One should never meet an artist whose work one admires.
The work is always so much better than the man.
-Henri de Toulouse la Trec
During the last several weeks my wife and I have been watching a lot of VH1. If you are not cable-enabled, this channel is like MTV in premise, + 20 years. MTV's average viewer is something like 12-14, and VH1's is probably 32+. I haven't seen the demographics, I'm just judging based on the content. Neither one plays too many music videos any more.
If you are at all familiar with music television's "touch-of-gray" station, you know that if we have been watching "a lot" of VH1, this means we've seen a lot of rock star bio-documentaries. Indeed, we have watched the videographed life stories of John Mellenkamp, Ozzy Osbourne, Ted Nugent, David Cassidy, Led Zeppellin, Grand Funk Railroad, Queen, Jim Croce, Jagger, and of course Lynyrd Skynyrd. I just read that VH1 has run the Skynyrd item over 30 times. The Mellenkamp thing has probably aired at least that often. That's okay. They are well-done and objectively researched documents, therefore very interesting. These are the "Behind the Music" 1 hour shows dedicated to a particular artist. We've also seen ten-minute tidbits on the "Where are they Now?" show about less commercially expansive jurassic rockers.
Naturally, the stories are all unique. But it's the common strands to each of these rocker ravels, that becomes increasingly disconcerting every time you see one. Most of the subjects have had serious alcohol and/or drug problems. Most of them got screwed out of millions by their record companies and/or management firms. And most of them screwed so many of the opposite sex that they lost count somewhere around puberty. The basic themes of Sex, Drugs & Rock-n-Roll play out almost every time to varying degrees of each. There are exceptions. Nugent for example never did drugs. But that was still a large part of his story: the fact that he never did them. He told of turning down Jimi Hendrix when Jimi offered him a toke off his joint. The theme holds in its own absence. The Nuge didn't get high but man did he go broke. The year after he was the biggest selling live act, he found himself penniless due to bad management. And his addiction came in the form of nubile young groupies.
Money didn't make the list of $ex, Drugs & Rock-n-Roll, at least not overtly.
Of course, you know that I watch these shows because when I was much younger I was a big fan of the subject-matter, and still am, though I must admit I'm getting weary. This very night I'm missing an opportunity to go see Robin Trower at the El Rey Theater. My excuse for not going is so that I can write this column for you.
I love the music, but is this why I watch? The shows don't feature much music. They just talk about the musician.
I can't help but wonder how it might have been.
When I was in high school -- back in Yates Center, Kansas -- we had all the ingredients: I played lead guitar -- had the fanciest axe in town -- a Gibson Firebird 76 Reissue and a Kustom 250 amp with a 4-12 cabinet. I was a dedicated student of Page, Clapton and Hendrix. My best pal Mark Pringle played bass and new every KISS song. His cousin Todd played guitar and sang (he was a little too much of the Kingston Trio ilk but we could've worked with him). Mark Brilke (who is now county sheriff) played keyboards and sang, and was easily the best all around musician I've ever known. There was a hot drummer in our class too named Daniel Rich. The Lord only knows what happened to him.
What if we'd gotten together with the right amounts of inspiration, ambition, discipline and luck?
I think I watch VH1 to learn about Ozzy Osbourne's unbelievable drinking problem, Skynyrd's plane crash, and Grand Funk getting boned for millions by their manager, to show me how it very well may have been. I watch these shows to cure me of any regrets I may have of not chasing the life of the "gunslinger" as Mellenkamp referred to it. Those guys have fun but the price they pay is high. Indeed, these stories are often laced with death -- OD's, car wrecks, heart attacks -- Skynyrd's story of course has death at its center.
No, I can look around at my life now and appreciate it. It is calm. I am loved and I love. I've never been in rehab. I've never been in bankruptcy court, nor in a paternity lawsuit. I've never trashed a hotel room nor had my front teeth knocked out by my lead singer. I am well. I am happy. I am alive. Rock stardom could never have enhanced my life.
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