Growing up, I remember during my stints with VH1 and MTV while they still played music consistently and not just reality shows, I loved watching the various specials that included gigantic musicians. You know, the ones you would obsess over as a kid. You had the various collections of all of their memorabilia: the posters, mugs, t-shirts, vinyl, and miscellaneous pieces of awesomeness that made the experience of connecting with them all that much more endearing. For me, people who fell into that category were the members of Slipknot, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, Chris Martin of Coldplay, and Brandon Boyd of Incubus. I remember trying to attain every piece of physical material I could to inspire the feeling that I could be just like them.
I dreamed of being on stage with them, singing the songs that motivated me to find my own way into the music industry. These people of any genre, style, or upbringing all have a special aura that draws us to them. What is that aura? Is it the sheer talent? Is it the mystique of being someone with such control over his/her own future (so it seems)? Even at the incredibly young stage of musicianship I am at now, I feel myself questioning the relationship between that of the “fan” and the “artist.” It has been debated that there is no dividing line that separates those of us that one might consider “normal” or of an average status in that realm, from those in the kind of limelight that many of us define as a “superstar.” Does that line really exist? If it does, where does it get drawn, and for whom?
As we all know, being in the position of the “superstar” might not be as glamorous as one might make it seem. In fact, do a quick biography search of any of your favorite mega-artists and I’d be hard-pressed to find out that you didn’t pull up some sort of tumultuous experience that these artists go through to get to where they were/are. Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain led a rigorous life filled with substance abuse, unwanted fame, and scandal after pressing scandal. The Doors frontman Jim Morrison was the postage stamped image of the rockstar; surly, scandalous, and mysterious. But ultimately, how does that play into true personal happiness? That question can only be left to interpretation on their ends.
All of this begs the question: should we worship or idealize these “larger than life” figures? Given their personas and their identities, what kind of influences do these people have on us? Considering we’re always impressionable to some degree, there’s a stigma that figures of this magnitude could have the wrong influences on us. Although it’s solely up to the consumer or fan of the image, there are factors that do weigh in on this issue – many of which have been debated by fans and musicians alike.
Canadian synth-pop wonder Lights, who has seen plenty of her own success over the past few years as she has toured immensely and released two successful records, felt contemplative on the subject as she sat on a couch in the green room of the Granada Theatre in Dallas. “It’s something that I’ve always kind of thought about. You hear these stories about some of these huge rockstars that have lost touch with reality, you wonder how that happens, at what point that happens,” she says with question, “I know I haven’t. I don’t know if it’s due to my family or my connection with my fans. I’m always making sure I’m trying to meet people when I can, or keeping myself on a ground level and having good friends around; your team around you! They’re important,” she proclaimed as she stared up into the ceiling, “I honestly don’t know when that point comes. It’s something I’ve thought about too. It’s like is there some kind of threshold you cross, suddenly you’ve sold ‘this’ amount of records and you’re a different person? Then you hear about people that aren’t like that at all. So, I really don’t know. All I do know that I’ve never looked at an artist and worshiped them. When I really respect someone’s work I look beyond it and what it’s doing, and where it’s coming from.”
Maybe these people are just in the right place at the right time? Expanding on a musical movement that consumers didn’t expect, didn’t know they wanted, or even needed. Fate has a way of placing you in odd situations that you had no idea were possible. When you take a look at the other side of the coin, you can see that there is warrant in being a figure with this identity.
This is a possibility explored by Jason Butler and Anthony Rivera of the post-hardcore with soul movement, letlive. As they had just finished up a show at Emo’s East in Austin, Texas on a breezy March evening, Jason inquisitively pondered, “I believe in iconoclast. Kill them all, crash all those icons; we don’t need them. Nah, but I do think there is certainly warrant in some artists and musicians being larger than life simply because they’ve found that the normalcy or typicality that sort of runs itself in between, in the middle, they’ve found a way to reach that. In what light you want to view that is up to you really.”
Is this kind of lifestyle meant for people who only function inside of the system, rather than outside?
Anthony states, “I think with icons or whatever you want to call them, they’re just paying respect to every individual. Everyone has something different to offer everyone. I talked to somebody over here that has crazy-ass ideas, draws crazy-ass art, but he just doesn’t happen to have these icons, whether it’s Kurt Cobain, James Brown, Miles Davis. Back in the day they just happened to have the microphone. They were able to be a part of something in the right place at the right time. Who’s to say that if someone else didn’t get that microphone or stage, or was able to get on television, then that wouldn’t have been the case for them as well? They would’ve been the icon.”
It becomes a different question entirely depending on where you are in the industry, whether as a fan, artist, or something else indefinitely. “I’m saying this as a fan of music, not as an artist; there are in fact artists I don’t want to meet because I enjoy the mystique, but at the same time as an artist, I don’t believe in that. So I guess I have a very ironic and contradictory duality with all that. Myself and us, hell no. We don’t deserve that, and we don’t want that,” propels back Jason. He certainly believes that their band doesn’t deserve that kind of upholding, although that opinion changes when you become the fan and not the artist. It certainly brings light to the fact that everyone feels differently, and that diversity is part of what keeps the industry fresh with new ideas, projects, and movements.
Coming to the conclusion that it’s all a giant matter of interpretation to each individual, everyone has their own role to play. Instituting a “domino effect” if you will, one artist’s success may be exactly what that artist needs to get inspired and motivated to create, while at the same time, a negative influence could easily take away from that and impend on an artist’s drive to find his/her own way. I don’t believe there is a dividing line between the “fan” and the “artist.” I believe in respecting artists and holding them up high because of their achievements, but in reality, we’re all just people. You have to be careful with how you perceive those on the riser, because you could be under the wrong impression entirely. The aura and mystique are just by-products of how we view these people. In reality, we’re all trying to find our own way and express ourselves in our own directions. That’s what makes us all artists, and if we’re doing something that inspires others, well, then I can definitively say we’re all “larger than life” figures.