Sex, drugs, rock and roll - an honest portrayal or false narrative?


Exploring the true headspace of a working musician and the potential dangers caused by consistent misrepresentation of the lives they lead…


We’ve all heard stories of legendary rockstars and their ridiculously wild antics. From Led Zeppelin throwing TVs out of hotel windows to Ozzie Osbourne biting off the head of a bat live onstage — when it comes to the music industry, there are no shortage of unforgettably extraordinary tales...



The lifestyle of a rockstar has become glamorised over the past 70 years, largely revolving around the idea of a flamboyantly stylish and eccentric existence featuring hordes of adoring fans, destructive shenanigans and drug fuelled parties.


Oh and not forgetting, of course, lots and lots of sex!


Rock and roll is about the thrill of it, chasing that adrenaline rush! To be a rockstar is to have unapologetic, carefree fun and to not give a damn about the consequences!


This perception, of course, stems from a very real place — with countless accounts of crazy rockstar moments from ‘back in the day’ just a mere Google/YouTube search away.


But is it actually reflective of musicians today? Has it ever been truly, 100% reflective of the human beings it represents?



I didn’t know how to deal with success. If there was a Rock Star 101, I would have liked to take it. It might have helped me. — Kurt Cobain (Nirvana)



Names such as Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, Freddy Mercury, Axl Rose, Robert Plant, Janis Joplin, David Bowie (but to name a few…) all spring to mind when thinking of the embodiment of rock and roll, but where did it all begin?


The origins of rock and roll can be traced back to the US in the late 1940s, influenced by a rich blend of music genres including gospel, rhythm and blues, jazz, boogie-woogie and country.


Legendary musician Chuck Berry is widely respected by many as the father of the genre and continues to inspire new generations of aspiring musicians to this day with songs such as ‘Johnny B. Goode’.


Other key players include the ever so talented Buddy Holly, Little Richard, The Everly Brothers and of course the King of the quiff, Elvis Presley.


But what visions did the pioneers of rock and roll have for the genre, and how does it match with the rockstar image that has become so ingrained in todays popular culture?



The idea of being a rockstar has even spread past the boundaries of playing music now with many famous people including comedians, sports personalities and Hollywood actors all embracing the label…


Talking about his rock and roll like ambitions, popular American comedian Kevin Hart once commented: “I’m trying to do what Eddie Murphy did for his generation. You have to show people, ‘I’m different. I’m not just a comedian.’ I’m trying to become a rock star”.


In many ways, the idea of following in the footsteps of legendary rockstars - despite what your form of art be - isn’t all that bad. Rockstars play to the biggest crowds in the world and often earn a hefty paycheque to back it up.


To be a rockstar, in many ways, is to have reached ultimate success within your dream career...what is wrong with wanting that?


In my opinion, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting that. In fact, I think it’s good to set your goals high - to believe in yourself to achieve your wildest aspirations. Surely?


That being said, as the old saying goes - nothing worth having in life comes easy…



You know, rock stardom…I have a hard time discussing that because I don’t really accept it. It’s not really that tangible. What’s really bizarre is how it’s used as a thing - you know, ‘He’s the rock star of politics,’ ‘He’s the rock star of quarterbacks’ - like it’s the greatest thing in the world. - Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam)



It’s well-documented that many of the world’s top performers have suffered from various mental health problems at one point or another, often fuelled by the nature of the lives they lead. Alcohol, drugs and late-night escapades often feature in the stories of many stars.


Having worked in the music industry myself for over 15 years, I can safely say that 9/10 of the musicians I’ve ever met are ‘in it’ for the right reasons - for the love of their art.


They do it because there’s a burning, passionate desire within them to write or play music. Because they get their kicks from the authentically powerful and sometimes spiritual connection between themselves and their audience.


For the love of music, not for money or fame. For many musicians; crafting music, recording their new record or performing on stage is the best possible, therapeutically rewarding fix - the ultimate high!


Behind the scenes however, it takes an incredible amount of hard work, time and sacrifices to even get noticed in the first place as a music artist - let alone making it a full time, paid career…becoming a rockstar...



I’d rather be a musician than a rock star. — George Harrison (The Beatles)



It often requires a lot of funding which is usually down to the artists themselves to pay. The trouble is, though, that they also need the flexibility to be able to spend their time on further developing their career - to make their investment worthwhile.


This means that realistically a lot of aspiring musicians - irregardless of their skill set - end up in dead-end part time jobs. Their money and time is spent rehearsing, recording, touring, getting the new artwork made, distributing their latest record, promoting themselves online (the list goes on…) - often making it incredibly difficult to get a regular, well paid 9 to 5.


Doesn’t sound very glamorous yet, does it? And then once they do become successful, is it really all that it’s cracked up to be?



I don’t think I could think of a single thing that’s more isolating than being famous. — Lady Gaga



You have to remember that not only are hugely successful music artists humans - but also extremely well known personalities with a lot of money dependant on how well they do.


A record label is a bit like a shop, selling their products. Except in this case, the product is the human being - the artist…


And the truth is that sometimes, in a business sense, acting like a human just doesn’t sell very well. When under consistent pressure from managers/labels, as well as the eyes of the world, you can’t just ‘have a bad day’.


Going on stage, in front of the press - there is a certain expectation to be energetic, upbeat and exciting!


It’s all a part of the marketed rockstar illusion…


Being BIG, bold and FULL OF LIFE!


People with fame of course often become huge role models to those who follow them. Fans, in most cases strangers to the artist, grow to somewhat rely on them. They become of huge importance to those who support them and popular culture in general.


But let’s say for a moment that you’re a rock star…


You’ve been on tour for 6 months and just really miss your wife and kids…


What if you’ve just heard your old school friend passed away? What if your wallet, phone and laptop had been stolen from your car just that morning?


What if real life happened to happen?


How to you maintain the smiles and positive vibes in front of the camera when in reality you’re having a real bad day, or hold back the tears when singing with the weight of life on your shoulders?


When you have 50,000 people paying good money to see you, could you cancel on them all just because you’re really not in the right headspace?


What if that particular day you just really don’t have it in you to be big, bold and full of life?



Now I’m not asking you to feel sorry for musicians, per se — they choose to pursue that life after all — but when we start to peel back the illusion it quickly becomes clear that it isn’t always as easy as it seems, living the live of a successful musician…


As far as the media is concerned, it’s worth mentioning that the media industry and exposure they can give is obviously such a huge part of modern music success. It provides an essential role in promoting new releases or upcoming shows and in strengthening the artists brand, presence and fan base.


It’s important for music artists to grow and retain their status as a public figure in order to be able to sell more records/tickets - to be able to continue on within their career…


Just like a clothing company or car manufacturers, the music industry also have to advertise their products - the human beings - fairly heavily in order for them to sell.


Nowadays, the media coverage of music artists is often about about far more than just their music. Consumers love to know as much as possible about the personal, private lives of the musicians we admire - and so the media deliver.


Perhaps the real question is, do we - the public - demand too much from our musical idols? Do we really need to know who they’re dating, what drama may be going on in their lives, or see a floor plan of their brand new home?


In the process of craving so much from our favourite artists, to where it goes way past being solely music related, do we run the risk of compromising their mental health?



What effect does music have on mental health?


There is a lot of pressure on music artists these days…


In fact, over the past few years there has been a great deal of research conducted to better understand the way in which music can effect the mental health of listeners, musicians and industry professionals alike.


In a recent article I explored the positive scientific and spiritual benefits that music can have on a humans mental health…


…but what about the negative effects this can have?


In 2018, UK event listing giant Skiddle commissioned a survey to explore just this. The results revealed that an overwhelmingly alarming amount of musicians and industry professionals suffer from mental health issues.


The study showed that around 80 per cent of the industry suffer with stress, anxiety and depression in some form - shedding a beam of light into the realities of working in the music industry.


There are obviously many contributing factors to why this is, but perhaps one of the reasons could be that the rock star illusion - consistently big, bold and louder than life, under the eyes of the press and public - is sometimes too much pressure?


We have a world where no human is perfect, but an industry where artists are often expected to be picture perfect beings.


Out of respect and admiration, fans often view rockstars as superhuman like figures. But is the pressure of being viewed as superhuman really too much for humans?


Is it time to review the glamorous, romanticized view of what being a rockstar has become? Is the sex, drugs and rock & roll lifestyle really what it seems?



Music television is all about the media-oriented version of what it is to be a rock star; it’s not about what Bob Dylan or Jimi Hendrix were about — which included great images, sure, but they had spiritual and political and revolutionary content, too. — American musician, Patti Smith


So maybe there’s another way?


It’s clear that what we want out of our rockstars isn’t always humanly possible. Sometimes people have a bad day or don’t feel like they can cope anymore, and that’s okay.


Clearly mental health issues are a big problem within the music industry, and a lot of this comes from the pressure put on the artists to constantly deliver a perhaps false portrayal of the rockstar life we’ve grown to desire so strongly…


Maybe we, as consumers, do have some degree of responsibility for moderating the level at which we seek content and information about our favourite musical personalities and their private lives.


As fans, we love our favourite artists for giving the magic of music to us. If we can help to ease the pressure they face by caring a little less about their private lives then brilliant, right?


Let’s just let entirely the music do the talking from now on, so to speak.

Written by Marty Jackson

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