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The Rockologist: The Thought, The Thump, And The Poetry

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It's a funny thing about rock stars.

You'd think that so many of them have the world on a string, the tiger by the tail, or whatever you'd otherwise choose to call it.

Let's talk first about the lifestyle, or at least what we know about it as outsiders living vicariously through reading about it in the Random Notes section of Rolling Stone, or maybe seeing it in the nude pictures of Keith Richards lying on some beach in France we see showing up on the Internet.

And just for the record, if that particular image grosses you out, you are by no means alone.

Anyway, you'd think a life of selling millions of records, living in English countryside mansions, dating 20-something year-old super models into your 60s, and pretty much having the world as your personal oyster would be enough, right? Well, think again.

You see, for the select handful of rock royalty who have actually scaled the top of the mountain, there remains that one elusive final hill to climb, and that my friends, is artistic redemption.

It's one thing to top the charts on Billboard, but it's quite another to have the sort of pretentious types who sip wine at art galleries poring over your every word as though it were manna from heaven itself.

Even so, many have tried.

For rock stars like Mick Jagger, David Bowie, and Sting, for example, acting in films has represented the the most obvious avenue towards this type of validation, and as could be expected the results have been decidedly mixed.

Jagger, most notably, is back singing "Jumping Jack Flash" for the umpteenth time after getting mixed reviews in movies from Performance and Ned Kelly, to Freejack. Bowie did a great job playing himself in The Man Who Fell To Earth, and the less said about Sting acting in movies like David Lynch's production of Dune the better.

Of these, Sting alone refuses to give up however. He's spent the better part of the last two decades trying to reinvent himself as a solo artist dabbling in everything from jazz to Gregorian chants when all most of us want to hear is "Roxanne" with the Police one more time — and not have to pay 300 bucks a ticket for the privilege of doing so, I might add.

In so doing, Sting joins the likes of people like Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, and especially David Byrne who seem hellbent on cramming culture down the throats of fans who would much rather hear "Burning Down The House" or "Shock The Monkey" one more time.

You know what I mean? Good.

Because rather than piss off all of the South African or Brazilian union musicians who play on records by Sting and David Byrne, I have a rather novel idea. Follow the poets.

Tribal rhythms and all aside, rock and poetry is the one combination which has worked best over the years to satisfy the need to reconcile commercial success with artistic credibility for attention starved rock stars.

Elvis Costello can record vanity projects with the Brodsky Quartet, and Paul McCartney can write his symphonies, but let's be honest here. Nothing works for rock stars quite like poetry.

Some rock stars are in fact naturals at it. For that you can reference Lennon, Dylan, Springsteen, and even Bono (at least on a good day). Others? Well they fake it really well.

The most obvious example here is Jim Morrison. By all accounts, the one-time Lizard King spent his final years wandering the streets of Paris in a boozed-out haze trying to connect with his inner Rimbaud, and left us with An American Prayer.

About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • Greg Barbrick

    Rough night at the ‘Sport, huh?

    At one point I actually liked The Police, but Sting’s bullshit has just turned me completely off to anything with his voice attached to it. Same thing with Byrne.

    I used to think that Tom Waits was just a Bukowski “wanna-be” But those days are long over, your preview of his new record has me very interested.

    Rock is about dumb guys (or girls, see Madonna) just bashing it out. As the great, lost Seattle punks The Fartz put it: “Fuck Art, Lets Fart!”

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    i dunno, i have to say that i’ve liked most of Bryne’s post-Heads work more than the Talking Heads themselves.

    but i’m weird like that.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Nice article, but the problem is just as much a fault of the audiences who want to trap the artists in amber, locking them into a moment in time. If “Roxanne” and “Shock The Monkey” are the tracks you are so desperate to hear, pop a dollar in the juke box and spare the rest of us because you are missing out. You sound like the people mad when Dylan plugged in.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Bicho,

    Actually the point here isn’t so much about artists playing the hits one more time as it is about finding other avenues of expression. The thoughtful street poet thing just works best for me.

    Mark,

    We already know you are weird, but we love ya’ anyway.

    Greg,

    The only Bukowski wannabe I know is this guy named Greg. And I stayed home last night … but thanks for asking.

    -Glen