James Taylor

Stardom isn’t normal. It’s familiar, even commonplace—ever-present not only in the realm of actors, singers, and other pop entertainers, but also in the overlapping circles of athletes, politicians, tech “visionaries,” and ambiguously skilled celebrities-as-celebrities whom Americans love to ogle, aggrandize, belittle, and resent. The impulse to idolize is as old as the gods, of course. Jesus was a superstar some time before Andrew Lloyd Webber came around.

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Forty years ago, under the inspiring editorship of Harold Hayes, Esquire magazine picked out Two-Lane Blacktop in advance as “the film of the year” in 1971. That was the sort of nose for young culture that some editors cultivated in those days. I suppose they thought the film could repeat the sensational business of Easy Rider, offered two years earlier, and it had a similar affectation—that in this America you could live on the road if you kept moving and if you trained your cool sensibility to follow the blacktop and trust your engine.

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Sprinkling some vinegar to counteract the oily Graham Nash, David Crosby provided a bracing moment of skepticism toward the generally sanctimonious pop-star posturing documented in No Nukes, the movie centered on a series of concerts and rallies staged to protest nuclear power and nuclear arms in 1979. Pop musicians are not particularly well-equipped to speak with authority on issues such as nuclear policy, Crosby said at a press conference captured in the film; but they have a public forum, he said, and can’t help themselves.

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Jumble Jumble

Get Behind Me Satan (The White Stripes) Rock and roll has a quality of incompleteness that connects it to young adulthood. The music is formally underdeveloped. The lyrics do not need to hang together; the chords are not supposed to follow harmonic convention; the playing need not be precise; and if the singing is dead on pitch, it sounds wrong—that is, it sounds too right, too grown-up. Immanently unfinished, the music, like its audience, exists in a state of permanent adolescence, and carries an implicit critique of adult society’s esteem for maturity, effectuation, and refinement.

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