Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Artist Personas: Rock Musicians

During my last year at Pratt, I took a class that dealt with the ways artists are portrayed in fiction. Looking back, I wish I had taken the class a little more seriously, because it might have prepared me better for after school. In school, we never studied the psychology of artists, and as such we have the same attitude about our heroes as others do.

Its the old story of the intense creative types determined to prove their brilliance to the world. The following entry might be the first of many for me to cover this. I am starting with something that has been on my mind for sometime now: the personalities of rock musicians.

It has become more and more obvious to me recently that those who play music professionally are likely to have to a particular personality. A sort of crazy personality. Sometimes a narcissistic personality. It is a personality that starts off as idealistic, but eventually it is a very confrontational and opinionated sort. There are countless musicians who fit this profile.

Before, I just assumed it was an overtly social personality, very unlike my own. Until recently, in my lifetime of listening to music, I never thought about the personalities of the artists I was listening to. But after working with and encountering rock musicians personally, I now have a better realization of these personalities. It has slightly affected my listening habits in a way, as I might get repelled by a brash personality, and want to hear something else.

Recently, I because a late-blooming Rush fan. I have been slightly fond of Rush for a long time, but not a real fan. Its only in the last couple of years that I suddenly became more and more fascinated by Rush's music and history. Earlier this year, a documentary entitled Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage was released. Along with documenting the band's career, it also interviews several celebrated musicians who were inspired by Rush. The interviewed personalities of the band differ drastically in many ways compared to their admirers. Band members Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart appear for the most part to be very casual and introverted. Their admirers on the other hand (such as members of Smashing Pumpkins and Rage Against the Machine) are extremely extroverted, over-opinionated, and blunt in their regards to music and the band. I don't know if its the difference between talking about yourself and talking about your idols, but the members of Rush strike me as anomalies in hard rock music, especially Neil Peart.

Neil Peart borders slightly on the persona of the tortured poet persona, but not totally there.

These types are equally extroverted, but can quiet themselves down when they feel really creative. You'll find that a lot of people who are exceedingly creative have qualities that put other people off. They can be crazy, brooding, reclusive, intense, self-centered, or anything else on an endless list. That's not to say some are friendly and personable, as I am confidently sure there are.

At the moment, I am reading No Certainty Attached, a biography of Steven Kilbey. Kilbey is the lead singer/songwriter and bass player of the The Church, an Australian alternative band (although Kilbey is British-born). They are best known in American for their song "Under the Milky Way", but I have become a fan of their other works, which are quite prolific. So far, Kilbey seems to downplay a mysterious persona that he has come to be mistaken for, and opened up about his own egotism, musical idealism, and occasionally extroverted nature. The book was written by Robert Lurie, who admits that as a great fan of the Church, he was a little unnerved by the realization that his heroes are just as human and vulnerable as he is. Kilbey admits the same thing about meeting his idols.

Some artists play the illusion of someone they admire. This isn't just in the case of professional musicians, but even artists in other mediums (animators especially). It is believed if someone made it one way, then another can make it that same path, which is not always the case. You'll end up wasting a lot of time wondering why nothing works.

You'll notice something about the personal lives of those who become really famous. The people who become really famous are those whose qualities make others doubt them early on. A prime example is John Lennon in his youth: I doubt anyone expected him to be as famous as he eventually became, and he had a pretty checkered reputation when he was young. This is not something you can copy, and its certainly not something to wish to have. That's almost like wishing you were clinically depressed.

I could be wrong in some of these instances, but so far I believe I am right. There are more psychological profiles to associate with artists. If I left anything out, I will be sure to come to them at some other point.

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