Saturday, April 23, 2016

Star Worship

Worshiping a music or acting or political star is really just un-empowering yourself.  Who is this middle-aged woman in a pants suit?

There is something about human nature that requires us to elevate one of our own above ourselves.   Throughout history, we have created kings and emperors and dictators and superstars that we worship from afar.  In many instances, we worship them like Gods, claiming they have supernatural power or talents.   In the case of kings and emperors, this was often literally so - we said they were appointed by God or were Gods themselves, as in Japan.

Why is it we do this?  It must satisfy some human need to find that one of us is better and perfect and spectacular and worthy of worship and adoration.   We even call them "Pop Idols" and fail to register that the source of the word "Idol" is Idolatry or worship of false Gods.

This year, a number of pop idols have passed away, and like clockwork, people claim to have a special relationship with (fill in the blank) and rush out to buy all of his/her albums, which causes a spike in sales, before we realize that really, we didn't like their music all that much and that the media, who owns the record company that sold us the album, was behind all the hype.

While some of these folks have a modicum of talent, others are less savory when you look into the details of their lives.  They may have coined a catchy tune or two, but are hardly worthy of worship in any form.  And when you look into their personal lives, it is like overturning a rock in the forest and seeing all the worms and bugs underneath.  Kind of gross, really, and it makes you wonder why you worshiped this person in the first place.

Don't get me wrong - we are all frail and fragile and prone to sin.  None of us is perfect.  But for some reason, the opinions expressed by a pop idol are ignored, while the same opinions expressed by Ted Cruz would generate violent protests.

Elvis was the prototypical pop idol, and the problems with him started at the very beginning.  Like so many white performers, he made a shitload of money by doing covers of black artists' songs.  The original "You ain't nothing but a hound dog" by Big Mama Thorton puts Elvis' version to shame.  Elvis, like so many "pop" artists sold not only the music, but the image - the sneer and the shaking hips and the implied sexuality.  His personal life, of course, was a trainwreck.  He gave away half his money to "The Colonel" who many think may have been a Nazi war criminal hiding out from the authorities (the truth isn't much better).  He dated a 14-year-old girl (and had sex with her) and married her when she was 16.   He wallowed in excess and became a bloated pill-popping drunkard who died on the toilet.

And yet people worshiped him - and still do.  But a lot of his early music, today, is not really memorable or even listenable.   The original black artists from whom he stole are much more satisfying to listen to, today.  His music sounds more like bubblegum pop.

The Beatles were of course talented, particularly later in their careers when they really explored what studio production could do for their sound.  But their early works?  Do you really want to listen to "She Loves You, Yea, Yea, Yea?" accompanying by the sounds of screaming teenage girls?  Of course not.  Yet some would hold them out as rock Gods, even if their personal lives were somewhat troubled and the band couldn't stay together due to tensions largely over money.

David Bowie was lionized after he died, but after we all heard "Major Tom" and "Young American" a few times too many, the hoopla died down.   Bowie, like so many pop stars was more a businessman than artist (as was Madonna) and they even invented a financial instrument named after him - the Bowie Bond.   Usually musicians play another sort of instrument than a bond.  He was all about the posturing and posing and the costumes and the implied androgyny - until it became unfashionable in Reagan's (and Thatcher's) 1980's - and he quickly backtracked and trotted out his wife to show he really wasn't "one of them".   Yet people worship him as well.

Michael Jackson of course was crazy - and a pedophile, there is no doubt about that.   And again, he sold an image that was more powerful than the music he created.  He is credited with "writing" some of the most memorable pop tunes of our generation, but whether this is actually true or not, I am skeptical.  Yes, songwriters often sell their songs to performers, who then in turn claim to have written or arranged them.   He was a talented guy, but completely insane.  And yet people worship him and forgive his extreme excesses because, after all, he was a Pop God, right?

Eric Clapton is touted as the "best guitar player who ever lived" but frankly, I don't see it.   He rose to fame by ripping off black artist's tunes, such as "I Shot the Sheriff" which was a Bob Marley Reggae tune from Jamaica.   And yet, most white people only know the Clapton version.   Same Elvis in a different suit.  The irony is, later in life, he came out of the closet, so to speak, as a virulent racist and xenophobe.  Colored folks are OK to rip off music from and make money from, but you don't want them living next door, apparently.

Frank Zappa is another interesting character.  When I was into the drug bit, most of my friends loved Frank Zappa and his offbeat brand of music.  They thought he must be high as a kite when he wrote these oddball songs.   But if you examine his lyrics, they are actually very anti-drug and anti-gay.  He really was not a very nice person, even inflicting bizarre names on his own children.  And yet so many worshiped him as a music God.  Can you name even one song of his today - that you'd actually like to hear?  Me neither.

Prince died this week, and it appears he had a prescription drug habit involving opiates.   Phillip Seymour Hoffman syndrome strikes again.   Once again, we are told (by his record label) that he was the best artist that ever lived.  But if I listen to "When Doves Cry" or "Raspberry Beret" a few times, my love for Prince pretty much peters out- quickly.

And it gets worse.   He was a right-wing bigot, being a member of the cult-like Jehovah's witnesses. He was anti-gay, anti-atheist, and anti- a lot of things his fans would have actually embraced.   He exuded sexuality on stage, but his actual beliefs were more staid and conservative.   It turns out that Prince was just selling an image of sexuality to make money (act shocked).

Of course, artists, like anyone else, are entitled to their opinion.  But I find it ironic that "Liberal" people will tolerate incredible hostility and conservative thought from an artist, but if a politician expressed the same thoughts, they would shout him down.  If Ted Cruz said the same things Prince said, people would be picketing his speeches.  In fact, they already do.

You ask, "well, what is the harm in this?  Worshiping a Pop Idol is just harmless fun!"   But I would beg to differ.   When you decide your own life is so bland and dreary that you have to find refuge in being a "fan" of someone else, you give away a lot of power and control in your life - as well as a ton of money - to someone who really doesn't have your best interests at heart. 

And of course, the young 16-year-old closeted gay who is attracted to Prince's androngynous sexuality (or that of Bowie, or whoever), the comments about "God's wrath" or whatever can be very hurtful.  When your pop idol tells you that you are God's mistake, well, suicide seems like a viable option.

Fuck Prince.  He was a dickhead.

On a larger scale, being a "fan" is a dead-end.   It doesn't make you a better person, but rather a pathetic loser who basks in the reflected glory of someone else's fame.  Whether it is a sports star, a politician, a musician, or an actor, the net result is the same - you lose, and they win.

This is not to say it is bad to enjoy the music of a band you like or the movies or plays of an actor who is talented.   But to become the rabid fan waiting outside the stage door for a glimpse of your idol and possibly a scribbled signature on a cocktail napkin - that is taking things to the next level.

I had friends who were "dead heads" back in the day.  They spent every last penny they had following the Grateful Dead around, often quitting jobs in order to keep to the schedule.   They competed with each other to see who was the biggest fan, who went to the most shows, did the most drugs, and collected the most bootleg concert tapes.   And then one day, the Dead stopped touring, and a lot of people started to wonder why they wasted 10-20 years of their lives following a fairly mediocre band around.   The band made money from them, but the fans had to forgo careers, marriages, and raising a family for the transient satisfaction of being one of the "hard core" fans.

Fanaticism - from which the word "fan" derives its name - is a dead-end.   ISIS and Al Qaeda were full of "fanatics" and look where it got them - nowhere.  And the terms Fanaticism and Fascism are only a few pages apart in the dictionary - and even closer in real life.  Both elevate an ordinary person to God-like status.  Both do not tolerate dissent or questioning of the God-status of the celebrity.

Of course, being something like a "metal head" isn't quite as bad as strapping on a suicide vest (although both can cause severe hearing damage).  But the end result is the same - you sacrifice your own life in order to be beholden to another's.   And the artist you pledge your allegiance to hardly knows that you exist, if they know at all.  It is a one-way street.  You give, they take.

I saw a discussion online the other day about Ticketron and concert prices.   The fellow was complaining that he logged onto a ticket site within seconds of concert tickets going on sale, but was locked out and told all tickets were sold.  Meanwhile, Ticketron had the tickets for sale for a lot more - plus their fees.  He felt this was an "outrage".

I asked him if he thought about his alternative - to simply not go to the concert.   And it was like I was talking Esperanto to a Monkey.  "Not go?  Why?" - that simply was not an option to him.   He would pay and pay and pay to see his "favorite band" even as he was racking up student loan debts.   He had to go, right?  He was a fan.

When I was younger, I was a fan, too - although not that rabid.   In the 1980's the "new wave" and "art rock" movements were popular on college campuses.   The Talking Heads had a number of songs that hit the top 100.  For a brief period, they were famous and then faded to obscurity, like so many other pop and rock artists.   And 30 years later, I listen to the music and wonder why it held any fascination for me at the time.   The music was all about posturing and posing - the MTV video sold music back then.   But it seems not much of the music had "staying power" to the point where others were doing covers of them 30 years later (as with the Beatles).

Some music endures.  The "old standards" are still being played today, and the best of the music of the 50's through the 90's still is listenable.  Much more of it died a painless death and it was a good thing.  Classics by Sinatra - from his later years - still get airplay.  Not many want to listen to his Elvis-like "bobbysoxer" era recordings, however.  Similarly, Sting has found a second career doing old standards and jazz.   But "Don't stand so Close to Me" or "Roxanne" is really hard to listen to, today.

The best endures, the rest is forgettable.  Most of what you think of as "your music" today will be stuff you won't listen to in ten years.  Building a lifestyle around a pop musician is thus a futile and pointless endeavor.

UDATE:  Here is an example of the sort of shit I am talking about.  The "Beyhive?"   Really?   People really have no other life than to worship Beyonce and harass a lady who sells dog food?   I really fucking give up on humanity.   No, seriously.