Rock Stars in America… Where Did It All Go Wrong?
When I was growing up, Rock Stars had a swagger, attitude, mystique, bad reputations, and your parents hated them. Today we have, well… no one. To me, it all started with Robert Johnson. A Blues musician from Mississippi who played dive bars, and legend has it that he sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads in trade for success. Given, the success of his music didn’t come until after his death, but he set the foundation. As Rock n Roll took shape, we had Chuck Berry, Elvis, and The Beatles… and eventually Alice Cooper, David Bowie, and KISS… followed by bands like Motley Crue and Guns ‘n Roses. These artists inspired generations of teenagers while invoking fear and disdain in their parents. The last Rock Stars to succeed in America were Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie, who broke new ground roughly twenty years ago. Since then, it’s been a revolving door of watered down monotony following in the footsteps of bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana.
By the mid 90’s it became “cool” for Rock musicians to embody the persona of a nerd, auto mechanics, or lumberjacks. Their gimmick was the everyday average nobody, the “Anti Rock Star.” I get it… I really do. They were standing for something, and that’s fine. Here’s the problem; all the Rock Stars went away and never came back. The Average Joe bands inspired kids to be just as boring as they were. Some musicians nowadays believe that designer jeans and Affliction t-shirts make them Rock n Roll. No, it doesn’t.
Rock music isn’t as popular in America as it used to be, and there is a reason why: it became boring. To quote Rob Zombie, “Everybody thought it was cool to be Anti Rock Star. But in a way they sort of Anti Rock Starred themselves right out the door, because the rap guys came in and they said, ‘Fuck it. We’ll be the Rock Stars then.’” I have said this for years, and he is absolutely right. Teenagers fantasize about sex, money, and rebellion, and the only music they get that from anymore is Hip Hop. Hip Hop became more popular when the Rock bands decided to become safe. Hip Hop has everything Rock n Roll had for many years, and teenagers eat it up. If you bought into the Anti Rock Star idea in the 90’s because you thought anyone with a larger than life alter ego and stage show was not “cool” anymore, then you are part of the reason Eminem is more of a Rock Star today than any Rock band.
Granted, there have been some amazing Rock bands to come out in America since the mid 90’s like Buckcherry, DGeneration, and Monster Magnet, but most of them are from Europe, mainly Scandinavia. The few American Rock bands still carrying the torch typically play overseas, because those fans still embrace it. Here in the USA, any Rock band with an image is quickly crucified and discounted by the critics and media, and labeled “80’s.” Interestingly, mainstream media often refers to anything resembling Glam Rock as 80’s and lumps anything with an image into that decade (shouldn’t music critics know their music history?!). Since the mid 90’s, Europe has produced Rock bands that embrace everything about being a Rock Star – like Backyard Babies, Hardcore Superstar, and Turbonegro. Overseas these bands sell out shows, get tons of press, and have sizeable fan bases – yet most Americans have no clue who they are and simply don’t care. Music used to spread like wildfire, crossing borders and boundaries, from one city to another, one country to another, one continent to another. But since the death of the Rock Star in America, the Atlantic Ocean appears to be the Great Divide. The boring, safe, predictable, and mainstream Anti Rock Star continues to prevail over here. Anything new, different, or outside the box isn’t acknowledged anymore. If Nickelback sells, then here are twenty more bands that look and sound just like them, using the predictable formula to turn a quick profit from a naïve audience that robotically download disposable singles to devices for the flavor of the week. Rock n Roll used to be a lifestyle, worn like a badge of honor. It was a middle finger to mainstream society, to the establishment, the jocks and frat guys that we used to fight with. The newer “Rock bands” of today – in their Average Joe attire – looking like they just got off work and walked on stage – play to audiences filled with these same people that we all used to rebel against.
I love America, and the fact that Rock n Roll was born here, and I’m thankful that I grew up when I did and was able to experience it. However, I’m disappointed by the demise of music for the past 20 years and the blandness that everyone has accepted.
Photo by: Janeé Carroll