Linette Smith looks at fame and the reasons people become, or want to become, famous.
I do like an autobiography, I think it’s that look behind the scenes and inside the mind of someone who you will only ever have seen a carefully crafted public persona of, of being able to read their thoughts like an open book. We picked up a haul of music related ones recently, so that is my current reading list. Having just finished Bez of The Happy Mondays book, I’m now delving into the life of Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones. Both these stars are probably as well known and infamous for their rampant drug consumption as they are for being in bands, reading their stories got me thinking about why people want to be in a band, is it for the music, their craft? Or for some is it the fame and adoration that they seek….and all the celebrity trappings that go along with that, like the sex and the drugs? Is it about being a rock and roll star, or being a musician and being allowed to make your living doing what you love.
Pour Some Sugar On Me
As a teenager, like most, I loved music. I went through several phases including being a bit of a goth before I found my true love of dance music at the start of the 90’s. When I was a young teen I was into rock/metal music. I grew up in the Midlands where it was obligatory that everyone had a rock/metal/goth phase and spent their time drinking snakebite and black and trying to get into Rock City under-age. I would have loved to be in a band but, unfortunately, I could neither sing nor play any instrument to a decent standard. I’d had the standard school music lessons and could get a murderous noise out of a violin but it was kinder in the end to put it out of it’s misery. The real instrument I wanted to play was the guitar, what else was as cool? Giving my lack of musical talent it was pointless bothering with lessons. I really just wanted the fame and excitement of being in a band like Sheffield heros, Def Leppard. With no way of achieving this aim, the closest I ever came to being in a band was miming along to ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ in a Girl Guide talent contest with a couple of my mates, pretending to play the guitar. We were really more Deaf Shepherd than Def Leppard. In 2016 that would probably have been enough to get through at least the first couple of rounds of a TV singing competition.
You’re Twistin’ My melon, Man
Bez basically ended up actually in the Happy Mondays by accident. There he was, doing his own thing, scraping a living, being ‘a bit of a scally’ and knocking round with his mates in a band, yes and taking plenty of drugs…well he was part of the rave generation after all. All of a sudden Bez finds that his freaky dancing and maraca shaking is actually an integral part of the band’s magic and he is officially ‘in the band’. Whether it was down to the endless touring, the recording schedule or the large quantities of chemicals that they were taking, things did get rather messy for the Mondays and they went through a cycle of falling out, bankruptcy and reforming. In his book Bez describes the thrill of being on the stage and having the crowd respond to his, well, ‘Bezness’. He was definitely in it for the ride and the whole thrill of being with the band. He also describes an incident in the early days at The Hacienda where he fell off stage and cut his head: “The doc tells me to take it easy and put my feet up. I thought, ‘I’m not fucking havin’ that’. I got some of [lead guitarist] Moose’s acid, dripped it in the cut and ran back out with me shakers. Fuckin’ raz!” That’s dedication for you. He is now much calmer and after having become a bit of a reality TV star, keeps bees and brews his own beer and helps out charities supporting the homeless.
Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll
While Bez certainly appreciated the trappings of fame and got a buzz from being on stage, Keith Richards, at the start of his career at least, was just in it for the music. He was music obsessed and found his soulmates in the early days of The Stones. They wanted to be the best Blues band in London, studied and practised obsessively, getting gigs wherever they could and playing constantly. Nothing else mattered to Keef. If he wasn’t playing music he was listening to it and honing his craft. He wanted to get into the recording studio to hear what they actually sounded like, to see if they were getting close to their idols, rather than to sell records and to be famous. I’m currently at the part in his story where things are really taking off for The Rolling Stones, they are being drowned out at gigs by screaming girls and nearly ripped to shreds if the fans get hold of them…Keith does seem rather taken aback by the first flush of fame, however someone has given him his first taste of drugs, pharmaceutical speed and a spliff to ‘keep him going’ while he is performing….With Keith being quite famous for his drug use I fear things may be about to go downhill rather rapidly for him in the book.
Back to the modern day where celebrity culture seems to have changed a lot. While there are still great fledgling musicians, writers and producers out there who are, like Keith was, in it for the music, there are many more that simply want to have, as Warhol put it, their fifteen minutes of fame. Reality TV has spawned a glut of ‘celebrities’ who are more or less famous for doing nothing. To me a celebrity in the true sense is someone who has become famous for doing something incredibly well, whether they be musicians, artists, actors, film or sports stars. They have a talent and are among the best in their field. These days if we put on the TV for some so called ‘celebrity’ program I’m hard pressed to recognise any of the celebrities, who are mostly likely to be somebody who had sex with someone else on Big Brother or ate kangaroo genitals in a jungle setting rather than anyone with an actual talent. Add to that shows like the X Factor, which, while it does unearth some truly talented people, seems obsessed with generating ‘ready made pop stars’ who are propelled from obscurity to fame and then, sadly through the mill and back down to obscurity again, with a career only to be revived by a plate of the aforementioned kangaroo genitals. All these people seem to want is the fame and adoration but without having the talent, without having to live in a scutty flat or sleep on someone’s sofa while they try and make their mark on the industry.
Everybody Wants to Be a DJ
If you know me and Stuart then you will probably know that we have a past steeped in rave culture and a love of house and techno, you can read more in Stuart’s article about why we are called Hifi Pig. What Stuart doesn’t tell you in his article is just how good he was at Djing, he played beach parties, raves, house parties, clubs as far afield as Prague and Edinburgh and all over the North East of England and of course on the radio, plus he spun the wheels of steel in a dub reggae band, Roughneck Sounds. Back then, Djing was no different to actually playing an instrument. It required quite a large investment in equipment and records and hours upon hours of practice. Djing on a pair of Technics required skill, playing raves and clubs was a feat of endurance. Stuart regularly played several hours at a time with me providing him with ‘refreshments’ to keep him going (spliffs and blackcurrant cordial if I remember correctly – Ed). It was also fraught with danger, I remember one incident where Stuart was playing at Sativa in The vaults in Edinburgh. Not only was he under constant threat of electrocution (it was a sweaty techno dive and the condensation was raining down on the decks) he managed to chew through his lip and was covered in blood. It was a memorable night. Back to today and it seems like everybody wants to be a DJ. While there is some excellent tuneage being created by the new wave of DJs and producers using computers rather than decks, there are also some lazy so and so’s that are giving modern day Djing a bad name. The rise of the Superstar DJ that sprung from rave culture when dance music went more mainstream led to huge names like Carl Cox and Pete Tong being paid small fortunes to fly round the globe and make the party happen. Of course aspiring DJs looked at these superstars and wanted a piece of the action. The Superstar DJs of recent years that don’t have the solid vinyl background of Tong and Cox and fellow DJs from their era have been accused of dumbing down dance music and not actually playing live. We have a huge festival each year, just up the road from us, and know the people that supply some of the sound systems. In a recent year, a certain, incredibly famous DJ played a set, the kids went wild but apparently none of his equipment was actually wired up, he basically just pressed play on a pre-recorded set. The fact that Simon Cowell has announced an X Factor style DJ competition is more than a little disturbing for the future of Djing.
So what will the future hold for the music industry? There does seem to be backlash to ‘manufactured’ celebrities and bands. While the likes of Cowell will continue to churn out fodder for screaming re-teens, hopefully there will still be really talented musicians, DJs, producers and singers that are in it for the music and that make it, not because they want to be famous, just because they want us to be able to hear what they do.