…and possibly die in the process. The old saying goes that any press is good press, and old sayings are like fortune tellers in zany romantic comedies—they somehow always end up being right. Cultivating an image—a marketable persona—is a part of being a famous musician, something that can spin dollar signs and the media hype machine. Scandalous excess – sex, drugs, guns, booze, politics – piques people’s interest.
Once a person becomes famous – whether they embrace it or not – the game becomes just as much about selling themselves as it is selling music. And whether they want it to or not, their lifestyles end up playing a big part in defining their legacy.
Here’s five historically dangerous instances of musicians advertising by lifestyle that will pay off, if you’re willing to pay the price…
Rolling With Groupies
Here’s another old saying to chew on—sex sells. I know, I know, shocking. Though it’s not so much the case anymore, there was a time in music when reputations were more or less built on the cavernous vaginas of groupies.
The rock star persona was all about dirty sexual conquest—the more notches on your groupie belt, the more longevity for your legacy. The more sex you had, the sexier your music became.
Sid Vicious was one such rock star train wreck who loved groupies. He loved them so much that in 1977, he moved in with one by the name of Nancy Spungen. Like Sid, Nancy was effing crazy, only their mutual craziness didn’t cancel each other out. You know how this story ends—Sid ended up killing Nancy with a knife because, in his words, she ‘treated him like shit’.
Opening up the ‘doors of perception’ in pop sometimes means doing massive amounts of drugs. The list of musicians who sold the ‘drugs’ part of the ‘sex, drugs, and rock n roll’ lifestyle is a mile long, so we’ll just go with one obvious example: Jim Morrison. His place in the annals of rock and the hearts of crappy hippie-poets is secure in large part because he medicated himself with acid and heroine on his way to being the lizard king we all know, love, and posterize.
So much so that it eventually killed him when he tried to take a bath in a Paris apartment in 1971…
Might want to take it easy with this one musicians.
Guns and Gangs
A long time ago, rap supplanted rock as the kind of music your parents didn’t want you listening to. Accordingly, rap’s practitioners took special care to cultivate lifestyles replete with guns and gang affiliations, even going as far as embellishing their pasts in order to retain the all-important street cred. It’s easy to see why—danger is sexy. Danger is provocative. Danger sells records. The danger rappers sell is something suburban kids can only dream about.
They can’t experience the glorified thug life, so they do the next best thing—buy a record (or download a song, I suppose, would be more appropriate). Usually when rappers hit the big time, their underground proclivities taper off. But for some, old habits die hard, and they along with it. The most famous example? Tupac, of course, who’s managed to maintain a better post-mortem career than some of his more, how shall we say, alive contemporaries.
Here’s something that wouldn’t really affect personal health so much as record sales and reputations. Being a pop star means—among other things—having to align yourself with certain political movements to adhere to the culture of cool. By now, hating George W. Bush has been perfected to an art form. But it wasn’t always the case. Back in 2003, three chicks—Dixie Chicks, to be exact—famously stated that they were ‘ashamed’ that W. was from Texas.
The backlash was swift, and immediate. Fans got pissed. DJs in Colorado were suspended for playing their records. Guys in rural Georgia were probably tied to trees and raped for listening to ‘Travelin’ Solder’. The Dixie Chicks eventually weathered the storm, though. This was partially through the steadfastness of their convictions, but mostly because Bush vindicated their sentiment by being a gargantuan fuck-up.
Taking On Religion
Back in 1966, The Beatles were still something of a Tigerbeat act – cute, cuddly, not controversial at all. John Lennon, however, forever changed that when he was quoted by Datebook magazine as saying that they were more popular than Jesus. When the news broke in America, everyone from the Vatican to the KKK put them on their shit list. Out of fear for their safety, The Beatles never played another commercial concert after 1966.
Though his remarks were partially taken out of context, Lennon was never wholly remorseful about it. He apologized, but refused to get on his knees because the uproar he created was the surest way to ditch the tweener, moptop charade and morph into something more meaningful - to go from cute
Lennon ended up being felled by the hand of Mark David Chapman, who was reportedly ‘incensed’ about Lennon’s remarks, though Chapman was a comprehensive wacko, so any motivation he claims has to be taken with a grain of salt.
Any disagreements, death threats, sexual propositions, and conflicting opinions on the subject are welcome. Has the dynamic between purposeful vs. accidental publicity changed over the years?