Music

Chad W. Lutz
What is it like being a rock star? Many people wonder this but few ever get to lace up the shoes of fame and dance around naked in them. I’d imagine that pretty much every little kid (and probably some big kids too) used to dream of growing up to become a famous “this” or a mega success “that.” But the reality, as most of us who are now slaving away in the work force to barely make enough to pay our taxes, let alone the rent, let alone the gas…or the electric (now I’m depressing myself) find out, is that this isn’t always the case. And is more often than not rarely the case. Very rarely. But if you were even given the chance, would you really want to take it?

For as long as human beings have been in existence and garnered the ability to speak there have been celebrities. First, it was ancient rulers of vast empires. Then came the poets, playwrights, novelists, and scholars, later moving to political figures and then to the modern cesspool of celebrity that you can find gracing basically any screen within five feet of you. But with all that attention, especially in today’s time, would fame really be worth the price of stardom?

In terms of celebrity today, nothing is sexier, more desirable, or alluring than being part of the fast-paced, drug filled, lady laced lifestyle that being a rock star can offer. Some stay true to themselves and don’t give in to the temptation to go all “willy nilly,” for lack of better words. But many will argue that that’s what being a rock star is all about. Pushing the boundaries, breaking through borders, thrashing and bashing and splashing and dashing, and sometimes hashing (O.K a lot of times). But the boozing, abusing, misusing, perusing, confusing, but always amusing lifestyles of some of the most infamous characters in Rock N’ Roll history are what make being a rock star what it is today. To differ would be like looking back at the Revolutionary War and saying revolution played no part in it.

And what separates a rock star from everyone else? Is it their clothes? Is it their chiseled bodies or voluptuous curves? Is it their talent? Or are they merely individuals who were bigger fish than the ponds they grew up in could hold?

Brightly colored costumes, hip and catchy taglines, and flashy stage shows; all of these are the modern, and even historic, characteristics of celebrities. And society as a whole has gobbled them up for centuries. What’s trendy sets the tone for the times. And in this undertaking, rock stars never seem to fall short.

The psychedelic sights and sounds of the Rock N’ Roll Revolution of the mid to late sixties brought about an entire culture of underground hipsters. The decadence of the Eighties produced big-haired boppers; reminiscent of the greaser 50’s, with a thespian touch of leotards and acid wash jeans. The nineties tore the legs off the jeans and left the fabric fiber hanging like tendrils beneath punk shirts and flannel (Doc Martin’s optional). Abercrombie and other prep stores have ruled the scene for most of the 2000s thanks to Backstreet and N*Sync. But all the while, we’ve still had the choice to follow or not to follow. Most people will proudly boast that they are completely discernible from the next happy human. But for whatever reason, droves of people still follow along.

History has shown that there are far greater prices to pay for stardom than just having millions of fans scream your name and copy your every move. Some never even had the luxury to live past their 27th birthday. I’m referring to, of course, the infamous quartet of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Kurt Cobain. None of these individuals could make it out of their “twenty-something” phase and ended up either dying mysteriously in some way shape or form, or simply just took their own life. But controversy and mythology aside, all four of these guitar gods and swooning singers succumbed to the weight of stardom’s burning lead on their backs.

Though there weren’t any federal laws on the books until Nixon’s 1973 brainchild, the ever-infamous DEA, rock stars of the mid to late 1960s began getting busted left and right as public scrutiny over what constituted “art” reached an all-time high against the mounting counter culture. Donovan: arrested 1966 for possession of LSD. The Rolling Stones: arrested 1967 for possession of LSD. John Lennon and George Harrison: arrested 1968 for possession of marijuana. But these paled in comparison to Jimi Hendrix’s arrest in May of 1969 that landed him on charges of possession of Hashish and the grand daddy of drugs, Heroin. Though Canada, where Jimi was apprehended on those charges, had implemented a schedule of drugs in 1961, it wasn’t until 1972 that they even looked into what it meant to “possess” a narcotic in terms of legality.

Rock stars suddenly became a seemingly easy target as one by one they went down. Jim Morrison, whose on stage antics and sometimes avant-garde performances were looked at by his superiors as lewd, crude, and obscene, landing him in holding cells all across the country, and most notably in Miami in 1969 where he allegedly shared the “Lizard King” with the entire crowd in protest of the obscenity charges still pending against him for using words like, “Fuck.” Words found so commonplace in today’s time it almost seems as natural as saying, “Hello.”

Janis Joplin turned to the bottle and heroin and made an early exit from life the same year the Jim’s made their final curtain bow. Kurt Cobain felt the pressures of unwanted stardom and cracked, killing himself in his Seattle home in 1994. And a hundred other stars have felt the grip of society get that much tighter once the vice of stardom has them between their crosshairs. Steven Tyler of Aerosmith has admitted to Cocaine abuse. Bob Marley is as prolific for his Marijuana use as he is for his music. And Ozzy Osbourne, well, have you seen The Osbournes?

Today it seems worse. Reality shows have given birth to a whole new era of intrusion, as stars are made household objects that you can turn on and have dance for you like puppets at the click of a button. Merchandising and the whole selling of music and brand name have taken away the individual appeal of artists. Now they’re bought and sold, made and marketed, and given away like buy one, get one cigarette deals, with just as cancerous undertones. I think these are things that we saw in their infantile stage for the first time during the nineteen sixties. People like Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and even Kurt Cobain in today’s time; all these people dared to be different, great. But, in doing so, I think collapsed in on themselves because they realized that to stay true to yourself means to defy all others, even if it means spitting in the eye of society.

One of the most compelling things that drives at the hearts of all human beings and could very well be the essence of humanity itself is the desire to be loved and to fit in, regardless. Even if you’re Charles Manson hunkered down in some bunker in the desert and loathe every single last person on the face of the earth, and even wish them harm, I don’t think it’s enough to tear the mind away from the little voice everyone has in their head that claws at the back of their minds called loneliness. I think everyone searches for peace and understanding, but an understanding in terms of others knowing what you mean and where you’re coming from. And when you go as far as let’s say Jim Morrison, or even, no, even as far as you or I go when it comes to individuality, you run the risk of no one understanding you.

I think that’s one of the most troubling things any human being can find himself or herself dealing with. But it gave hope to those who found themselves fighting for social change on the campuses of Berkley, and on the hills of Kent State. To Haight Ashbury in San Francisco and the Hell’s Angel’s Oakland playground, soldiers of social change labeled outcasts themselves could finally have characters, ideas to grab a hold of, if only for comfort’s sake. And if it weren’t for the people who took the responsibility of having that kind of influence over the populous and actually used it for good for a change, we might have found a stiffer price of never being given chance ever for light. But when that light is too bright, and begins to sting the eyes, would you stare into the sun if given the chance, if only for fifteen minutes?