That’s what a former associate of mine once told me about how riding a motorcycle made him feel like a “rock star.”
“No, it’s not,” I said. “Being onstage playing music is like being onstage.”
It’s not often that something so unassuming as an innocent little noun makes my blood boil. I’m usually a lot more well adjusted than that.
But today I snapped.
I just read an article by Sonia Simone of Copyblogger. She used the phrase too. It’s called Rock Stars, Goonies and Your Content Marketing Empire.
Now let me state up front, this has nothing to do with Sonia. She’s a brilliant writer who’s work I really admire. Likewise, Copyblogger. And this article is actually a great piece.
It was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.
So please forgive me in advance for this rant.
It’s Only Rock And Roll But I Like It
Can we please just fucking stop already with this so thoroughly abused moniker, rock star!??
Please, please, please, can we just set a moratorium on this phrase???
We’ve got rock stars everywhere.
Rock star chefs and rock star hedge fund managers. Rock star lawyers, bloggers and internet marketers. We can all be rock stars now. Yippee!
But here’s the thing.
All these people may seriously kick mortal ass with their chosen product or service. Some have really big audiences who hang on their every word. Maybe some of them even have millions of Twitter followers.
(Yes, I get it. I know Sonia and everyone else who ever abused the term is speaking figuratively and not literally. I did all right in English too.)
But can you please get the fuck off our cloud???
Then I got to tour the world with some of them. I’ve broken bread with them, partied in fancy hotels and hung out in studios with them. I’ve even stood on that big stage playing with them and my own music too. I can speak to this subject with a little knowledge.
A Rock Star By Any Other Name
A rock star is many things.
Maybe they dress outrageously, have really bad table manners and trash the occasional hotel room. They may or they may not do drugs. They might have a highly out of balance sexual appetite for deviant behavior.
But one thing a real rock star does is get on stage and actually play MUSIC! Usually in front of arena sized crowds.
Mick Jagger, Jay Z, Jack White? Rock stars.
Mario Battaglia: Great chef. A TV star chef. But he’s not a rock star.
Because aside from the things rock stars do that occasionally make tabloid headlines, the thing that grabs our attention and holds it is that they create art you will remember. They make music.
Music is a special thing.
It’s a special kind of art that touches your soul and ignites your spirit. Songs can make you feel things that food or stock holdings or internet marketing success or any of the other million things people attach this bogus moniker to cannot.
Try humming the melody to that last viral cat video.
And those that can create music on the level where they get to perform it for arena sized crowds who want to wave lighters (sorry, cell phones) in the air to beg them to return for an encore so they can get one last taste of that magic, can deservedly be called rock stars.
Everyone else cannot.
So how did we get here?
It’s nothing short of the karaokification of America.
Welcome To Mediocristan
Where those who never had the talent to actually play this precious artform needed some way to express themselves, as though they really could play music.
A way they could show off their wild side just like rock stars, if only in a more geeky or nerdy way that was a bit more in line with their safe, middle of the road existence.
So we invented Karaoke. We invented Rock Band.
We started singing out of tune and drunk onstage in bars and restaurants, arm in arm with our office buddies, following the bouncing ball highlighting the lyrics and melodies written and performed by actual rock stars. We started picking up plastic guitars.
It was OK to suck. You were just expressing yourself. it was just a fun game, right?
Yes, you got to move like Jagger for five minutes on Friday night before you returned to your cubicle Monday morning, where they started calling you “rock star” around the water cooler. Give that girl the metal horns and bang your head in deference. You rock, Debbie!
The Real Rock Stars Of Beverly Hills
But real rock stars live dangerously unpredictable lives. Their experiences wouldn’t fill out a resume in any way that would make that HR manager throw up the metal horns and call them in for an interview.
No, real rock stars live out on the fringes. That’s where the muse resides. Where normal people fear to tread. Dark alleys. Seedy hotels.
But then other normal people started having success. Money managers started making vast sums of money that would choke a trojan horse and were subsequently knighted rock stars.
Chefs got TV shows with big audiences and lots of endorsements and they too were appointed rock star status.
Athletes, politicians, bloggers. The list goes on forever.
There’s a reason you spend all that money to stand in awe in that arena as a real rock star prances around on stage, whipping you and everyone else into a frenzy by the power and magic of the MUSIC! That and their charisma along with their intense passion for performing it.
This is the magic of music.
A great song or a great band lives on in our hearts for a lifetime.
That viral YouTube video you saw today? That really well written and informative blog post that got shared by thousands? Gone tomorrow.
Can’t Touch This
This is why very few people get to be real rock stars.
Because it’s really really hard to be amazing at writing and performing music. It’s a life’s work and devotion. Work often much harder than most MBA’s or CEO’s will ever know. Because you can’t hide behind a desk or a cubicle and achieve it by consensus.
You have to expose yourself completely when you’re a rock star. You might hide behind dark sun glasses or live in remote places. But when the lights go on and it’s show time you have to put yourself all the way out there.
To be able to make someone thousands of miles away feel something just by hearing your song through a shitty little speaker on a crusty old radio stuck up on a shelf in some greasy spoon diner in the middle of nowhere.
To remind them of a time in their life many years before when they were young and first heard your song and associated it with a powerful memory. Very few things in this world can conjure such magic.
So please, leave our rock stars alone.
Allow them the dignity of their own unique place in our hearts and don’t tread on it.
We need our rock stars.
The ones who play music.
Just choose any other name you like for your celebrated nerds and geeks and goonies and chefs and athletes and bloggers, lawyers (well, OK skip the lawyers) and hedge fund titans.
Just stop calling them rock stars.
You’ll sleep better tonight humming your favorite song.
Elvis has left the building.