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.
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.
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.
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.