As the world prepares for Kiss to enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, another recent Hall of Famer is coming out in support of the band’s induction. His name may surprise you: Chuck D. “Personally,” the Public Enemy co-founder says, “I always felt Kiss deserved to be inducted.”
That feeling doesn’t seem to be mutual. Kiss bassist Gene Simmons said in a recent Radio.com interview that hip-hop acts like Public Enemy don’t belong in the Rock Hall. In Chuck’s words, Simmons “took the old-fashioned, limited position that rock ’n’ roll is for guitars and some other primitive shit like that. I guess his point was that he wants to be judged against the artists he thinks are his peers, like maybe Aerosmith. But yo, dude, one thing that the rocker doesn’t understand is that rock came out of something”—meaning music styles that, like hip-hop, sprang from African-American culture.
Still, Simmons’ opinion doesn’t affect Chuck’s belief in Kiss’ worthiness. “I still think they should be in,” he says, “because they created a total 360-degree experience for their fans. They’re one of those artists whose influence goes beyond the music. And you see that influence in the business today—everybody’s about selling the experience, even more than the music.”
Many Kiss fans are chagrined that the band is only being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 15 years after it first became eligible. Yet even now that selection remains controversial, and some vehemently oppose it. Veteran rock writer and Hall of Fame voter Dave Marsh, for example, has repeatedly gone on record saying that he would do everything in his power to make sure that Kiss never made it into the Hall.
“I know Dave and I like him,” Chuck says, “but that’s wild. I just scratch my head at that. You’re supposed to throw your personal tastes out the window when you’re doing this. Even if you’re not into it, you have to pay attention to the demographics, and by that I don’t just mean numbers [which, in Kiss’ case, would include career album/DVD sales of approximately 200 million and career ticket sales of approximately 30 million]. What Kiss did was like Parliament-Funkadelic in some ways. Say you came up listening to rock, and you saw Parliament-Funkadelic turn a crowd out. Even if you totally didn’t understand the music, you had to respect what it was doing. And it’s the same with Kiss. You’ve got to look at the impact they had across the board.”
True enough, but what does Chuck think about the actual music of Kiss? “It’s like cheap beer,” he says with a laugh. “But that’s okay sometimes. There’s a place for high art and a place for low art. Low art is great in low places. And this is a performance art, at the end of the day. You can write the greatest song in the world, but who cares when you can’t perform it well? If people consider your music a piece of shit but you can perform it well and win people over to it, you deserve an A grade for the performance even if you only get a C grade in music.”
Call that a qualified endorsement.