The Rock Star Image
The most trite, used up, cliché question that an adult can ask a child is "What do you want to be when you grow up?" While other kids in my middle-class catholic grade school wanted to be doctors, lawyers and businessmen, I wanted to be a rock star. I nearly drove my parents insane with my insistence to pursue that career. There I was, ready to enter high school, with no thought of proceeding to college and no other ambitions. I knew what I wanted, and thought I knew how to get it. My future was set, and it was mansions, cars, women, and a screaming crowd at my disposal every night of the week.
My parents knew it back then. In retrospect, I can see that they were right. It all began because of one important factor. One influential entity, one driving force that had us all brainwashed to accept and believe anything it presented: MTV. I feel a sort of kinship with MTV because we kind of grew up together. In 1981, MTV began broadcasting in New York. After a few years of success, it was nationally syndicated and, thank God, my cable provider carried it. At the time, I had not been exposed too much variety of music. I sang along to Kenny Rogers's albums on family road trips, but had no idea what he was saying or what he stood for. All I knew was that my parents got a kick out of hearing me sing "Lady" and other songs that I obviously did not understand.
Some time around the second grade, I was introduced to Music Television. This new and exciting medium enthralled me. My parents did not understand the concept of music videos. Videos had no plot, no moral, and no redeemable social value. They were fast paced, filled with flashes of light and quick camera movements. They starred people that my parents did not recognize and songs that they had never heard. In addition to all of this, many of the videos contained what they called "objectionable material" to which a child of my age should not be exposed. But I watched it anyway! How could I resist? It was new and popular. It was what the cool kids talked about at lunch.
The people on these videos were different from anyone we had ever seen. They were raw, wild, and powerful. Like the rock stars of the 1950's, they had the ability to influence millions of kids simply by dressing differently. I can remember flipping on MTV as soon as my parents were out of sight. I didn't care that they disapproved. By the time my dad's keys were in the ignition, my babysitter and I would be jamming to The Police. He was as enthralled by this new medium as I, and expressed it in everything that he did.
My babysitter was very much involved with the new music scene. When I look back, I realize that he was the epitome of an 80's fashion victim. He wore wire-rimmed glasses and a button upped shirt with suspenders. His hair was sculpted with mousse and hair spray to achieve maximum height, and every month he would have a different colored pair of Converse All Stars. We would sit and watch videos for hours. I can remember cranking up the volume when a familiar song came on and dancing around the room. I would watch His dance moves and try to copy them.
As I recall, it was not so much the music that excited me, but the newness of it all. It was the first time that I decided that something was cool on my own. Something finally separated me from my parents, or rather, I understood something that they didn't. This kid was hip. And I knew where that hipness came from. He told me about his friends and how they would go to concerts. He was everything that I wanted to be. I would try to copy the way he dressed, danced, and spoke. My parents laughed often at new words that I adopted and the natural way in which I used them. What I did not realize at the time was that, as I copied him, he was copying others. I was exposed to, and re-exposed to, by filtration, the image of new wave 80's rock. To me, he was as much an idol as Devo or Billy Idol (No pun intended!).
I continued to watch music videos through my elementary-school years. By the time I was in seventh grade, I had become an updated version of my babysitter. When my friends and I would get together, our conversations always involved music and musicians. We dressed like them, acted like them, and wore the same hairstyles. We talked about concerts that we were going to (but rarely made it to), Albums that we had bought, and rumors about rock stars. MTV had become so much a part of my life that on any given day, I could recite the ten most requested videos in order. It was during this receptive stage of my life that I developed the warped ideas of reality that eventually shaped my goals and dreams.
I remember seeing the Mötley Crüe video for "Home Sweet Home" and deciding that that was the life I wanted. The clip featured concert footage of the band performing for thousands of people. When the camera focused on individuals in the crowd, the men were screaming from excitement, and the women were crying with lust. A shot of a woman lifting her shirt to expose herself was neatly edited just in time to allow a teenage boy a glimpse of perhaps his first breast. This video sparked my interest, prompting me to buy the Theatre of Pain album and a feature length documentary on the band, called Mötley Crüe Uncensored. The music was amazing. Filled with attitude and power, it was of a different breed than the mainstream stuff shown on MTV. I can remember numerous times when my dad would enter my room, screaming for me to turn it down. The music was raw. The lyrics centered on Sex and violence: exactly what a teenage boy wants. Uncensored depicted the band in their "everyday activities". According to the film, the band spent every night surrounded by beautiful women. They all drove sports cars and had tattoos. They had exactly what I wanted. It was the desire to emulate these idols that prompted me to begin playing music. I started playing guitar as a means to an end.
At the age of twelve, I believed that with a little practice, I could be the one making videos. When I received my first guitar for Christmas, I spent the entire day posing with it in front of the mirror! When the Guns n' Roses video came on, I was their guitarist. When Poison came on, I was their guitarist. These dreams of stardom were the reasons for me to practice. I would play scales and exercises as I watched my future self on the television. After a while, I could actually play some of the songs! This boosted my confidence, further diluting my young mind. As hard rock began to receive more airtime on MTV, I strove to learn the hit songs, note for note. I felt that if I could learn to play as well as these guys, there would be no reason that I couldn't have their lives. It all seemed so perfect. My plan was to start a band, play some gigs, get discovered, make a record, go on tour, make millions of dollars, and spend the rest of my life playing to sold out stadium crowds. Needles to say, my plan did not work out exactly that way, but it didn't turn out all wrong either.
Because of my desire to be a rock star, I practiced relentlessly. After a while, I began to write my own songs. Eventually, the love of music, not the image of fame, took over as the driving force. Although I feel that I was misled by the false image created by MTV, I owe my skills as a musician to the desire that it instilled in me. Along the way, I have learned the importance of dedication and practice. Thanks MTV!
January 21st, 1999