Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Metamorphosis of a Rockstar

I'm not quite sure what really prompted the idea, but while in the process of jotting down some thoughts for other posts, I got to thinking about why/how certain bands achieve years, if not decades, of success while others' careers end up in the shitter.  My knee jerk response was that the type or genre of music ultimately determines whether a band will enjoy relative long-term success or notoriety.  This would include the artist or band's technical ability, coupled with of course, that musical genre's ability to transcend specific time periods, like hard rock, which is no doubt as popular today as it was in the 70's.  But while this theory seemed to make sense on its face, there were far too many exceptions.  For example, it doesn't support why a band like The Rolling Stones, who were more or less known for their trademark blues-driven songs, are as immensely popular today as they were in the 60's, 70's, and 80's.  Now, I could be wrong, but I highly doubt Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters are amongst the top iTunes downloads with today's younger generations. So, it clearly isn't the genre of music that has driven the Stones' success over the years.  Similarly, take U2, who, despite my unabashed disdain for Bono, has enjoyed infinite popularity and has seemingly mastered the ability to adapt to what the people want to hear -- little of which I attribute to worldwide interest in Irish rock/folk music.  Metallica falls into this category as well.  

My theory equally fails to explain why bands like King Crimson or E.L.P. -- who exhibited great technical aptitude and musical versatility -- remain virtually unknown by the general populous.  Or why bands like The Monkees, Poison or even Bon Jovi for that matter -- who were once considered "cool" during each of their peak years of success (yea, I know, only here on The Weight is it possible to see The Monkees and Poison mentioned in the same sentence) -- have become cliches of decades past or survive solely by pandering to those audiences stuck in their respective generations (e.g. cruise-ship-goers and residents of New Jersey -- and I mean that endearingly, sort of...).  So, after giving it more thought (about another minute or so to be precise), I'm afraid that the answer boils down to, you guessed it:  image.  Like it or not,  there is probably a large element of truth to Peter Gabriel's timeless lyric, "if looks could kill, they probably will."  Now, some of you might be reading this and thinking to yourself, "Well, no shit, Captain Obvious!"  "Of course image matters."  But the fact remains, there is a reason why Steve Miller and Three Dog Night continue to wear bad toupees and play to crowds of suburban Jewish housewives and the Stones can sellout a stadium in under thirty minutes.  Apparently, change isn't that easy.

The Beatles of course, were the epitome of a band who mastered the art of adaptation (granted there are infinite other reasons for the Beatles' legacy, but there isn't nearly enough space to write about it here) and I think few artists typified this ability more than the Dark Horse himself, George Harrison.  Indeed, I think it's fair to say that Harrison was known less for his guitar abilities than for his modest good looks -- and killer mustache growth.  Sure, Harrison was set for life regardless simply because he was a Beatle, but I'd venture to guess that his ability to transcend and stay fresh over a period of roughly forty years, is what ultimately kept him appealing to a wide array of audiences, not just diehard fans of the Fab Four (compare with Ringo whose inability to change has somewhat kept him a parody of himself -- though, I still have much love for you Ringo if you're reading this!).  So if we come full circle, take a look at Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, David Gilmour, Bob Dylan, etc. who I think tend to prove my theory that style + ability to adapt = long-term success.  There will always be exceptions (i.e. Neil Young, Jimmy Page, all 4 members of Kiss, etc.), but I think it's fair to say that while regrettable, and even unfair to some extent, technical ability has little to do with longevity.

That, and because I really wanted to post a picture of Harrison in his Leon Russell phase (see row 3, photo 1) which is just cool as shit and worthy of recognition alone. 

Hence, here is my George Harrison through the years (yes, I created this montage myself [insert nerd insult here]):


Anonymous said...

Interesting post. Not exactly a controversial premise, but interesting nonetheless. Of note, what is really amazing is how someone like Dylan could repeatedly give his audience the opposite of what they thought they wanted and wind up giving them exactly what they needed...folk/electric then when everyone was waiting for that great psychedelic album he spits out john Wesley harding, and ushers in Americana making marshmello rainbows and electric daydreams look foolish and amateurish. Then drop a few gospel born again albums without ever winking at ur audience is astounding. Rinse wash repeat.

Anonymous said...

No slight taken chap. Keep up all the great work youre doing at the weight!
Love and peace,
- r. Starkey

WeightStaff said...

"what is really amazing is how someone like Dylan could repeatedly give his audience the opposite of what they thought they wanted and wind up giving them exactly what they needed..."

Well said.