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On Music: Putting fame in its place

January 27, 2010

By Jim Hagerty

Staff Writer

All careers begin centered on the music—the defining art that lives beyond the surface until it’s exposed with melodies capable of tantalizing the senses and moving mountains with meaning and metamorphosis. Then, the masses enter, bringing with them the succulence of a utopia that seems to know no sorrow.

Suddenly, it’s about more than the art, but the image of a person creating it. The line between who an artist is and what he creates is erased, becoming tromped and trotted until forgotten. Still, the artist must continue churning out material, regardless of its substance. It’s suddenly clear who, or what, is driving the train, and all too often, it’s not the music. Creativity can be lost in a fleeting sense of twisted romance so whimsical it’s often over before it ever begins.

Few can truly explain the phenomenon of fame. Hundreds have cracked under its pressure, only to find themselves in a swamp, trudging through a seemingly-endless heap of sludge and murk. The artist remains only as a societal image pushed to the front lines by the pheromones of a marketing automaton. Meantime, money flows like water from a broken faucet. There’s nothing fame can’t buy.

“Fame is like the ocean,” W.A.S.P. front man Blackie Lawless said. “It’s vast and you can have a lot of fun in it. But, if you abuse it, it will take your life.”

Countless artists get caught somewhere between creativity and the superficial realm of reverence. Some never make it out. They’re suddenly gone, and what might have been is never to be known. The question then becomes how anyone could throw fame and fortune away like yesterday’s news.

“When people put an artist on a pedestal and give them god-like adoration,” Lawless said, “it will kill that artist. Elvis, Curt Cobain, Michael Jackson and (Jim) Morrison are examples. Human beings were not meant to be given that kind of worship.”

Exaltation ahead: faces are money machines—gimmicks and catalysts to future riches. Escape, even in comfortable confines, is all but impossible.

“Imagine going into a 7 Eleven and seeing your face on a third of the magazine covers on the rack,” Lawless added. “It’s a heavy thing.”

The ability to make it out of the swamp depends on several factors. Staying true to the art within allows it to retain enough profundity to keep from drowning. A single moment of weakness, however, almost always ends as muses are sucked into an abyss, one after another, without contrition.

As many know, art is about evoking thoughts in others. A song may inspire people in different ways. Bands like W.A.S.P., often misunderstood, misread and mislabeled, can hold tightly onto a clever innovatory strong enough to keep enemy soldiers at bay. Tweaks and adjustments are required. Some artists alter sounds to fit trends. Others depart to different genres and remain comfortable in obscurity.

“If you’re an artist and you aren’t making people think, you’re only making records,” Lawless added.

In W.A.S.P.’s early days, it became known for one of the most visually-discordant stage shows in the game, playing to millions of fans and selling as many records. Today, Lawless, who did his own time in the sludge, has won out over fame’s empty promises. Balance now has its rewards.

“If you want people to recognize your art and really listen to what you are doing, you have to turn down the noise,” Lawless said. “That’s what we did. In the beginning, it was about the show, and people would listen with their eyes and not their ears.”

W.A.S.P.’s Babylon is the band’s 14th studio album. Released last November, the first track, “Crazy,” is about a false sense of love associated with fame. The Demolition Records release also includes a cover of Deep Purple’s “Burn.” Fresh from an extensive tour through Europe, W.A.S.P. is playing select U.S. dates, including stops in Detroit and Chicago this spring.

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From the Jan. 27-Feb. 2, 2010 issue

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