It’s just rock ‘n’ roll…

10 06 2018

Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars 1955-1994 by David Hepworth

The age of the rock star, like the age of the cowboy, has passed. Like the cowboy, the idea of the rock star lives on in our imaginations.
What did we see in them? Swagger. Recklessness. Sexual charisma. Damn-the-torpedoes self-belief. A certain way of carrying themselves. Good hair. Interesting shoes. Talent we wished we had.
What did we want of them? To be larger than life but also like us. To live out their songs. To stay young forever. No wonder many didn’t stay the course.
In Uncommon People, David Hepworth zeroes in on defining moments and turning points in the lives of forty rock stars from 1955 to 1995, taking us on a journey to burst a hundred myths and create a hundred more.
As this tribe of uniquely motivated nobodies went about turning themselves into the ultimate somebodies, they also shaped us, our real lives and our fantasies. Uncommon People isn’t just their story. It’s ours as well.
From 1955 to 1994 he covers lots of big names from Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly to Bob Marley, Ian Dury and Duran Duran as well as Guns N’ Roses, Madonna and Prince until finishing off with the person he sees as the very last rock star, Kurt Cobain. It’s a really entertaining read with some terrific anecdotes about rock stars through the ages. You could argue that there are possibly a few genuine stars who followed Cobain but Hepworth had to draw the line somewhere I guess. And his advice to young music fans runs entirely counter to what I would have expected:
I’d encourage any young person to see Bruce Springsteen or the Rolling Stones or Paul McCartney in concert, even though they might be having to sing their songs in the only key they can still reach and their knees might not be quite as forgiving as they once were. I would encourage young people to see them because they are the last of a breed. Once they’ve gone, nobody will be doing what they do. When they go, the art will go with them.
Why? The world has changed and, whilst there is still great music, it just doesn’t have the same impact:
Music can be every bit as good now as it used to be, but it can never be as precious as it used to be. It doesn’t have our undivided attention any longer. We are no longer invested in it in quite the same way. Now that we have easy access to everything, the individual atoms that make up that ‘everything’ are less significant in themselves. The same applies to the people associated with those atoms. That’s why we don’t have rock stars any more. The business of entertainment has seen this kind of change before and will see it again. In the 1950 movie Sunset Boulevard, William Holden says to Gloria Swanson, the old star of the silents, ‘You used to be big.’ Her eyes widen. Her nostrils flare. ‘I am big,’ she assures him. ‘It’s the pictures that got small.’
Well worth reading.

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four stars
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