The Problem With Rock Bios? It’s the Myth That Matters
By Michael Des Barres
There is a definitive trajectory found on the shelves of book stores under “Rock Bios,” in between “Rock Climbing” and “Raising Awkward Children.”
Mythological and eternal stardom is based on secrets. The great stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood were created and fabricated by a former shoe salesman who now ran a star factory, their personas crafted to appeal to a naive and eager audience desperate for a royal family, a touchstone of glamorous,allegiance. Someone to emulate, inhabit and become.
But most of all, it was someone to pay to go see shine on a silver screen.
Rock ‘n roll was invented by working class kids who,like ghetto athletes, fought to get out of the mundanities of life with guitar in hand and the sirens in their ears, singing songs of raw passion to a bluesy beat.
The 1960s exploded with paisley precision. Fantasies of anarchic adventures began to emerge from album covers,lyrics,photographs and most of all the music — obscure,sexy and dangerous. Who are the purveyors of the devil’s music? Are there any clues I’ve missed in reading the album covers and the Rolling Stone interviews?
New heroes and heroines were birthed to serve a new need. Post-World War II youth needed someone with a guitar not a rifle. They didn’t want a cowboy or a marine to shower with affection and respect, to emulate, to be fascinated by, to want to have wild sex with..It was a new mythology for a rock and roll generation.
Jimi Hendrix kissed the sky goodbye. Jim Morrison groaned with hellhound romanticism. Janis Joplin swigged Southern Comfort from the bottle, but got no comfort at all.
Woodstock, Monterey, Altamont — the mythic, specific sport of gods and goddesses who flashed across the firmament and crashed and burned in a fiery exit from an unworthy world, joining the pantheon of eternal brilliance, forever young.
However, some lived. They did not crash and burn, and they wrote about it.
Why has fame now become about regular folk? Why have the Kardashians, Honey Boo Boo and bounty hunters become our new stars?
It seems the eccentricities of “normalcy” are our new cultural obsession. The absurdity of today’s real life has taken precedence, replacing the shining stars of yesteryear.
Tales of super fame, superstars and super excess are now familiar and repetitive. A six-year-old trailer park child with a family of crude, sweet eccentrics is the new rock star.
Rock stars are no longer “rock stars.”
The literary efforts and predictable confessions are just too familiar now. The rock myth is predicated on youth. Living to tell the tale seems awkward and far too normal. Of course there are exceptions… the true poets and philosophers/feral/sexy/prescient giants you are all familiar with continue to excite, question and entertain and provoke us. They are few and far between, however, which is how it should be.
The only points of interest about our aging idols are weight gain, surgery and wigs — not cool, not cool at all. Then there are the self-congratulatory Hall of Fame jams that sound like every bar band in America. the only difference being the teleprompters for lyrics to songs they’ve all been singing for years.
Rock ‘n roll? Teleprompters? Yikes!
The great and powerful Keith Richards himself in describing Mick Jagger’s penis as “a tiny dodger” delivered the death blow. Is anyone safe after this? Jumping Jack Flash with a “tiny dodger?” That’s rock ‘n roll buzz kill on a grand scale. We don’t want to be brought down to Earth. We want to soar forever to the riff from “Satisfaction.”
Silence is platinum. Spilling the beans on one’s self is a dreadful idea. Let others speak of you derisively or lovingly.
As Saint Bob Dylan said, “‘You can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.” Ironically, I devoured Dylan’s “Chronicles” in two hours!
The secret? He allowed us to continue to use our imagination.
The Blues Aren’t Really Dead – They’re Alive in Hip-Hop
By Michael Des Barres
Howlin’ Wolf wears a baseball cap now. Muddy Waters are the subject of a rabid environmentalist’s grievous concern. Son House is a tanning booth in a San Fernando Valley mall. John Lee Hooker is now John Lee escort.
I could go on, you know I could, but you get the picture. The blues is essentially dead, but not really. It hangs on in the garages of baby boomers dreaming of Eric Clapton’s slow hand, while seeking respite from an untidy world and an irksome domesticity.
Aficionados, obsessive collectors and graying bluesologists have all the blue vinyl they need. No new fix, it seems, to appease their addiction. They have downloaded the endless configurations of blues classics. They have been to the digital crossroads a 1,000 times. They are now indeed blue in the face.
I consider hip-hop the new blues. News from the streets. Emotional journalism. Still the dark tales of oppression, still the sexual braggadocio, still clad in flamboyance. Still gritty, carnal, obscene, vengeful, in despair, in love.
Exactly the same human experience that birthed the songs of Lightnin’ Hopkins, R.L. Burnside and Robert Johnson. Reportage from the soul. Live coverage of a world gone mad… Glocks and Gucci… John Gotti and the ghetto… connecting the polka dots of the human condition right now. Healing, enraging, provoking, clarifying and uniting.
Lil Wayne has now surpassed the King, Elvis himself, as the artist with the most charted hits. Good! Records (sic) were meant to be broken.
Elvis was a blues singer, Neil Sedaka was not. Elvis and Chuck Berry and Little Richard created rock ‘n’ roll from the blues and the beats go on… from the wolf to Snoop Dogg or Lion as you wish.
Growing up in London (I use the term loosely), us skinny white boys were obsessed with the dark tales from the other side. Incongruous and extraordinary as it was. It is no different from Caucasian kids grabbing hold of hip hop and not letting go. Why?
Because it’s real. You can taste it, embrace it, fight for it, make love to it. The artists that make it, live it. They get into real trouble, have mad affairs, fight with each other’s notions of authenticity and credibility. In short, they are alive, exciting … all the while displaying their wealth on every part of their body, even teeth. Putting the old blues men’s garish diamond pinkie rings to shame. Such is progress; from Cadillacs to Lamborghinis, same stories, different cars.
Lyrically, no-one could reasonably argue that today’s rap artists are not writing the most astounding 21st-century poetry, astonishing in its clarity and perception, to say nothing of the Olympian dexterity of it’s delivery.
The blues of yesterday is an iPod away. Grieve not, purists. Different raps for different chaps. I will always have Robert Johnson and Slim Shady.