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Miscellaneous - Excess All Areas

  by Jon Rogers

published: 18 / 5 / 2011

Miscellaneous - Excess All Areas


In 'Hitting the Right Note' Jon Rogers examines rock's capacity for bad behaviour and excess

"Ever had the feeling you've been cheated?" Johnny Rotten, Winterland, San Francisco. January 1978 Tomorrow morning, as you're setting off for work instead of doing the usual boring commute, why not pick up a bottle of Jack Daniels and get royally drunk on the way? Hey, in fact, why not make something of party of it? Pick up a couple of professional lady friends while you're at it for company, and perhaps do a little nose candy just to take the edge off the liquor. If you can afford it, why not hire some overgrown limo to drive you in style to the office? Best to make sure you turn up a couple of hours late. Well, gotta wait for the bourbon to take effect. Once inside, try throwing up over your boss, or throw a punch at them if you can manage it. Don't forget as well to swear profusely, tell all your workmates exactly what you think of them and that they can all go and fuck off. Then slump at your desk and maybe try getting it on with the two professional ladies you've picked up. See how long it takes you to get unceremoniously sacked and escorted off the premises by two burly security guards. In most work places we wouldn't put up with behaviour like that, but in the fun and funky world of rock 'n' roll this sort of behaviour is perfectly acceptable and almost encouraged. It's great to be "elegantly wasted" and is almost seen as all part and parcel of being a rock 'n' roll star. And the fans love it. Those who saw Lou Reed play in the mid-1970s no doubt half expected, and wanted, the former Velvet Underground singer to die on stage due to the excesses of his lifestyle. Similarly with the Stooges, who didn't go, at least hoping that frontman Iggy Pop would do something outrageous like actually prove he did have a 'Cock in My Pocket', perhaps slash his body with broken glass and tell the audience they could all "fuck off". And ladies, if you think that rock 'n' roll debauchery isn't quite for you there's lots of diva-like behaviour to indulge in. You could turn up for work in your finest party frock (obviously with an overblown entourage in tow), swan in, calling everyone 'dah-ling' but wait... What's this? A staircase? But dah-ling, one doesn't do stairs. And flounce out in a big huff. Or maybe get one of your flunkies to hold your cup when you have a drink, just so you don't have to go through the humiliation of actually holding it. If you do actually make it in to the office perhaps you could throw more diva-ish demands, and say that your office just has be painted brilliant white and you must have at least 40 white roses and lilies in there too. Or else you're just not working. And if your boss has the temerity to ask you to go to, say, the post office, just hop in your limo and tell the driver to go all of the 100 yards down the road. Oh, and make sure you block up the traffic in the process too. Basically, for the majority of everyday folk, behaviour like that would in effect be a fast track, one way trip to being given the boot. But in the music world - of all creeds and colours - nothing quite succeeds like excess. In fact, it is almost encouraged. In what other 'job' can you turn up for 'work' out of your skull on a cocktail of drink or drugs, and not only avoid getting the sack but actually be applauded for it? The music stars of today - stemming at least as far back as the 60s, and probably further - have developed a warped Romantic notion of the artiste, which stems from the likes of William Blake ("the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom")and carries on through with the French symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud (who advocated a "conscious derangement of all the senses"), the Dadaist art movement where Tristan Tzara advocated the absurd and excess and Beat Generation writers like Jack Kerouac, who would often write their stream-of-consciousness prose whilst high on benzedrine. While I'm sure many of today's stars can legitimately claim to be a part of that artistic lineage, for most it's probably just an excuse to go and get trashed. "Hey man... let's get like, totally wasted, and open our doors of perception..." Yeah, right. Forgetting all about the word "conscious" in Rimbaud's statement on deranging the senses. More an excuse to go and have a wild, hedonistic time. And while our more accomplished music stars have certainly accomplished songs of great worth due to that excess most no doubt come up short. If in any doubt that your great musical heroes didn't also create some god-awful racket whilst high as a kite, just go off and listen to someone like Jim Morrison of the Doors on some ropey bootleg. His spontaneous stream-of-consciousness on songs like 'Celebration of the Lizard King' quickly degenerates into sub sixth-form self-indulgent rubbish. But as fans we also love it when our favourite stars over-indulge. Psychologists would probably term it transference but in effect we want our heroes to do all those things that we would love to do, but socially we can't. Who hasn't dreamt of being that great rock god, adored and worshipped by all? Turning up at that stadium to a sold-out audience where the men want to be you and the women want to be with you. It's larger than life and we want those stars to live out a larger-than-life, er, life on our behalf. Who wouldn't want to be some oh-so-precious pop princess, swaning into the best hotels in the world, getting someone from our entourage to meet our every whim and demand, getting to wear gorgeous dresses (and probably not paying for them) and then start making outrageous demands and pulling tantrums just because your cup of coffee was stirred anti-clockwise and not clockwise? And let's face it anyone who ever went to see someone like Lou Reed or Iggy Pop in the 1970s, who didn't go, half expecting to get the spectacle of Pop in full flight, coming on stage in see-through trousers and leaving nothing to the imagination and launching into a foul-mouthed rant at the audience whilst cutting himself with broken glass? And who didn't go to see Reed perhaps finally go and overdose on stage. There's kudos to be had to be able to say 'I was there at that Suicide gig when a riot broke out'. It's those gigs that take on mythological status that we all would have love to have seen. All too often though that excess doesn't materialise into some great work of art, more often than not it's just a mess. Friends went to see Nico once in her final days when she was, effectively, singing for smack. The sight was, by all accounts, pathetic as she was too out of it to remember the lyrics and was in such a state that she had to be propped up by roadies. Even Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards, in his autobiography 'Life' makes the point several times that no matter how wasted he got on drugs and drink, he always knew his limits and was never so out of it he couldn't play when needed. Off stage it might have been a different matter, but when it counted he could be relied upon to deliver the goods. Otherwise you're just some messed up idiot making a fool of themselves in front of thousands. You're not 'elegantly wasted', just wasted. But whilst we perhaps secretly love it when our stars behave badly we have ourselves to blame too. Their egos must be outrageous. Imagine being someone like Britney Spears or Michael Jackson, from a young age you've been in this extraordinary pop world bubble. You're surrounded by sycophantic hangers-on who daren't tell you that the dress doesn't suit you and that your last single was a big steaming pile of rubbish. And they'll do anything... absolutely anything to keep you happy (and themselves employed). Your screaming fans adore you, want to sleep with you and lack any critical faculties so no matter what you do they'll always love you. Record company executives court you and effectively chat you up so you'll sign that next mega-bucks deal with them and not their rivals. So you're rolling in money at a relatively young age, millions of fans adore you, groupies are throwing themselves at your feet and everyone tells you you're wonderful. Wouldn't you develop something of an ego too? Just compare that with the Premiership footballers: rolling in money, wannabe WAGs are desperate to sleep with you, everyone tells you you're wonderful. It's not really surprising they behave the way they are portrayed in the national newspapers. Effectively you are a god amongst mere mortals. The embodiment of that Nietzschean Übermensch. Normal laws of social behaviour don't really apply. But there is a fine line between being loved and being given licence to indulge in excess and, well, just being a mess.

Visitor Comments:-
439 Posted By: Myshkin, London on 16 Jun 2011
I think your correspondent has a touch of the green-eyed monster. Maybe he's frustrated in his 9 to 5 job and needs a little excitement. A little excess is nothing to moan about, this gives great rock 'n' roll it's edge over more dull contemporaries. I mean who would you rather spend an evening with, the likes of Iggy Pop or Boyzone? No dilema for me on that one.

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