Rock stars were uncommon people. They came from the masses and got to the top without the help of education, training, family ties, money or other conventional ladders
In the twenty-first century it seems rather inappropriate, to use a popular twenty-first-century term, to describe Kanye West, Adele or Justin Bieber as rock stars. These people are cut from a different cloth. The age of the rock star ended with the passing of physical product, the rise of automated percussion, the domination of the committee approach to hit-making, the widespread adoption of choreography and above all the advent of the mystique-destroying internet. The age of the rock star was coterminous with rock and roll, which in spite of all the promises made in some memorable songs, proved to be as finite as the era of ragtime or big bands. The rock era is over. We now live in a hip hop world.
The game has changed. Rock stars were the product of an age when music was hard to access and was treasured accordingly. The stars of music no longer have a right to public attention simply by virtue of existing. Their products now compete on a level playing field with everything from virtual reality games to streaming movies. What was once hard to find is now impossible to escape. Music no longer belongs in a category of otherness. It’s just another branch of the distraction business, owned by the same multinational conglomerates as the theme parks and the multiplexes.
Why the title? Rock stars were uncommon people. They came from the masses and got to the top without the help of education, training, family ties, money or other conventional ladders. They came from ordinary lives and had no reason to expect that they would ever be special. At the same time they refused to accept that they would ever be anything but exceptional. Most surprising of all, many of them had careers that lasted far longer than they had any right to expect, because long after the hits stopped coming, their legends continued to endure. They endured because, like the stars of the great cowboy films of that earlier age, they were playing themselves and, at the same time, they were playing us.