Gene Simmons is Sick of Karaoke Crap “Music” (and So Am I)
By Rich Turgeon, author of Indie Rock 101
As you may have heard, Kiss and Motley Crue recently announced an upcoming summer tour. Kiss bassist/demon child/master of PR Gene Simmons used the occasion to emphasize that the show would be live, unlike the stage show of modern pop princesses like Rihanna and Madonna, who lip-sync to backup tapes as “karaoke singers.”
Some highlights from the press conference:
Simmons: “We’re sick and tired of girls getting up there with dancers and karaoke tapes in back of them. No karaoke singers allowed. No fake bullsh-t. Leave that to Rihanna-Schimianna and everybody else whose name ends with an ‘A.'”
Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee: “I don’t think I can bear watching another f—king award show that is just a little better than ‘American Idol.’ It’s f—king pathetic to watch people go out and f—king karaoke with a bunch of lights and video. It’s all completely watered down.”
Simmons’s previous comments on Madonna’s Super Bowl XLVI halftime appearance: “I love all karaoke singers,” he told TMZ. “I like all the girl singers who get up and sing with tapes. Shame on you… I don’t care what your music is, have some integrity, be real, or full disclosure before the fact. Hold up a sign that says, ’70 percent of what you hear is fake. It’s a tape. I’m a karaoke singer.'”
I’m here to say: I’m glad Kiss and the Crue are bringin’ rock back. I’m glad someone else is fed up with today’s music “business” full of pop singers who don’t write their own songs, don’t play instruments, and in some cases don’t even sing live at their spectacle-driven, dancer-filled “performances.” For too long now I’ve thought, “Maybe I’m just old. Maybe this pop-dance garbage is just how music is supposed to be today.”
But no. Gene and Tommy are right. Manufactured pop music with these acts who have their songs and image crafted for them by their record labels and producers, who don’t write their own stuff, and especially those who aren’t even talented enough to sing live, has always been crap, and it’s still crap. It’s cynical. It’s a rip-off. It’s fake. And lest there’s any misconception I don’t have mad respect for female musicians, you’ll find plenty of Juliana Hatfield, Veruca Salt, Breeders, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Pretenders, and many more in my music catalog. Hell, I still even listen to Heart once in a while. Now there’s a Wilson who could write and sing.
Part of that generation of white suburban kids born in the early ’70s, I grew up obsessed with Kiss. My walls were covered with their posters, I collected the baseball cards, covered my arms in the little temp tats that came with their vinyl records. I even made arrangements with my neighbors to watch their TV movie “Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park,” in glorious full color. I had other musical obsessions growing up, but by the time I was in my early teens my early tastes for rock bloomed into an obsession with a wider spectrum of pop metal and rock: Asia, Journey, Saga, Night Ranger, Aldo Nova, Quiet Riot, but Iron Maiden, Crue and Def Leppard especially. I joined a a pop metal cover band at 13.
When Nirvana broke, they knocked Michael Jackson off the charts and by then, I’d almost forgotten how awesome rock music performed by real songwriters and musicians could be. As corny as it sounds, that band changed my life. I thought if a real band that was that good could make it the early ’90s, with all the manufactured junk out there, I might have a shot too.
Kiss and Motley Crue are coming back at a good time. Kids today grow up thinking that these shows like “American Idol”, “The Voice” and what not are what music is about, and that’s sad. Music is not about some wannabe Disney kid prancing around in front of a panel of judges to decide on who’s “the best” or not. DIY punk rock and indie rock and rock rock are about picking up an instrument, writing songs and playing in front of whoever you can because you want to and you have to, and not worrying too much about what anyone thinks. It’s about hitting some sour notes and putting out your own records. It’s about meeting your bandmates and other musicians and artists on the scene. In short, it’s about being real. It is definitely not about lip syncing to overblown dance routines backed by tapes, turntables and laptops. I don’t know about you, but when I see someone like Ashlee Simpson getting an opportunity to perform on “SNL” and then run off the stage when she finds herself lip syncing to the wrong backup tapes, I yearn for those days when no-talent bubble gum acts simply weren’t featured on the show.
One of my idols Dave Grohl said it best at a Foo Fighters concert I wrote about in my last post. In between songs, and with characteristic good-natured humor, he started lamenting all the “laptop” bands out there. (He may have even made a dig at Coldplay, but I can’t swear to it.) I’m paraphrasing, but he said something like, “What happened to bands playing instruments? I like guitars. You ain’t gonna see any laptops at our show—we play rock and roll.”
Amen, brother. And by the way, if you think this is on the minds of just a few cranky rockers, even Sting has made similar comments in the past. I recall him saying in an interview that in today’s day and age, “one video can fill a stadium.” Ironic coming from one of the first bands to explode with the help of MTV, yes, but he was speaking more to a time when bands like the Police had to at least pay their dues. They had to carry their own gear to every show, write their own songs (gasp!), and practice and get better at their craft as musicians by playing actual instruments (say what??) Bands used to have to spend many, many years playing to no one and getting better at their craft before earning their rightful place at the top, let alone a record deal. In short, business of show aside, they had to be professional musicians.
I pray for the musical souls of this younger generation of music fans. They are being weaned on a constant diet of fake, over-processed, over-sanitized musical junk food by prefab pop acts squatting at the top of the charts. It’s time for Kiss, Crue, and more likely, your indie rock band, to reclaim rock’s rightful place in the musical pantheon.
San Franciso-based indie musician/producer Richard Turgeon is the author of Indie Rock 101: Running, Recording and Promoting Your Band, published by Focal Press. You can keep up with his latest projects at his website and blog at www.indierock101.com/.