The sad fate of American music
I don’t know about your childhood dreams. Maybe you always wanted to be an astronaut or a veterinarian or some other boring job, but that’s not what I wanted to do. No, I would wait until my parents were out of the house so I could turn the lights down low. A dozen stuffed animals I stole from my kid sister were my screaming adoring crowd. My hairdo one of my grandmother’s old feather boas wrapped around my head like a turban. The vacuum cleaner served as both my guitar and amp. I’d plug it in, turn it on and let ‘er rip. It may have sounded like noise to you but to my seven-year-old imagination it was the sweetest sound in the world, untamed chords of righteous anarchy. Yes, I was no longer an anonymous school child — I was Fang Sturgeonblood, professional rock star.
As I reached adolescence, my alter ego Fang Sturgeonblood developed quickly. MTV had just hit the scene and I knew from the moment I saw my first video that this was the world Fang Sturgeonblood would inhabit, this lurching world of wild camera movements and hyperactive adults wearing rainbow wigs. His life would be one endless drunken party populated by sex-crazed girls begging to have a look at Fang’s infamous chest tattoo of a 1,001 king cobras exploding out of a human skull.
Where did it all go wrong? It might have been when I picked up a real guitar and found that it was a little more complicated than a vacuum cleaner. Or when I tried writing a rock ballad and got stumped for three hours trying to find a rhyme for “baby.” Maybe it’s when I chickened out at the tattoo parlor and decided just to get a happy face on my shoulder blade instead of the 1,001 cobra skull. Or when my appearance at the local coffee house’s open mic night brought in only three dimes and a nickel, several thousand dollars short of the money I’d need to buy the great big light display I’d planned on: a thousand blood-red light bulbs forming the words “Fang Sturgeonblood” underneath a silver scorpion bursting into flames.
No, the Fang Sturgeonblood saga was not to be. I sold my guitar and started saving for college. But I still knew that my wild dreams of stardom and celebrity were still there day-and-night on MTV and VH-1. A brilliant pyrotechnic fantasy of rhythm, eye candy and uninhibited rebellion was on display for all us responsible adults who’ve resigned ourselves to humdrum jobs in the humdrum real world. We might be old and boring but at least someone was still living the dream.
Or at least that’s what I thought until a few nights back. I was house-sitting for a friend who had cable TV. Had nothing better to do, so I thought I’d make some popcorn, dim the lights, check out some of the wild times on MTV and VH-1.
At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought maybe TV Guide had a misprint or something. These weren’t music videos. These weren’t rock stars I was seeing. Sure the announcers claimed they were rock stars; some of them I even recognized. But they weren’t doing the things rock stars do. They weren’t playing music, they were playing dress up. Primping and posing for hours on end, taking us on tours of their luxurious yachts and mansions as designers analyzed their hair and beauty regimens.
Maybe I was just dreaming but I seem to remember a time when pop music was about letting loose, getting crazy and dropping all your inhibitions. Rock stars and rappers went over the edge, took too many drugs and acted crazy while the rest of us sat back and enjoyed the spectacle, some amused, some critical, some maybe even inspired. But the point was you didn’t have to think much about it. Do we really need commentary and analysis about Brittany Spears’ latest video, much less about her latest haircut?
Maybe America is just too busy to be entertained any more; perhaps the dirty work of actually watching music videos is all being outsourced to third world countries like Micronesia. Maybe our celebrities are just becoming too famous, so luminous that we non-celebrities can’t be trusted with looking at them for more than a minute without turning to stone or crumbling into dust.
It’s a glamorous world, but not one where Fang Sturgeonblood could survive for a moment. He was about music, about freedom, about rebellion. America doesn’t care about that kid stuff anymore. The American public wants to see just one thing: ridiculously famous people shelling out obscene amounts of money for ludicrously decadent luxury. And if you don’t like that then it’s time to stop living in the past and get with the program.
Still, this week I think I’m getting that snake tattoo.