The Mythos and Pathos of Rock Stardom: An Expose of the Indie Rock Underworld
Part 1 of 3
Fact: The myth of the rock star is not dead.
Fact#2: Rock is dead.
Being in a rock band these days is a tough racket. Considering the idea that we face an industry built upon evil principles, I must wonder what it is that we're really aspiring towards. Fortunately, that doesn't play too heavily in our equation at present, but when I do consider some of the more immediate issues: fans, club-owners and the sad reality that, all too often, we have to "pay to play," the rock and roll lifestyle seems an elusive pursuit at best. Still, I know that I'll look back on this time in my life with an esteemed fondness and happiness that isn't immediately accessible. So for now, my primary focus as a rock star is to maintain one essential delusion: I am a rock star.
A rock star am I. I am one of two guitar player/singers fronting NYC's own GOD -- the band. We play a multitude of different venues and clubs in both the city and in the outlying regions. Our struggle is to succeed – to sound kick-ass and completely unique and to ROCK (pronounced "raWK!"). Playing rock music for others provides a rare and brilliant sort of visceral thrill. Not only is it exciting and fulfilling, it feeds the necessary belief that allows me to continue reaching towards the goal of rock superstardom.
Naturally, professing to a daily dosage of self-deception makes the credibility of whatever I might have to say on this subject highly suspect: it's perfectly natural for you to raise your eyebrows and read me with dubious regard (here in NYC, a delightful indifference is most often prescribed). I highly doubt that I will be able to change this knee-jerk response through the course of this rock'n'roll expose, but I will regale in affirming what I know as "my reality" and delight in the lifestyle that being a rock star, henceforth, provides. Understanding this is the first key to understanding what it really means to be a rock star today – you can't care too deeply what others really think.
Maintaining this idiom is highly tenuous, as part of the integral purpose of showbiz is to gain approval and celebration from your peers and the public at large. To be regarded as "the shit" (if you're hip) or "'da bomb" (if you're so hip it hurts) is to be regarded with an acute respect that is revered and honored. Nonetheless, maintaining an indifference to others' indifference while you pour your soul out for those "others" to digest can be a trying and exhaustive process. It's unnerving to consider the number of times that I've been singing and playing out to a crowd - closing my eyes to intensely focus on the moment, investing myself emotionally to reveal something beautiful or even (if I'm feeling pretentious) profound and, upon opening my eyes, find that half the room has cleared out. Naturally, such occurrences can be fairly derailing (if not devastating!) to any performance. Makes me wonder… who am I trying to reach? Them or me?
"What's the matter with you people?" I will occasionally jab, "Do you have any idea how hard it is for us artists to get up here and share our souls with you when you just talk and jabber and flirt?" [Footnote: this is typically meant as a satirical poke at Joni Mitchell's tearful pleading at the 'Isle of White' concert where she stopped performing to ask the angry hippies to stop screaming over her heartfelt swooning.] "Ha-Ha!" they will laugh, appreciative of how over-the-top pitiful I am and then continue their conversations over the music.
One of the more trying moments in our experiences of rocking NYC was at a respectable venue called The Lion's Den. We came in this night to really show them what we got; nearly one year prior we had played there and two people showed up: both friends – a big no-no if you have aspirations of getting booked again. We promoted our "return" night heavily and the crowd was thick as it undulated with an excited anticipation. When we finally started the show, game three of our World Series started (note: I say "our World Series" because it was NY Mets vs. NY Yankees, so everyone had a vested interest). By the end of our first song, one forth of the people was left, crowded around various television sets broadcasting the game. It quickly escalated into a battle of GOD vs. BASEBALL. There's nothing worse to hear shouts of, "SHUT UP!" and "GO AWAY!" when you're busting ass to rock the house. Why a music venue was suddenly a sports bar was beyond us, but such is the Murphy's Law of being in GOD the band. Our pull nearly peaked at ten bodies that night, so I'm sure we'll be returning for another supergig at The Lion's Den around the year 2010.
But for the number of times that there are plenty of nobodies that are completely devoid of any interest in our assorted hyjinx, there are occasionally those somebodies which take an avid interest in our performances. These moments are to be embraced to the bosom of life-long experience and clung to like gold in a dying miser's safe. We are in this business for appreciation and approval and worship. The manner by which we've thusly chosen this path has been a difficult one and not always the most instantaneously gratifying.
Certainly in NYC, we are up against an overwhelmingly huge opposition: culture comes in no small quantity in our neck of the woods. Considering that music can only take a small portion of the cultural arts, our potential audience gets cut in third right there. Consider then that hip-hop, electronica, trance, folk, anti-folk, R&B, rap, latino, rock and a myriad of other musical genres are all competing for the hot seat of popular music and that cuts our best audience into (optimistically) 5% of music listeners. Of course, all the rock bands are fervently sweating and to appeal to the social sensibilities of the hungry music consumer. Mainly, I see my band in competition with the hundreds of other rock bands out there trying to make a dent in the public psyche. The sad irony is that aspiring rock bands such, as ourselves, are in abundance while venues and fans of the music have become a hot commodity.
When I find myself getting discouraged by the lack of response from our shows and numerous attempts at gaining a sense of name recognition or, God help us, a reputation, I take comfort in knowing that there are thousands and thousands of other bands out there, suffering at least as badly as ourselves and knowing that their chances of "making it" are far smaller than ours. How do I know this? We have something different than the rest of them, something distinguished, unique, unforgettable. I see our competition before and after every performance and I see how much most live music sucks. It's no wonder no one likes to go out to see live music that they've never heard of – most rock bands give rock music a bad name. All we have to do is prove that to the people that like to have a good time and listen to live rock music.
But as the old saying goes, "Easier said than done."
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