NPR logo The Death Of The Rock Star

The Death Of The Rock Star

A commenter on my review of the Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds show provided a quote by Cave. From an Esquire interview:

"The more information you have, the more human our heroes become and consequently the less mysterious and godlike. They need to be godlike. It's something to lift us out of the commonplace and the mundane. And in the information age, they're becoming less and less godlike. Everyone is able to make music these days. Everyone can take a crack at it. To me, that equality has diluted the power of the rock star. The rock star is dying. And it's a small tragedy. Rock stars have blogs now. I have no use for that kind of rock star."

Nick Cave is right: The death of the rock star is upon us — if it hasn't happened already — and no one seems to care. Most "rock stars" I know are reluctant stars at best, trying their hardest to assimilate with the masses rather than exist as a separate entity. They move outside of media centers, they drink in dive bars and listen to their friends DJ, they host barbecues, they play solo for local charities, they volunteer in soup kitchens, and they take their kids to school. Yes, rock stars are truly just like us. But do we want them to be? Or do we even care?

Perhaps the current era of the reluctant rock star began with Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. They ushered in the macro genre known as "alternative," in which part of being outside the mainstream was to continually grapple with and engage in a dialog with the notion of fame. But sometimes conversation kills the mood. Certainly, the most extreme and iconic examples of rock stars never (publicly) doubted the decisions to drive cars into pools, sleep with groupies and do copious amounts of drugs. Only in retrospect did we hear of regret. Today's rock stars are too exposed: We know their every move and every thought thanks to the Internet. Therefore, reflection follows too closely on the heels of an act of carelessness. Maybe we want to bask in the inanity of others for a while. We don't want to know that they messed up; we want to think that there are those among us who live by a different set of rules. Otherwise, what do we dream of when we dream of escape?

For another example of the death of the rock star, I go back to something I discuss often on this blog — the conflation of art and commerce. With commercial radio and music television nearly extinct, music is often given the light of day via advertising. Yet giving songs to commercials doesn't elevate the artist or the song; instead, it puts them amongst the commonplace and the mundane. A rock star selling cars? Peddling soda or video games? It doesn't matter whether you agree with the politics of that decision. If rock stars were selling something most of us didn't use or couldn't afford — like a new line of private jets — maybe that would be better. Instead, it makes Coca-Cola more of a rock star than, say, Jack White.

Maybe the death of the rock star is due to the fact that brands are the new gods and musicians merely the preachers. As for us fans, we're just the church choir, hoping that there's still value in what we've chosen to worship.

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