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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Linda Ronstadt rejects the need for more fame: The Hall of Fame


It’s not anything I’ve ever given a second thought to,” Linda Ronstadt says of being elected to Rock and Roll’s Hall of Fame,  “I never thought of myself as a rock ‘n’ roll singer.  I’ve thought of myself as a singer who sang rock ‘n’ roll, who sang this, who sang that.

“I remember one of the guys at my record company asked me once if I would induct somebody into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I said ‘I really don’t like going to things like that.’  And he said, ‘Linda, you have to do it if you ever want to get inducted yourself!’

“I said, ‘I don’t care if I ever get inducted,’” she said. “That was a long time ago—in the ‘80s, and that was the last I ever thought of it.”

Ronstadt‘Heretic!’ the rock and roll intelligentsia is probably screaming.  ‘She’s lying!  She’s a witch!!  Get her!!!’  Some, more reasonable Americans, are probably thinking that her ambivalence toward induction has something to do with the fact that she can’t sing anymore due to her Parkinson’s disease diagnosis.  Others might think that Ronstadt fears that she won’t match up to other inductees, under this most, scrutinizing spotlight, but most are thinking that it’s just not rational that a living, breathing human being would leave any amount of fame on the doorstop before entirely fading away into obscurity.

How could you not be intoxicated by the fame a Hall of Fame induction might bring you?  Isn’t it every person’s dream to be enshrined in such a manner.  Isn’t that why you did what you did.  Doesn’t it put a punctuation mark on your career?  Are you lying when you say that you don’t spend every moment of your existence remembering your glory years?  Don’t you want to have your legacy properly placed alongside your peers?

It’s not enough, for some, to simply have their songs still played on radio, it’s not enough for them to know that they have had some form of artistic impact on millions of lives.  They want more.  What is more?  What you got?

Even though the brunt of their careers are now thirty years past, most artists still want more.  They still have agents, and public relations guys, and they are immersed in this competitive desire to have more fame, more money, more recognition, or more of ‘what you got’ than their generation’s peers. We’re so accustomed to every artist clinging to their moment in the spotlight that when one artist steps forward and basically says, “Enough.  I’m ready to move on in life,” we consider them to be either dishonest, or driven by an unseen agenda that we have to unearth to reveal them as the freaks they have to be.

I think it hurt Linda that she didn’t write (her own songs),” said one longtime Hall of Fame voter who asked not to be identified.  “Unlike (others), (Ronstadt) was viewed as a popularizer of songs, which isn’t as valued in the rock tradition as the pop tradition.  She also was more pop in some ways than country or rock or soul, even though she incorporated touches of all that in her music.”

It could have a lot to do with that, say those of us that aren’t attempting to evaluate Ronstadt’s position with an agenda.  It could have something to do with the fact that Ronstadt can’t sing anymore, and all these retrospectives and celebrations bring her feelings of pain and sorrow.  Or, it could have something to do with the fact that (hold onto your bootstraps) she no longer has a desire for unnaturally prolonged fame.

She boils her career down to ‘I sang this, I sang that.’  She said that she didn’t want to be considered the Queen of Rock, when she was declared so in the 70’s, and that she has either lost, or given away, all of the awards she has received in her life.  She then furthered her heresy, by condemning the Rolling Stone (the magazine’s) effect on music when she said: “There was a puritanical attitude about music that reeked out of Rolling Stone: The attitude that only a certain kind of music is hip, that you have to be funky.  Where does that leave Jimmy Webb or Paul Simon or Kate & Anna McGarrigle or so many other great writers whose songs have nothing to do with whether they are hip or trendy or what they’re supposed to be doing this week? People write music from the most personal point of view, and that process endlessly renews itself.”

Music, she says, “Should be about processing your feelings and helping you get through life.”{1}

Taken at face value, most music is simplistically pure, she seems to be saying, but those outside the art form (Rolling Stone critics and writers) bring so many personal agendas, and personal interpretations, and attempts at self-aggrandizement, that what is actually simple becomes complicated with all of these establishment attachments added to it.

Would the Sex Pistols have achieved any fame at all, if Rolling Stone magazine had never existed?  Anyone that was so subjected to the Rolling Stone definition of cool that they actually bought a Sex Pistols album, knows that they were actually pretty terrible, but they achieved worldwide fame on the basis of attitude, and that attitude fit perfectly with the Rolling Stone ethos.  Anyone that bought a Ramones album, based on the never-ending plaudits that every Rolling Stone writer attached to them, to gain their bona fides as a rock critic, knows how limited the range of the Ramones catalogue was.  Ask any Rolling Stone writer about Tom Petty, and they’ll say he was great.  Ask these same people about a similar artist, from a similar era (say Billy Joel) and they’ll point their thumbs down with a raspberry to follow.  Petty was traditional, and Joel was more oriented towards pop music, which Rolling Stone generally rejects as bad.  Michael Jackson, bad, Prince good; traditional rock good, arena rock bad; and punk rock good, heavy metal bad.  It’s the Rolling Stone ethos.

Taste in music is relative, of course, and I’m sure that there are some that actually preferred Jim Morrison’s voice to Freddie Mercury’s, but how much of that preference was personally decided, and how much of it was spawned by the Rolling Stone’s declarations of good and bad?  How many of us dismissed Bohemian Rhapsody as unserious bubble gum pop, that therefore shouldn’t be held in the same category as the more important song The End by The Doors.  You can like Bohemian Rhapsody, in other words, but if you put it on the same level with The End, you’re unserious, and you should be dismissed as such.

The effect this magazine, and American Idol, have had on music is unquestioned, and this is what Ronstadt rejects: “This sort of competition has nothing to do with art.  It’s so counterproductive to put everybody in some kind of category.  That’s got nothing to do with anything.  I just don’t like it. I think competition is really good for horse races.”  She was speaking of the American Idol effect with this specific quote, but the feet of Rolling Stone’s writers can be held to some of the same fires.

In our teens, many of us were confused, on a daily basis, on what we could like and what we couldn’t.  Was it okay to like Michael Jackson back then?  That depends on the mood of the cool kid of the day.  Was it okay to like Kiss?  It usually wasn’t, but there were days when you could catch the right cool kid, on the right day, and find out it was.  Was it okay to like Cindy Lauper and Phil Collins?  That all depended on the motif you were trying to create.  Did  you want to be a kitschy, retro, nerd, or were you seeking good music?  If you truly wanted to be in the know, it was probably safer to put the Lauper CD back and pick up a Patty Smith, or Aretha Franklin CD.

The cool kids that I hung around—those that refused to join the Echo and the Bunnyman, Elvis Costello, and R.E.M, inner circle of Rolling Stone magazine cool kids—faced a quandary with Ozzy Osbourne.  Was he cool, or was he a kitschy cool, cartoon character on par with Kiss?  Most of the high school students I hung out with knew nothing of Black Sabbath, or anything that preceded the bat-biting heavy metal dude.  Once we found out the man had history, transcendental history, it was cool to love Ozzy again.  I was so confused.

I don’t know if the cool kid status, is as confusing today as it was back then, but I do know that for most adulthood allows those insecurities to slip away, like a snake shedding its skin.  I do know that most people start to like the music they like, because they like the music, and they eschew all of the personal, and establishment attachments that are placed on it.  I do know that most adults are confident enough that they don’t need the constant reinforcement that it appears most aging rock stars do when they have their Rolling Stone, classic rock bona fides redefined by the Hall, and they get to feel like cool kids again, until they are so overwhelmed that they are move to tears by it.  Very few of them appear to be so confident, or comfortable, that they are able to opt out of all this foolishness and say, “Okay, that’s enough, let’s all move on.  I’m in my sixties now, and I’m simply tired of reliving all those events that occurred thirty years ago.”  Linda Ronstadt appears to be the exception to the rule, and her public proclamation appears to have reflected so poorly on the others that they need some sort of explanation for this most personal affront.

[Editorial update] Linda Ronstadt was inducted into the Hall of Fame in April 2014.  In the dignified manner Ms. Ronstadt has conducted herself throughout her career, she said:  “I don’t want to seem ungracious, but I’ve refused all comment about this.”

{1} http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/posts/la-et-ms-linda-ronstadt-book-parkinsons-rock-hall-fame-simple-dreams-20130927,0,5027737.story

I’m a Little Bit Polka, and a Little Bit Rock and Roll


I used to think I was a rock and roll dude, and I mean totally … when I was around a bunch of polka people. I might never have been as avant garde as I thought, but I’ve been informed, of late, that I’ve become anything and everything but rock and roll. I’ve become polka. I found this out at dinner one night, when a real rock and roller rebelled against a polka comment I made. It didn’t completely surprise me that she considered me the vanguard of traditional thought –that needed to be squashed for the purpose of her attaining a rebellious, rock star personae– it did surprise me, however, to find out that I was only polka, but I liked it.

I, too, used to regard societal norms as something in need of a good squashing. I used to think those who ascribed to traditional thoughts did so in a 1950’s, Leave it to Beaver, and uninformed manner, until I realized I was doing what I was told. The avant garde informed me that if I wanted to be considered dangerous, risqué, and avant garde, there was a distinct set of beliefs to which I must adhere.

A rock and roll dude

Back when I had no idea who I was, or what I wanted to be, but I was willing to do just about anything, and say just about anything, and be just about whatever I had to be to have one person confuse me with a dangerous, Jimmy Hendrix lick, or a controversial and provocative John Lennon lyric. I wanted to be indefinable, complex and cool, because I didn’t know what I had to do to fill my basket yet, and it disgusted me when others, so sure of themselves, did. What my friend said to me the other weekend was that indefinable, rock and roll something that I would’ve said to my own polka people, twenty years prior, and my reaction to her comment was as silent as my recipients’ were.

Why was I silent? I didn’t know what she was trying to say, and I didn’t see the value in it. If I displayed confusion in the face of that comment and said, ‘What?’ she probably would’ve gotten off on that. I know I would’ve, in my rock and roll days.

‘Nothing,’ is what she might have responded had I made the fateful decision to say ‘What?’ and she would’ve done so in a deliciously dismissive manner. ‘You wouldn’t get it if I told you, and you probably never will,’ is something she might have added, and she would have considered that dinner discussion delicious.

It dawned on me that when I used to say such things to the polka people around me, it was as confusing to me then as it is now. I didn’t know what I was talking about back then, but I wanted to be the apathetic, complicated characters I saw captured so well in the movies of my youth. I thought those actors were so cool rebelling against complicated matters they knew nothing about, and I used the catch phrases and song lyrics they used to dismiss the polka generation to do so. I thought their lyrics were so delicious that they afforded the characters a persona that suggested they were the only ones who truly knew about the matters they were discussing. I wasn’t sure if I didn’t have enough confidence to pull it off, but for some reason no one was as affected by my presentation as those character actors were in the movies.

“What are you rebelling against?” was a screenwriter’s line a female actor used in the movie The Wild One. “Whaddya got?” The male actor responded with another of the screenwriter’s lines.

Translation: ‘I don’t know what I’m rebelling against. I’m too young, and too uninformed to rebel against anything of any substance, but isn’t my indefinable rebellion cool?’

‘Lines like these and other lyrics from the rock and rollers are great and all,’ I wanted to say to my fellow rock and roll rebels, ‘but I got all these other guys hammering me for more details, because I don’t know what I’m talking about. You have to give me something more here.’ 

Undefined rebellion in songs and movies are so cool, and the idea of rebelling against the norm, the status quo, or the “whaddya got?” is the epitome of greatness, until the various theys in our life kill the messengers for not knowing what we’re talking about. What are we rebelling against exactly? We don’t know, and the rock and roll rebels don’t know either. If they know, they’re not telling us, because they enjoy the cool deflector shield they wear that suggests we’re not supposed to ask. Those who do know, know that it’s something beautiful and indefinable. It’s something that the important, dangerous, and attractive know, and if you don’t, what are you doing here anyway?

I spent some time around rock and roll dudes, in my rock and roll days, and they were adamant that “I don’t get it, and I probably never will”.

“I don’t,” I said when I reached an age where I was confident enough to admit it, “explain it to me.” I was confident enough to admit that I wasn’t a rock and roll dude, but I wasn’t so confident that the latter line was a confrontational challenge to their beliefs. I was not a person who believed that there was some intrinsic value to being uncool. I wanted to know what they knew, and I would’ve loved if they tossed the keys to the “it” world to me, but it wasn’t such a driving force that I was willing to do whatever it took to get there.

I now know there is no secret formula. “It” is an idea steeped in superficialities. If you have an “it” look, you have “it” without being required to get “it” qualities. If you don’t, and you want in, you have to believe in those who do. You have to have faith in the otherwise quiet, cool kids who use a catch phrase or a song lyric to condemn those with a polka mindset. Unquestioned allegiance to the unquestioning allegiance of what the “it” crowd believes can lead a messenger to being an avant garde rock and roll rebel that some regard as an independent thinker.

With all of those contradictions in mind, when my dining companion confronted me with the idea that I’m no longer a little bit polka, and a little bit rock and roll, because I’m not the least bit rock and roll, I took it for what it was, because I knew she couldn’t define the alternative any better than anyone else could. No one can explain it, of course, and although I’ve never been the best student of what “it” is, because I’ve never had “it”, I now know what I have to buy to get “it”.

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.