rock and roll that didn’t spend too much time worrying about being derivative was the Heavy Metal era of 80’s hair metal bands. One could also say that they didn’t have to search too deep, at that time, because the field still yielded such a bountiful harvest. All they had to do was provide a decent derivative of a theme some 70’s bands derived from some 60’s band that were derivatives of 50’s bands, and so on and so forth. There was still something so unique at the heart of what they were doing, in that space in time, that they could develop what amounted to a subtle variation of a theme and still be considered somewhat unique.

At some point in this chain of variations and strains, the wellspring dried up for 80’s hair metal bands, and they became a mockery of former artists, until rock and roll was in dire need a new template. At this point, right here, many proclaimed the death of rock and roll. They claimed that rock and roll was now more about hairspray, eyeliner, and MTV than actual music. Into that void, stepped Guns N’ Roses, Faith No More, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and others. They provided unique variations at the tail end of the 80’s and early 90’s. At various points in the timeline, a variation always stepped up to keep the beast alive, but hindsight informs us that rock and roll was, indeed, on life support at this time. Hindsight also informs us, that when the 90’s Seattle bands, and The Smashing Pumpkins, stepped to the fore, their derived variation on the theme was, in essence, a reset of the template that had been lost somewhere in the late 80’s, as they brought rock back to the early Kiss, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Aerosmith records of the 70’s.

This begs the question, would Nirvana have been as huge as they were, if they had appeared on the scene around 1983-1984, or would that have been too early for them. Are musical waves little more than a question of timing? Did Nirvana hit the scene at a time when the desire to recapture whatever was lost in the late 80’s was widespread? The Nevermind album may have been so good that it would’ve sold in just about any rock era, but would Nevermind have outsold Quiet Riot’s Mental Health and Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry, or would it have been too derivative of an era we just experienced. Would Nevermind have been the ten million copies shipped phenomenon it was if it hit the scene in 1984, or was it a valiant attempt to recapture what was lost in rock that we needed at the time?

Most of the musicians, in what rock critics called the grunge movement, had varied tastes, and some of their favorite artists were more obscure than the general public’s, but the basic formula for what would critics called grunge could be found in those four groups of musicians, from the 70’s, that had deep and varied influences. The grunge era, we could say, was the last innovative movement for nuanced rock.

Talk to just about any young person in America today, and they may list off some modern artists and groups that they listen to, but most of those rock connoisseurs will provide “classic rock” band as one of their favorite genres. When someone my age hears the term classic rock, they’re more prone to think of one of the 70’s bands mentioned earlier, but these young people are referring to bands that were brand new to me somewhere around yesterday, yesterday being twenty years ago.

I know I run the risk of being dismissed as an old fogy when I declare rock dead, or something along the lines of “Today’s music ain’t got the same soul”, but there is something that is missing. In fairness to modern artists, and in full recognition of my old codger perspective, I have to ask how the “next big thing” will pop out, right now, in 2016, and offer the world a perspective on rock that no one has ever considered before? Such a statement does undercut the creative brilliance that young minds have to offer, but to those of us who have listened to everyone from top of the line artists to some of the more obscure artists in recording history, it seems to me that every genre, subgenre, experimentation, and variation has been covered to this point.

Gene Simmons asked where the next Dark Side of the Moon is going to come from, I ask where the next Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is, and it may be a question that led those of another era to ask what artist is the modern day equivalent to The Carter Family? I never thought I’d be this guy, but most of the modern rock music sounds uninformed and lacking in the foundation that previous generations had. I know this is largely incorrect, but when I listen to the rock bands of the current era, I don’t hear that long, varied search for influence. I don’t hear artists hearkening back the rich and varied tradition old blues singers, folk musicians, and country artists learned from their family and friends in gospel songs at church, at campfires, and at night before going to bed. I don’t hear an informed artistic persona. Their music lacks some of the organic funk R&B musicians brought to the fold, and the intricate instrumentation that the 50’s and 60’s jazz musicians left for their successors to mine.

Some consider this entire argument moot, however, and they say that the nature of music and art in general, suggests that there will always be an innovative, up and coming star to develop variations and derivatives of former artists if there is money in it. Naysayers would echo their favorite artists and say it’s not about the money, and true art never should be. While that may be true, it is also true that when the money is removed, as the Gene Simmons quote below states, there may not be people in the upper reaches of the chain that are willing to develop that talent, when the whole model is thrown into chaos, and the structure of it is destroyed.

It’s About the Money. It’s Always About the Money.

“You’re (now considered) a sucker if you pay for music,” one of my friends informed me at what was, for me, the advent of file sharing. 

My friend did not say the words “now considered” but that was the import of his statement. I was no Luddite. I knew about the file sharing sites, such as Napster, but for me, Napster was a place to find obscure throwaways, bootlegged versions of the songs I loved, and cover songs, by my favorite artists. I learned of the Metallica lawsuit against Napster, and some talk of file sharing among the young, but I had no idea that the crossover to file sharing had already begun, for most music enthusiasts, until my friend dropped this line on me.

The line did not inform me of the new way of attaining music, as I already knew it was out there, but it informed me of the new mindset in regards to accessing music. After scouring these sites for my favorite songs, albums, and artists, (and finding them, waiting to be downloaded for free) one thing became crystal clear, this was going to change everything. I read of the music industry hauling young people into court after illegally downloading music, but my astute, file sharing friend said he believed that the music industry was desperate, and that they were trying to scare people. He correctly predicted that the music industry would stop trying to prosecute people and simply give in. He said that they should’ve done something long before this point (and this point was very early on in the age of file sharing) to cash in on the file sharing wave. He said that there were simply too many people, from his small corner of the world, downloading music for free, for the music industry to prosecute them all.

File sharing, say some, may have spelled the true death of rock and roll as a profitable, cultural force in America today. I write this as a qualifier for those that will suggest that the idea that a bunch of kids sitting in a garage to develop a new sound will never die. It may not, but reading through Gene Simmons’ interview in Esquire, a reader learns of the type of support that new musicians need from execs in the upper echelon of the music industry to help them progress from garage rockers to a cultural force in America, and that that part of the structure has been destroyed by file sharing. To belabor this point for just a moment, we would all prefer to believe that our favorite musicians have little regard for money, or corporate influence, but how much of the sound of an album was tweaked, finessed, and completed by industry money? Listen to insiders speak of a final product, and they’ll tell the reader that the album doesn’t sound anything like it might have without a high quality producer, and it doesn’t sound anything like it did before the corporate mixer came in and put in some finishing touches that those of us in the audience know nothing about.

Rock and roll’s appeal has always been a young person’s game, however, and that makes most of the derivative argument moot. Most young people live in the now, and young people have never cared that their favorite artist happened to be a hybrid between The Rolling Stones and Aerosmith, at least not to the point that they wouldn’t buy their favorite artists’ albums. As far as they were concerned, their favorite band’s sound, and look, was fresh, original, and theirs.

“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,” Gene Simmons also said in the Esquire interview. “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.”

Death of the Album

Scouring these file sharing sites, and creating personalized playlists, I also sensed a death of the album. As an album-oriented listener, I always thought one could arrive at the artistic persona of a musician in the deeper cuts of an album. My philosophy was written out by Sting, and his, “Anyone can write a hit, but it takes an artist to write an excellent album” quote. I was affected by the new file-sharing mindset almost immediately, as I began to consider it a waste of time to listen to the various Queen Jane Approximately cuts, when I could create a playlist filled with top shelf, Like a Rolling Stone cuts from various artists.

The idea of the self-directed, playlist mindset developed somewhere around the advent of the cassette tape, an era that predated me, but the full album managed to maintain most of its glory throughout that era. For most of my life, the power of a quality single led concertgoers to leap out of their seat and rush the stage. With all these new tools, however, a person no longer has to stand around for an hour waiting for the band to take the stage. They no longer have to sit through mind-numbing guitar solos, and witty banter from the lead singer to get to the one song they liked from that artist. They could now go to a site like YouTube to watch their favorite singer sing that quality single.

I still think that the lack of depth in most products current artists put out is a factor in the demise of rock as a force in the industry. I am persuaded that that is not the case by the idea that young people know as little about the history of their music as their favorite artists do, however, and what little they do know is superseded by how little they care about it.

I am also convinced that file sharing has had an effect, if not a devastating effect, on the structure from top to bottom. Another writer had an interesting take on this matter, stating that the file sharing mindset may have something to do with young people growing up watching their favorite artists display their wares on shows like MTV’s Cribs. Shows like these may have led young people to think that their favorite artist has enough money as it is, and the shows may have led the young people to download the music for free without guilt. Which, in turn, led them to believe anyone who plops down money for music is an absolute sucker.

“They’re not going to miss any meals if I deprive them of my $9.99,” they may say. That may be true in the case of this individual, but what happens when millions of people begin sharing this mindset? What happens is that when we begin removing the $9.99 bricks that formed the foundation of the industry, we destroy the industry, as we knew it. They will sign fewer rock artists, they will no longer hire all those little guys that finished the product, and they will no longer provide support or promotion to an album that would’ve garnered it before, because there’s little-to-no money in it for any of the players, on any level.

Whether it’s the lack of depth, or the idea that music no longer affords an artist enough money to make an honest living at it, thanks to file sharing, it does appear that the starving artist walking around with nothing more than a guitar strapped to his back has become an endangered animal in America today, and the consequences for that could run deep for a culture that has subsisted on the philosophical foundation of rock music for as long as most of us have been alive.

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Rilalities V: Challenges and Insecurities


The 6’5” Guy

“I’m six foot five,” a man named Joe said. He did not work this into his greeting, and he did not say it in the early minutes of our introduction but it hung over our heads until I acknowledged it.

Those fortunate enough to meet Joe will soon discover that the reason for listing his height before his name. Some of us drop our last name with pride to suggest that our family’s lineage should mean something to someone we’ve just met, some will list their occupation soon after the listener learns their name, Joe was 6’5”. Joe was more 6’5” than he was Joe, and those fortunate enough to have a conversation with him that extends beyond superficial pleasantries will learn how 6’5” he is. If that conversation evolves into a minutes-long discussion, and the listener doesn’t acknowledge his height, with verbal or nonverbal cues, he’ll break the news to them:

“I’m six foot five!”

Although Joe and I spoke for a total of about three minutes, I got the feeling that he could’ve written a bestseller, won the Heisman Trophy, saved children from a fire, or discovered the cure for cancer, and his height would still mark his life. I had the feeling no matter what happened to him in life, he would prefer to have “Here lies Joe. He was 6’5” chiseled into his gravestone.

Joe was an interesting guy. He appeared to be conversant on a wide range of topics, and he managed to tell some aspects of his life’s story in an impressively timely manner, but everything he spoke of came back to the refrain of his life.

His height was the reason he had trouble finding chairs to sit in with comfort, the reason his 5’3” mother was always on him about stuff, and the reason he couldn’t be as particular as he wanted to be about the clothing he wore:

“You can’t be finicky about clothes when you’re 6’5” and built like me.”

Joe, we should also note, was broad-shouldered. This attribute, coupled with the idea that he was 6’5” was the reason he had trouble going door-to-door to talk to people.

“Would you be comfortable discussing politics, if a man my size came-a-knocking on your door?”

His height was also the reason that he had such trouble finding a decent woman. That subject may have shocked most people, or at least made them somewhat uncomfortable, as most people would deem such a discussion inordinately intimate for a conversation between two people meeting for the first time. I had a best friend in high school that was 6’7” however, so I was well versed in the travails of being a tall male in America today, and I was used to my friend going into such intimate details to make his point with people he had just met. Joe and I did try, at various intervals, to move on to other topics, but he was unable to let the fact that he was 6’5” go as easily as I was.

What struck me as odd was that I never made mention of his height, and I don’t think I provided any verbal or physical cues that called attention to it. Was that the point though, I later wondered. Was my refusal to acknowledge his height such an aberration to his experience that until I acknowledged it in some way, he would not be able to move on until one of us did?

Being a tall man has numerous advantages, but it has almost as many disadvantages. As I wrote, however, I was well versed in the details of being an abnormally tall man in America. I knew, for example, that a person’s height is the first thing people notice about one that is taller than 6’3”, and the thing they talk about after you leave. It’s the first thing people in malls pester a person about, it’s the reason some guys won’t mess with you, and the reason others do. It’s also the reason some women want to date you and others don’t. You could be the most charming person in the world, in other words, and most people will have preconceived notions about you based on your height.

With that in mind, one would think that an abnormally tall male, or a woman with abnormally large breasts, would find it refreshing when they’ve encountered that one person that seems to be genuinely unconcerned with their attribute(s). One would think that they would find it refreshing that they’ve finally found a person that is willing to talk geopolitics with them without looking down their shirt, or saying, “How’s the weather up there?” One would think that the person that broke those patterns of human interaction would receive a bright smile as a reward, and maybe even something along the lines of, “Thank you. You may not even know why I’m thanking you, but thank you!” Yet, tall men, and large-breasted women, just like all humans with exaggerated attributes become so accustomed to these patterns of interaction that they feel compelled to draw your attention to them just to comfortably complete a line of dialogue.

Most people will try to avoid talking about a trait generally considered a negative, and they will do everything they can to avoid noticing it. When they consider that person’s attribute a positive, most people think you should feel privileged to have it, so they don’t mind drawing attention to it. “You’re tall Joe!” they will say, or “I wish I had those,” and “You should feel privileged.”

As my conversation with Joe continued, and he began to belabor the point of his height, I initially thought he was trying to assert some sort of dominance. I may have been wrong on that note, and it might have had more to do with everything I thought later, but I began to rebel against his theme by making a concerted effort to avoid the topic of his height. Our conversation ended soon thereafter, and we moved onto other people at the gathering.

“What did you say to Joe?” our mutual friend –a friend that informed Joe and I that we would have so much in common that we would hit it off– later asked.

“Why?” I asked.

“He says he doesn’t care for you.” When I asked her for more details, our mutual friend said, “He said he can’t put a finger on it, but he doesn’t like you as much as I thought he would.”

Without going into what I deem to be the unnecessary details of our otherwise innocuous conversation, I can tell you that it involved no disagreements. To my mind, there were no moments of subtle tension, and there certainly were no overt ones, but he didn’t like me. I’m not one of those people that thinks that every person has to like me, and if they don’t there has something wrong with them, but to my mind this conversation I had with Joe proved to be amicable if not pleasant. Joe and I also proved to be as like-minded on certain topics as our mutual friend believed we would be. The only thing I did, and that which I presume led Joe to state that I didn’t live up to the characteristics our mutual friend detailed for him, was refuse to acknowledge his height in any way.

Going Clear—

Anytime I finish a book as fantastic as Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear, I wonder what I am going to do with my free time?  The book gives credence to Phillip Roth’s line about non-fiction being stranger than fiction.  A complaint that an Amazon.com reviewer posed was: “If everything Wright writes is factual, why would anyone want to join the Scientology religion?”  This reviewer stated that this was the only point, and a central point, that they found lacking in the book.  If I were this Amazon.com reviewer’s teacher, and I lived by the credo, there’s no such thing as a stupid question, I would simply require that student reread the book.

Kiss in Rolling Stone—

Anyone that thinks that being “king of the hill, top of the heap, and ‘A’ number one” means that you will be able control your press, should read the March 28, 2014, issue of Rolling Stone magazine.  Kiss may no longer be the band that sells platinum records every year, and they may be more about marketing than music at this point in their career, but this Rolling Stone article was supposed to be about their soon-to-occur induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  To read this piece in the Rolling Stone, however, that fact means little-to-nothing.

This piece of rock journalism was so shockingly brutal that one has to imagine that Gene Simmons is still throwing some of his much detailed Kiss memorabilia at the wall when he thinks about it.  All four members of the band Kiss came under attack from the author of the piece, but the author reserved most of his unprofessional brutality for Gene.  This writer’s attacks were so petty and snarky that a regular reader of Rolling Stone would suspect that Gene was a Republican candidate running for office.  Yet, Gene’s not even a Republican voter, as he has made it public that he voted for both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton twice.

This article would also be an excellent read for journalism students seeking answers on what not to do with subjects they’re covering in an article.  Having never taken a journalism course, I would have to imagine that one of the primary rules discussed in a Journalism 101 class is: “The articles that you write are not about you.  No one will be reading your article to learn what you think, unless you’re writing an opinion piece.  If you’re covering a subject in a journalistic manner, however, remember that your readers are only reading your article to learn more about the subject.  It’s not about you.  Your readers won’t care about your opinion, your preferences, or what you think about the subject you’re covering, so be careful how you frame their answers.  If your subject says something stupid, infantile, or in any way revealing of their character, put that statement on the record, but do not comment, or frame, that quote in anyway.  That’s not your job.”  Judging by the course journalism has followed in the last generation, I’m quite sure that most journalism schools now include an asterisk with each of these rules that states: “Unless your subject is a Republican politician.”  As I wrote, however, Gene Simmons is not a Republican voter.

Inspiration—

“This guy sounds like a complete fraud,” a writer said of a fellow writer I was describing.  I wasn’t even done with my description of this fellow writer, when this writer interrupted me with her blunt characterization.  I wasn’t shocked by her assessment of this fellow writer.  She had said as much of other, more established writers, but it was apparent to me that this woman believed that by diminishing all other writers around her, her stature as a writer would somehow be fortified.  Had this been the first time I heard any writer say such a thing, I would’ve passed her comments off as flaws in her character, but I’ve heard a number of novices, and well-established writers, engage in the this practice.  If you’ve ever heard a U.F.O. chaser, a ghost hunter, or some fortune teller attempt to establish their bona fides by telling you that every other person engaged in their craft are fraudulent, then you have some idea what I’m detailing here.

Knowing how hard it is to come up with ideas, and execute those ideas to the point of proper completion, one would think that a writer would bend over backwards to extend professional courtesies to anyone trying to do the same.  If you think that, you’ve never sat down with a group of writers.

“You can say he’s a poor writer,” I said, “But are you saying he’s not a writer?”

“I’m saying he’s probably a hack,” she responded.  She didn’t arc her nose upward after saying that, but that’s how I now remember it.  It seemed like such a violation of the code, on so many levels, that it was hard to comprehend how she could be so brutal.

She cut me off before I could ask her what she meant by “hack”.  I know the general term applies to writers that write just to write, and churn out poor quality submissions for financial gain, but she had never read this person’s material.  She had never even met the man.  Yet, he was a hack in a manner that made her appear adept at using the word.

One essential component to avoid being called a hack, apparently, is to write so little that everything you write can be perceived as enlightened, or divine in nature.  If you want to avoid being a hack, you should never write what others might consider mundane.  Yet, those of us that truly love the minutiae involved in writing, believe that it’s only through exploring the mundane that moments of inspiration can be discovered.    

One key component to being in a position to level such a charge, and have that charge stick –I now know after reading her material— is to never allow those that hear you level it, read your material.  Your charge should remain an indefinable accusation that leaves you with the dignified, nose-in-the-air air about you.

Her material brought to mind the one key component of storytelling that every writer should focus on —be they a writer of vital, substantial material, or a hack— make sure it’s interesting.  Translation: You can be the most gifted writer the world has ever read, but if your material is not interesting, no one will care. 

In the face of the constructive comments (see negative) this woman received from our group, she said, “Perhaps, I’m a better editor, than I am a writer.”  Translation: I have little in the way of creative talent, but I am, indeed, gifted in the art of telling others how little they have. 

The Inconsiderate and the Uninteresting


A show I watch asked the question has America become more inconsiderate? They immediately moved this discussion of societal etiquette to the use of cell phones. Does someone answer a cell phone in the middle of your meal? Do they answer that call without asking to be excused? I don’t know if my lack of interest on this particular discussion is based on the fact that it’s become cliche to complain about cell phone usage, if I still feel like something of an outsider looking in on the whole cell phone world, or if most of the people in my inner circle are not obsessed with cellphones. Whatever the case is, I have fewer problems in the cell phone discussion than most. My concerns are less micro.

Cell PhonesLarry David has an observation he calls being car conscious.  Are you car conscious when you cross the street?  How quickly do you walk when you cross?  Are you ambivalent to the amount of time you have to cross the street, when you have the right of way, and do you walk at your own pace regardless of the amount of time you have to cross, or do you always walk expediently?

The primary influence of my life, my dad, was considerate.  Some of the times he was too considerate in my opinion, but the exaggeration shaped me.  I have my moments, just like everyone else has moments, but there are some people, and we all know them, that you can just tell are born inconsiderate.  It’s a way of life for these people, as opposed to a momentary slip.

Gene Simmons once said: “Most people are not very interesting.”  What Gene probably meant to say, I believe, is that most people are not very attractive.  Interesting is, of course, relative.  What is interesting subject matter to one person can be dreadfully boring to another and vice-versa. Reading through some of Gene’s books, and listening to a number of his interviews, I’m willing to put money on the fact that Gene finds attractive women interesting, regardless their subject matter… Especially those attractive women that find the subject of Gene Simmons interesting.

On Alec Baldwin’s radio show, NBC News host Brian Williams said that he believes his political opinions have been cleansed from his reporting.  Brian Williams has been known to deliver such lines, in the guest appearances he’s made on 30 Rock and on the Late Show with David Letterman, with such an excellent dead pan that it’s impossible to know when he’s kidding.  For further clarification, some of us wish we were back in the 70’s when laugh tracks were the norm.  We find the fine line between comedy and tragedy too confusing at times.

In a line from Simon Vozick-Levinson’s Rolling Stone review of Thom Yorke’s Atoms for Peace, Levinson writes:

“Thom Yorke hates being predictable more than anything except maybe climate change.”

YorkeIf the rhythm of this line sounds familiar, it may have something to do with the author of the quote co-opting from those old Superman lines used to promote the corporate sponsorship of that show:

“If there’s one thing Superman hates more than crime it’s tooth decay, and to fight tooth decay Superman uses Crest.”

The only difference is that the author was presumably serious.

Answering questions directly can be a problem at times:

“Does (something) stress you out?”  This is a question that we humans seem to enjoy asking of one another, regardless of the topic.

“Yes, it does,” I answered.  The answer that I provided was so direct, and clipped, that the two of us stared at each other in silence for a second.

“How does it stress you out?”

I then describe for them how this stressful situation affects me.  I am very matter-of-fact in my description, for I know that I’m walking into their net when I do so.

“Well, that’s what happens,” is the smug answer.  “If you didn’t expect that, you shouldn’t have gone down that road.”  They then laugh smugly at my naivete with that response.

“Wait a second,” I say, “You asked me two direct questions that I answered directly.  I knew the answer to the question, but how do you get to be the smug one?  Do I have to qualify every answer I give, or can some of it be assumed?”

Ace Frehley’s book: No Regrets. A Review


Ace Frehley has No Regrets.  It’s the title of his book.  He has no regrets, apparently, about wasting whatever God-given talent he was given, and he has no regrets about doing little-to-nothing to make his “right place and right time” in history to make it a little better. That’s great Ace, you stuck your middle finger right up into what Gene and Paul have been saying about you, but what about those young fans that defended your legacy for much of our young lives?  Do you have No Regrets about all that?

Ace FrehleyThis review is being written by a fan.  This writer may not be a die hard fan anymore, but I was.  There was a time when Kiss was my whole world, and in those days Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton was my favorite person in the universe, and Ace Frehley was number two.  I still have a soft spot in my heart for the man, but Ace Frehley’s new book No Regrets has even tainted that.

Ace Frehley states that he is clean now, and like so many other rock bios that adorn the shelves of bookstores across America, Frehley takes the vantage point of an outsider commenting on his past debauchery.  Alcohol and drugs were the way Frehley dealt with the ups and downs of stardom, but he has No Regrets about this. As comedians in the past (Pryor and Carlin) have done, Ace chooses to laugh at his lifestyle choices.  He chooses the “now that I’m clean” meme to detail for us the hilarity of being so out of control that you don’t know what you’re doing.  As a lifelong Ace Frehley fan, I found many of the Ace Frehley stories funny, troubling, and disenchanting, but Ace has No Regrets.

The “breath of fresh air” arrives when Ace details for us the tale of Kiss.  Ace is more honest and forthcoming about the formulation of Kiss than any of the other members have been to this point.  The reader begins to realize that Ace is going to be the first to tell this story without a marketing plan. There is no Kiss mysticism attached to this version of the story, the Kisstory, such as the stories faithful Kiss readers have been inundated with by Paul and Gene. This is the Kiss story as told by “the fun and spontaneous member”.  This is the more “real” version of the story.  Unfortunately, the more “real”, Ace Frehley version of the story substantiates many of the charges made against Ace’s apathy and his poor work ethic.  The No Regrets book also substantiates the charge that Ace wasn’t particularly elemental in the formulation of the eventual Kiss product, that he was basically just along for the ride, and that he has No Regrets about any of this.

In one particular story, Ace says that the producer of the album Destroyer, Bob Ezrin, began pushing Ace to come up with guitar solos for the songs on the album.  Ace complains that the pushing was counterproductive for what Ezrin failed to understand is that the spontaneous nature of artistic creation cannot be pushed.  Ace’s lone contribution on a majority of the Kiss songs was a brief solo between the verses, and he couldn’t even come up with that by the time Kiss’ Destroyer album came out.  At this point in the story, I would’ve been mentally lambasting Gene and Paul for presumably leaving out some necessary details of the story.  That’s not the case here of course.  This is Ace telling the story.  As I said, it’s all troubling and disenchanting, but he had No Regrets.

The question that this reader has for Ace on this particular issue is: “How much time, between albums, did you have to work on these spontaneous solos?  I know spontaneity cannot be generated on the spot, but it can be cultivated over time, so that it becomes easier every time out.  This is called art.  Artistic creations take time, devotion, and discipline.  I’m not a blind fan don’t get me wrong.  I recognize Kiss music for what it is.  I don’t put it on par with Monet or Picasso in the world of art, but even Kiss music takes a degree of involvement, work ethic, and commitment. Ace Frehley was a significant part of a group that put out products that many of us spent our allowance on, but Frehley thought Bob Ezrin pushed the man’s artistic sensibilities a little too hard, because Ezrin didn’t understand the gentle process of artistic creation.  My educated guess, based on the characterization of Ace Frehley, by Ace Frehley in the book No Regrets, is that he arrived in the studio unprepared, and he got mad at Ezrin for getting mad at him about it.  Yet, Ace Frehley has no regrets.

Few have questioned Frehley’s God-given gifts, but he apprently did little to formulate and finesse those gifts that were given to him.  What were you doing between albums Ace, other than touring? The answer: Sex, drugs, and alcohol.  No Regrets.  You read Ace detail this portion of his story, and you realize that Ace may have been paying a little bit too much attention to his press clippings.  He may have been listening to those adoring fans that put him on a pedestal a little too often.  He may have thought there was a degree of mysticism to his art that couldn’t arise as a result of a request from a meager human, but it had to be waited for in the manner of some divine artiste.  Say what you want about Gene and Paul, and many have (Ace does in this book in good ways and bad), but Gene and Paul knew there was nothing divine about what they were doing.  They simply worked their tails off for the legacy they eventually achieved.

Ace chastises the Kiss bassist Gene Simmons throughout the book as a man who took the Kiss product a little too seriously throughout the process of building it.  Ace talks about how he couldn’t do it.  The movie “Kiss Meets the Phantom” is an example of the “Kisstory” that Ace admits he basically sat out.  He looks good in hindsight for having sat that one out, for the movie is generally considered a bomb.  Ace talks about how he didn’t enjoy making the album “The Elder”, and how he generally sat that one out too.  Ace then talks about how he wasn’t much of a part of the making of the album Destroyer either.  The latter is a little more painful to him, as evidenced in his words, but this may be due to the fact that Destroyer is generally considered to be Kiss’ best album.  Hindsight shows Ace regretting that he wasn’t a greater part of the successes, but he doesn’t mind telling us he had little to nothing to do with that which is generally considered less successful artistically and financially.  How convenient.

Ace condemns Gene as a business man who has no friends.  He says Gene needs to cut loose and have a beer every once in a while.  To be fair to Ace, he does thank Gene and Paul for everything they built, and he’s not as negative as I thought he would be.  I read where Gene leveled Ace in many areas, and I expected the return fire to be explosive.  He pounded home the point that Gene has no friends by saying that the Gene Simmons Roast only had comedians in it (and family members), but he doesn’t have as many negative things to say about Gene as this review and others may lead one to believe.

Those of us that were Ace Frehley loyalists for much of our life, have one quick question for Ace.  The question is based on the fact that we defended Ace among our friends, those that informed us what Gene and Paul had said about him.  Why would you write this?  Why would you tell the world that you didn’t have as much play in the formulation of this Kiss product as we thought you had. Why would you tell your biggest fans that you were basically along for the ride, for much of the time?  Why would you say that other than some minor artistic differences, there’s no real huge story to your departure? Or, that you just got sick of it?’  Ace does mention the fact that he may not be alive if he were still in Kiss, but it’s clear that that was totally on him by that point.  The only one that encouraged Frehley into greater debauchery, Peter Criss, was long gone by the time he quit, and Paul and Gene were basically dry as stated time and again throughout the book.  Did Ace envy the success Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash had with his autobiography?  Did he know that his story was similar, and he wanted a piece of that pie?

In a promotional interview for this book, Ace did on The Today Show, Ace talked about how proud he was to add published author to his list of accomplishments. That’s great, some of us thought, and it’s a laudable goal for any high school dropout.  The question is what did you have published?  Was it a novel, a short story collection, or bio that detailed for the American public a dossier of artistic accomplishments?  What this published author managed to have published was a tome of a wasted opportunity, a waste of talent, and a largely wasted life.  My guess is that Frehley saw all of acclaim and sales that went to Guns and Roses guitarist Slash and realized that his story was similar.  It’s as entertaining as Slash’s was, and it’s received as much praise, but at what price?

The reader is left with the idea that Ace led a blessed and lucky life, but when it came to actually working, and finessing that gift to even greater heights, Ace got turned on and tuned out. Ace will undoubtedly receive a lot more praise for being “more real” with his story, but those of us that considered ourselves true fans, we wish he had been a little less real to keep the Ace myth alive. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun (and in spots a funny) read, but it’s also a little sad and disenchanting.