I read John Roderick’s article ‘Sex, Rock, and Reality’ a couple weeks ago regarding the rock myths and lore that he so astutely dispelled. I’d like to take this opportunity to go one step further and discourse on my utter contempt for the much over-used term ‘rock star’. You may be now saying to yourself “yeah right, the dude from Guns N’ Roses has a beef with a term that probably spells him out to a T?” Let me tell you something, I cringe at this term whenever it is directed anywhere near me and here is why…
I was fortunate enough in my teens to see the Clash on their first U.S. theater tour. This was before the major recognition they received on the London Calling record, but they were still larger than life to me and truly exotic. If the term ‘rock star’ could have been used at any time in my youth-driven lingo, it would have been then and it would have described the true awe that I felt of being in the same room as these erstwhile trend setters.
About 200 people showed up at the Paramount in Seattle to see this gig and it was, simply put, mind-blowing. During the show, a big yellow-shirted security guy up front punched a fan and broke his nose. Blood was everywhere. The Clash stopped the show. Bassist Paul Simonen appeared from the wings of stage right wielding a firefighter’s axe that he must have plucked from the wall. He jumped down in the pit and proceeded to chop down the wooden barrier separating the fans from the band while guitarist Joe Strummer dressed down the security gorilla and went on further to say that there was no difference between the fans and the bands…"we are all in this together! There is no such thing as a Rock Star, just musicians and listeners!" That moment remains static in my mind to this day.Now, when I was even younger, growing up here in Seattle, I was deeply enchanted and mesmerized by the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. I do ‘get’ why the term is used and was myself easily smitten by ‘rock stars’- but I was under the age of 12 when these people appeared as gods in my classroom daydreams.
Let us look at the term ‘rock star’ in our current-day common vernacular. I think it was definitely used as noun up until sometime in the mid-90’s. Then, for some inexplicable reason, ‘rock star’ became a much over-used adjective. “Hey, he sure does have on some rock-star clothing”. Or, when it is used as a noun, it has become bland and quite ‘vanilla’ as in ‘party like a rock star’ (I once asked a mountain biker friend what he actually meant when he said that he had ‘partied like a rock star’ the night before, “well, I drank like a six-pack of beer!”). Or, in a popular pop song a couple of years ago ‘hey now, you’re a rock star, get your game on…”----please!
I also have a strong dislike for the term because I do actually know some people in ‘the biz’ that I have even worked with (no hints) who do refer to THEMSELVES as rock stars. It is my experience that a low self-esteem and need for skin-deep recognition perhaps spur these unfortunate few forward into actually thinking that they are indeed "rock n’ roll stars". It is my further experience that these people think that they indeed are BETTER than you and me and their fans, not unlike the popular cliques that we all had to deal with in junior high-school. I, for one, find that kind of behavior pretty damn shallow and frankly embarrassing to be around. Furthermore, I have had the distinct honor of meeting some of my boyhood idol’s over the last 15 or so years and have been pleasantly surprised at the regularness of these older rock musicians. I guess the assholes get weeded out and longevity only happens to those musicians who see themselves as ones who simply serve the music….I like that a LOT.
Roderick’s column also highlighted the amount of mind-numbing repetition a musician goes through on the road. What may be little known is the actual work ethic that the touring rock band has. Even if it is a band or artist that can afford to fly to their tour-dates, try going through airport security EVERY DAY and dealing with flight delays and the myriad other snafu’s that may beleaguer the weary traveler….EVERY DAY. On top of that is the fact that you are living out of a bag for months on end and eating whatever you might be able to grab, usually forgoing a warm meal for that same amount of time (my tour diet consists mostly of trail-mix and power bars). Yes, the stuff of the glamorous rock-star lifestyle (ya see, I even use the term as an adjective).
Let us move on to the average rock guy with a family (like me for instance). The sheer amount of logistical arranging that one must do to even see his or her family on a regular basis is fierce. On top of that, the utter humility one feels when ordered to change a diaper right after coming off stage brings a wide smile to my face. Hookers and blow it is not, but I for one, wouldn’t have it any other way. Other touring families and their musician spouse can attest to the fact that it is just a job, really, one that affords, at times, for the clan to see some cool places together…all other times bring forth almost desperate loneliness for all. Those times aren’t very ‘rock star’.
A great humility moment for me came last year right after I played a huge stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I was in the midst of finishing an online course at the time and had a question for the professor of the course. I told my wife that I had to call him when we got back to the hotel (we were getting a police escort back because the fans there can get a little, um, overzealous). So we get back to the room and the fans had sort of surrounded the hotel, chanting soccer chants. I had timed my call to catch this professor during his office hours. When he picked up the phone, I said to him “Hi Professor Greene, this Duff McKagan in your Business 330 class and I want to ask you a question about this weeks assignment. I am calling from out of country so I was hoping to make this quick.” Remember, I just played a STADIUM, police escorts, people chanting my NAME! “Duff who?” he replied. I came back down to earth in a hurry. Joe Strummer was probably laughing his ass off.