catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 11 :: 2008.05.30 — 2008.06.13


Rock Star Fever

We milled around the entrance to the restaurant, our hands kept warm in the pockets of our jeans. The other van eventually crawled into the parking lot, and as its occupants clambered out, Scott pointed toward the rear of the van. "Joy has Rock Star Fever."

I nodded, not really getting it. Joy, the other student who had accompanied me with Scott and his wife to the Festival of Faith and Music, was the last one out of the van. Her legs barely kept her upright as she stumbled the few feet toward the rest of the group, and she had a hard time forming the "Hey" that eventually limped out of her mouth.

"See? Rock Star Fever." Joy had been sandwiched in the van's back seat between folk artist Denison Witmer and former Pedro the Lion frontman David Bazan. Both of the musicians were now with the rest of the group, a mixed party that also included some of Calvin College's student activities staff.

It's common for people to put their heroes on a pedestal, be they musicians, athletes, actors, theologians, politicos, etc. I feel like I can say this without having to back it up with hard numbers. Regardless, I also can say many of the "famous" people I've met really want nothing more to be treated normally, for lack of a better term.

This probably doesn't apply to some folks—history is cluttered with examples of celebrities expecting special treatment. But for every rock star who wants to sink a car into a hotel swimming pool without repercussion, there are probably ten musicians who want to be able to go to a restaurant without being hounded for an autograph. Thankfully, the latter are usually able to.

While I was afflicted with serious cases of Rock Star Fever as a child (I reverentially looked to the ground whenever I passed by the Billy Dee Williams autograph a relative had procured for me), I started building up immunity when I was a teen. Melissa, a co-worker and friend at my first job, was not only largely responsible for getting me interested in left-of-center bands—I can thank her for my interested in Dinosaur Jr., the Pixies, Pavement and countless other artists—she also showed me that musicians are human.

She told me a story about going to a club in Pittsburgh with a friend to see then-former Pixies frontman Frank Black in concert. The show was 21 and over, and the two girls, both 19 at the time, had resigned to wait outside of the club for a ride home. They were standing by Black's tour bus, and the musician was lugging his gear inside. They struck up a conversation with him, helped him and his bandmates move some amps, and he then asked the club owners to let the girls in free of charge. This was a guy responsible for countless imitators, a beacon of songwriting light in the murky dark of the 90s music scene. He was carrying his guitars without the help of roadies, and stooped to talk to two anonymous fans, treating them like he would treat himself.

Since then, I've heard numerous similar stories. I've made it a point to talk to musicians after shows—not to fawn over them, but usually to thank them for visiting Pittsburgh or just chat with them about mundane things. Usually, the musicians seem grateful that I'm not stuttering or treating them like a deity. Sufjan Stevens and I talked at length about trombone playing; I got into a great conversation with Al James (front man of Delorean) about the roads around Pittsburgh; the guys in Lovedrug and I talked about mutual friends and a their antics; and Sam Billens (of The Billions) and I laughed at each other's jokes as he performed a show. And then there was that crazy night where I was invited out to eat with Daniel Smith and a few others—the next few hours were filled with laughter, spilled drinks, goofy conspiracies theories.

I'm not listing the above as a way to brag, because all of these folks are normal people. Mark Kozelek (of Red House Painters/Sun Kil Moon) has mentioned several times in interviews that he actually shies away from fans because of the pedestal on which he's placed in their minds. David Bazan played a concert at the college I work for last year, and as I picked him up from the airport and drove him to the school, the 'normalness' of our conversation would've shocked many of his adoring fans.

People who have some sort of fame, not matter how minor, can influence us. But is it wise to turn them into idols? I think the answer is no, though a large portion of western culture might answer yes, even unwittingly—see the popularity of a certain American TV show for an example. To be created in God's image insures, among other things, that we're all equal. As trivial as it may seem, succumbing to Rock Star Fever and its aftereffects denies this. The easiest cure: realize that our heroes usually have to tie their own sneakers and cook their own food, too. And they're just as likely to get Rock Star Fever in the presence of their heroes.

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