Man – iconic rock stars have been dropping like flies lately, and it really sucks. One thing I’m sure that we’ve all seen though, even before these rock stars started to kick the bucket has been the disgraceful idea that there are no new rock stars. I’m sorry to say it, but if you seriously believe this, then you are a part of the problem. There are a couple of key reasons why there is no such thing as a mainstream rock star and beyond that why maybe this wasn’t really a problem in the first place. There are a lot of basic things here that common music fans are ignoring in order to get to feel superior and claim that kids these days know nothing. If you genuinely believe this, you are old, that’s fine, just be aware.
You regularly see these pieces come up in ‘intelligent’ music media, pieces that ask questions like, “Who will be the next Metallica” When I see things like this all I can think is well man… have you heard about a little band called Slipknot? I don’t really like them either but it’s impossible to deny that they are starting to dominate a similar cultural space as Metallica in the 90’s. “Well they don’t get airplay” you might argue. Well guess what, neither do any Metallica songs that are from before 1990. If you want a ‘modern metal band’ who are getting real airplay then maybe you should look at Five Finger Death Punch. They too fill a similar role. I mean yeah – they only appeal to out of touch heshers, but by the mid 90s, Metallica was in the same place! Five Finger Death Punch and Slipknot shirts have found their way into fairly major retailers. Five Finger Death Punch just did a Euro tour opening for Judas Priest, an opening slot taken by Guns n Roses’ Duff McKagan only four years ago. Meanwhile, Slipknot sell out the same venues that Def Leppard does. If that doesn’t tell you something about the state of rock and roll I don’t know what will.
The point I’m trying to make is that it takes time to grow into rock star status. Sure Slipknot has been around for twenty years, but they’ve been gradually growing – they deserve their spot in the scene regardless of whether or not you like them, I certainly don’t. However they paid their dues for ages before they started to get breaks. They represent modern day rock stars though, similar to KISS in terms of theatrical and over the top stage performances. I mean even KISS started out as Wicked Lester and spent years playing clubs, reminiscent of Slipknot’s roots as Anal Blast.
You see this shift in the status of rock stars in the pop world too, Lady Gaga is nothing if not iconic, as is Adele, breaking boundaries in her own specific way. If you look down through the sands of time you will start to notice that revolutionary figures have always had the same sort of romantic aesthetic – they just become more prevalent the further that you come towards the present. This is really what society has been moving towards for years – a place where everyone can be an iconoclast, and yes, a rock star in their own right.
The reason that you don’t see any great overarching figures anymore is twofold. First of all – the industry is fragmented now. It’s a whole new world where each group of fans gets to find their own distinct aesthetic that they happen to love. This is fine, it leads to a more personal connection with the art, which has been a goal of this whole thing for years. However – almost all of this stuff stems from the same creative hub back in the 70s. That’s only natural though – back in the 70s it was much harder to put out a record than it is today, this means that nowadays more people have the chance to create great art, which while it does lead to market over saturation, is still a very good thing. Nowadays it just feels weird because our modern equivalents to rock stars still have to compete with the old guard who have managed to parlay their former glories into long term success.
Beyond that – a lot of these people are only heroes because they survived the seventies. A lot of these bands that we worship didn’t have immense critical acclaim back in those days. Led Zeppelin had no number one single, instead they were like Lamb of God, their records charted extremely well and the (rare) singles were appreciated by die hard fans. Am I saying Lamb of God is the new Led Zeppelin? Not quite – but given that on their current tour they are selling out three thousand person venues I think we could certainly say that they are getting there. I mean yeah Led Zeppelin did it in a shorter time frame but record labels worked differently back then- the cycle allowed you to put out a record or two every year. Nowadays that is pretty much impossible as long as you’re on a significant label.
So is the cult of the rock star dead? Not really. Their are plenty of people on the independent music scene command the respect and have the same sense of authority that rock stars of old did. It’s just that now because our culture is increasingly fragmented there are more and more of them and they have a higher attrition rate. This isn’t because of the age old plagues of drugs and alcohol but rather unintentional social media suicide. That’s just the world we live in now and we are all going to have to get used to it. There are advantages and disadvantages to this – but it’s surprisingly close to the system we’ve had for years. Yet with more information than ever at our fingertips we have even greater variety of choice as to who we venerate as the next generation of music legends. There will always be defining figures, it’s just that now you can more easily ignore them and walk your own narrow path.