I’m so sick of musicians and their wretched excesses. Wretched healthy excesses, I mean. The more any great artist improves their personal condition, the more their professional work tumbles in bland decline. It never fails: They get their crap together and their music goes into the toilet.
Who could deny that their emotional vulnerability, inappropriate rage, distorted perspective, egomaniacal point of view and chronic inability to manage even the simplest aspects of their lives in any rational manner... has produced some great music
Eric Clapton was on fire when he was on heroin. Bob Dylan’s greatest writing occurred when he was neurotic and reclusive. Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Bon Scott, Kurt Cobain and Jerry Garcia never got it together and their music will live forever even if they clearly won’t. Charlie Parker, Lester Young and Billie Holiday were either wrecks or recovering wrecks throughout their careers and their music stayed real and deep. It’s as capable of divinely transporting us at Starbucks today as when it was originally recorded in a painful, besotted haze.
Jimmy Page got off hard drugs and recorded an album of old Led Zeppelin songs with The Black Crowes. You call that a benefit of drug-free thinking?
We love our favorite musicians and we don’t want to see them hurt themselves by no longer hurting themselves. The Who lost nut job drummer Keith Moon and who cares about anything they’ve done since? Tom Waits stopped living in lonely bachelor squalor at the Tropicana Motel with only a bottle of beer and jar of mustard in the refrigerator. He got married, moved to Sonoma, and these days his music is revered by critics—but in those days it was revered by a bunch of people who actually listened to it and bought it. At the height of their fame, Jabbaesque Blues Traveler harp player John Popper lost 200 pounds and the band has never sold more than 200 copies of any album since. The Stones are kept alive not by their music or marketing but by Keith Richards’ ongoing shtick of snorting his father’s ashes or getting his entire blood supply transfused. I like to listen to Oasis and I don’t want to hear that the Gallagher brothers are getting along at last.
It’s better to burn out than to fade away, said Neil Young -- a guy who should spend more time listening when he says things like that. Maybe if Rod Stewart had accidentally strangled himself in some humiliating attempt at sexual asphyxia back when he was in The Faces we would still be listening to him. Or at least we wouldn’t have to.
Of course, we celebrate when someone triumphs over their personal demons and demonstrates the awareness, determination and individual integrity that become life-affirming examples of the best that human beings are capable of. But not these human beings. It’s not fair, it’s not right and it’s not a very good financial return for all we’ve invested in them. Who supported their bad habits in the first place by buying their records and concert tickets when we never knew what we were going to get? It was us. They owe us.
What is the future of our music if all our favorite musicians begin living organically, raising children and getting all American Idol and corporate on us?
Thank God for Hip Hop, is all I’ve got to say.
R.I.P. Amy Winehouse