The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars 1955-1994

I wanted to write something about rock stars as a breed. They were these larger-than-life fantasy friends who we grew up with, who I grew up with. I was born in 1950, and in popular music terms, that’s the winning ticket in the lottery of life. I remember Elvis before he went into the Army; I was 13 or 14 when the Beatles broke through.

I’ve dealt with a lot of rock stars and observed them at close quarters. So I wanted to answer the question people always ask, which is: What are they like? And the question people never ask, which is: Why are they like that?

As I sat down, I thought you don’t really have rock stars anymore these days. It’s increasingly used as a metaphor — rock star politicians or movie directors or whatever. We built this idea of what a rock star is supposed to be. What are the qualities we associate with that? A recklessness; sexual charisma; and interesting shoes. Those seem to be the main components.

Social media has put the final nail in the coffin of the rock stars. They existed outside the mainstream; the mainstream didn’t approve of them, broadly. These days we live in very censorious times. If you had someone today behaving the way David Bowie or Jimmy Page did in ’71 or ’72, they’d be forced to apologize on a weekly basis.

— British music journalist David Hepworth talking about his motivation in writing the newly published book, Uncommon People. The interview appears in The New York Times’ book reviews.

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