Uncommon People – The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars
By David Hepworth
Bantam Press – £20.00
”That night there was a tribute on the BBC’s rock programme Whistle Test. Annie Nightingale, the presenter, said something like ‘a lot of us wouldn’t be doing what we are doing now if it hadn’t been for John Lennon.’ I sat on the edge of the bath and blubbed, which is not my habit. Her words touched me off because they related to me, not to John Lennon. I haven’t cried about the death of a famous person since. I have come to realize that if we do so what we’re crying for is ourselves, our lost youth, the days of happiness we associate with the person who has died.”
David Hepworth absolutely isn’t alone when it comes to having ‘blubbed’ upon hearing the most shocking news of John Lennon’s death. I too, was somewhat inconsolable for a number of days thereafter.
Days, which, if anything, were riddled with the utmost of dark, disbelief.
A mode of morbidity, which author, broadcaster and presenter, David Hepworth, continues to further expand upon in this most excellent book’s chapter, ‘1980 – Death by fan’: ”The Beatles created a great deal of happiness. The by-product of that process was fame. Fame on a mad, massive and eventually injurious scale. In killing a rock star, the ultimate somebody, Mark Chapman, the ultimate nobody, probably hoped he would cross over. He hoped he might obliterate the distance between his own puny life and the hero’s life that he saw Lennon leading. His action foreshadowed in a uniquely terrible way our increasing desire to put ourselves at the centre of events, when our proper role should be as a spectator or appreciative listener. It underlined just how big rock stars had become and how much some people still expected those rock stars to be able to mend their own broken lives. It wasn’t anything to do with what the rock stars said or did. It was to do with what people expected of them.”
Indeed, such expectation can and continues to be manipulated to such a (deplorable) degree, wherein any mode of correction – let alone common sense – is invariably laced with wide-open and quite often, grossly misplaced interpretation. An interpretation, which, in the case of the odious Chapman, was overtly fraught with both madness and fantasy.
To such a preposterous degree in fact, that almost all and anything was unfortunately permitted. This including the murder of a Beatle.
But what makes Uncommon People – The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars such a compelling and concise, brilliant read, is not it’s translucency and sincerity, but the way it has been so compellingly put together.
Beginning with ‘1955 – the first rock star’ (Little Richard) and concluding with ‘1995 – Revenge of the nerds’ (Marc Andreessen), these 324 pages (excluding Foreword, Bibliography, Picture Acknowledgements and Index) traverse the entire gambit of nigh all one needs to know and embrace so far as all and any pertinent rock stars are concerned.
To be sure, the mere term ‘rock stars,’ might in many peoples’ eyes, be considered a tad naff and dated. The latter of which, in all (musical) honesty, it may well be. But, as Hepworth colourfully points out, there’s a colossal amount of romanticism entwined within the term: ”The age of the rock star, like the age of the cowboy, has passed. But like the cowboy, the idea of the rock star lives on in our imaginations.”
Like many things of yore, some terrific things have passed unto yesteryear; never again to be embraced with anything resembling the slightest kernel of truth.
Let alone talent.
As Hepworth immediately makes clear in the book’s Foreword: ”In the twenty-first century it seems rather inappropriate, to use a popular twenty-first-century term, to describe Kanye West, Adele or Justin Bieber as rock stars. These people are cut from a different cloth. The age of the rock star ended with the passing of physical product, the rise of automated percussion, the domination of the committee approach to hit-making, the widespread adoption of choreography and above all the advent of the mystique-destroying internet. The age of the rock star was coterminous with rock and roll, which in spite of all the promises made in some memorable songs proved to be as finite as the era of ragtime or big bands.”
Hmm, what was it David Bowie once sang: ”Watch out you rock’n’rollers.”
Having reviewed his debut, 1971 – Never A Dull Moment: Rock’s Golden Moment (which too, was nigh un-put-down-able) I have to say, Uncommon People is an absolute gem of a read.
It’s fresh, it’s jam-packed with new information, and the chapters on Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen and Nirvana simply drip with glittering, honest revelation. Simply terrific.