“Rock Star” vs. “Musician”

David Bowie is a rock star.

David Bowie is a musician.

Both of these sentences refer to the same profession, and yet the image and associations are quite different if you use one phrase or the other.

I got to thinking about the nuances of these two words after a comment my brother made after reading a review of Identity Theft which included a bit of my description.

“His rock n’ roll lifestyle mostly consists of finding ways to keep his laundry from stinking while on the road and trying to remain anonymous while buying Preparation-H.”

My brother felt this characterization was unfair to poor Ollie.

“I see him as living  the life of a moderately successful professional musician…. He actually has an office and at least two full-time staff working for him. There’s an  active fan base that fawns over him online, and he’s touring to international venues.”

This is quite true.

By any objective standards he is quite a successful musician, as most musicians struggle to make a living at all.

He is, on the other hand, not as successful as a “rock star.” Being a “musician” is about making a living by making music. Being a “rock star” is about generating fame. Only a handful of celebrities manage to maintain that level of known-ness over the course of a lifetime.

In the public consciousness there are only two kinds of rock stars. Those at the height of their fame are almost mythological creatures. The term “rock star” itself is synonymous with magnetism, sex appeal, excitement and glamor. Those who have seen their fame diminished are often described as “washed up.”  The post fame rock star brings out a Shadenfreude response. He elicits scorn in direct proportion to our envy of his once exalted status.

One of the challenges with the character of Ollie (stage name Blast) is that he must be a rock star, with all the glamor that implies, to the main female character Candi. He is more of a “washed up rock star”– but still a rock star– to his employee Ethan. To himself he is simply a working musician. Touring is his every day, mundane life.

Because the notion of a “rock star” is so potent and so synonymous with glamor, it was important to show Ollie taking part in the most mundane aspects of the life of a touring musician. He is introduced on laundry day. (I am on the road five months out of the year with my ballet project and I can tell you from personal experience that there are few things more pleasant after a month on the road than having a free day and a guest laundry in the hotel. Mmmm. A suitcase full of clean clothes!)

Ollie, in fact, likes his more reasonable level of fame. For the most part, it gives him positive opportunities. Occasionally though, as when he would like to buy personal hygiene products without undue attention, it is inconvenient. The Preparation-H thing? I included it in the blurb because it de-glamorizes his rock star fame and it is funny.  It highlights the fact that the tone of the book is more humorous overall than tragic.

But I see now that de-glamorizing the life of a touring musician while juxtaposing it with the term “rock star” inadvertently pushes the right set of buttons to call to mind the “washed up rock star” archetype. This probably says more about our collective lust for fame than it says about any particular musician, including the fictional Ollie.


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