Tinotopia (Logo)
TinotopiaLog → Superstardom And Business (23 Mar 2005)
Wednesday 23 March 2005

Superstardom And Business

This article is from earlier in the month, but it has recently come back to my attention, and this time I paid attention. It’s about the unfinished Guns N’ Roses album that’s been in production for the last eleven years. Axl Rose, whatever musical talents he might have or have once had, is for all appearances a lunatic.

In any other field, someone who behaved like him would have been shown the door a long time ago. It’s very difficult for a CEO of a large American company to screw up so badly that he’s drummed out of the CEOing business; the strange logic that applies at that level causes the CEO to get credit (read: $$$$) for everything that goes right, but little or none of the blame when the company goes bankrupt. In those cases, ‘market conditions’ conspired against the CEO, or ‘unforeseen circumstances’ did in the company.

The CEO then leaves ‘amicably’ to ‘pursue other interests’, and he’s handed a giant sack with a dollar sign on the side of it on his way out the door. He then spends a few months sailing his yacht around, after which he accepts a lucrative CEO position at a company in a totally unrelated field, the press releases talking about his ‘vision’ and ‘leadership’. Just you wait: even Carly Fiorina will find another job where she’s put in charge of things.

But that’s nothing compared to what appears to go on in Hollywood — by which I mean the movie, TV, and record business — and especially the record business. Once talent has attained a certain level in the record business, people in the industry will be willing to take them seriously forever after, logic be damned.

The Times article puts its finger (do articles have fingers? I’ve never seen ‘em fing) on the problem:

As the production has dragged on, it has revealed one of the music industry’s basic weaknesses: the more record companies rely on proven stars like Mr. Rose, the less it can control them.

The record industry — and, I suppose, to a lesser extent the whole of the copyright industry — seem to have managed to combine big business and art and get the worst of both.

Big business is famously risk-averse and slow to act without incontrovertible proof of what the future will bring: hence the industry’s reliance on superstars. No matter how bad it is, an Axl Rose album will almost certainly sell more copies than a Tino album, if for no other reason than that people have heard of Axl Rose.

But the world of art is quite different from the world of business, and not just in the sense that, these days, almost anything will be taken seriously as ‘art’ if only it’s subversive enough. (There’s more to life, and art, than subversion, but that’s another topic.)

Art is nearly impossible to quantify, and great art can stand on its own, independent of its creator: this is why society is relatively tolerant of ‘eccentricity’ on the part of artists. A CEO who talks about himself in the third person and who is, to all appearances, a lunatic is not likely to be a very effective leader. An artist who wears bedroom slippers in the street and who carries on shouted conversations with ‘voices’ can still create great art. So the painter’s a nut? Who cares.

A disproportionate number of artists widely considered to be great have been, to one degree or another, off their rockers, so some people have come to see certain eccentricities as markers for creativity. From the Times:

[Mr. Rose] accompanied Buckethead

First, I have to stop here to point this out: this guy calls himself Buckethead. He wears a face mask and a fried-chicken bucket on his head when he performs.

 Shared Media News Images G Guns N Roses Sq-Buckethead-Mid-Shot-Tacoma-Mtv

Further, he only talks through a hand puppet. It appears he was paid about $11,000 a month before he decided that Axl Rose was too crazy to deal with. But I digress.

[Mr. Rose] accompanied Buckethead on a jaunt to Disneyland when the guitarist was drifting toward quitting, several people involved recalled; then Buckethead announced he would be more comfortable working inside a chicken coop, so one was built for him in the studio, from wood planks and chicken wire.

The guy’s a lunatic. Supposedly he’s a hell of a guitarist, but you can’t tell me that you can’t find a lot of guitarists in Los Angeles who are willing to work for $11,000 a month and who don’t need chicken coops built for them.

Here is where you’d expect the Big Business to kick in, but it doesn’t. Wearing a KFC bucket for a hat and talking through a hand puppet is not the strangest thing anyone’s ever done. But one of the reasons that artists are often so eccentric is that they don’t have jobs as we ordinarily understand them. They make money here and there, and occasionally they might sell some artwork, but they are not, by and large, paid $132,000 a year up front by large companies.

And this is the problem. Normally, excessive drinking, bucket-heading, hotel-room-trashing, drug-taking, and all the other things we think of as emblematic of rock stars at their worst are self-limiting. If you’re a rock star, though, at no point does anyone tell you to take the damned bucket off your head and put down the crack pipe. And independent artist would either produce something that people wanted — bucket on head or no — or starve to death. ‘Artists’ on the corporate teat can behave like spoiled children and claim that this is what’s necessary to create ‘great art’.

Posted by tino at 11:07 23.03.05
This entry's TrackBack URL::

Links to weblogs that reference 'Superstardom And Business' from Tinotopia.

I read the NYT article when it was published, and while it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, I loved it since it put everything in one article. It was one long, slow, and magnificent train wreck.

Posted by: RRP at March 25, 2005 01:44 PM

i read your coment about buckethead and indeed he is actually the third fastest guitar player in the world and u shouldn’t really give a shit about GNR cuz lets face it they suck musically people just like them cuz they act like every other “metal” band and i wouldn’t exactly say that buckethead is a starving artist becuz of the twelve of his cds i have im sure there is more and if ur gonna make judgements about what people do instead of how good they are at guitar you can go to hell becuz buckethead isn’t the only one who does this becuz i have been playing my guitar for three years and other than at school wear a mask and a long john silvers pirate hat all day

Posted by: quebert the pirate at June 7, 2005 09:12 AM

i don’t really know what you were talking about, but GNR was the best band ever until they split up and got new members. Now with the new members, they suck. I wish that the first members of GNR were still there, but that will never happen again.

Posted by: mar at June 18, 2005 01:26 AM

buckethead is awesome. Just watch any live show with him in it(besides GNR stuff). But yeah i guess i should look at axl’s story too, and not just BH… interesting article.

Posted by: at July 16, 2005 01:39 PM

Buckethead doesn’t need the work. He’s always been relatively well off.

Look at his discography and see how many titles he must receive something on. That alone is probably sufficent for a ‘normal’ life…

Posted by: at October 7, 2005 06:33 AM