Famous and Tired

Pop stars complain about their jobs like everyone else. Here's what's happened when some of their gripes have actually made it to tape.

"Success is a wonderful thing but it is very, very tiring."

That was yawnin' Sir George Martin, recalling how battle-fatigued The Beatles were at the end of 1964. Sure, the Liverpudlians hinted at needing a rest months earlier -- you'll recall the "I've been working like a dog/I should be sleeping like a log" admission in "A Hard Day's Night" -- but when EMI demanded a fourth album in less than 18 months so Santa would have something new to stuff under millions of Christmas trees, the weary Fabs boycotted smiling on both sides of their next album cover, the bitter Beatles for Sale. No one got the hint, so their next album title was a little less subtle -- HELP!

It wasn't the first or the last time in pop-music history that sleep deprivation collided with martyrdom to create what you are certain to refer to from now on as the "I'm Famous, I'm Tired" moment -- that instant when an overindulged and frankly pooped pop star mistook YOU, precious listener, as his one-man complaint department. Recently both 'N SYNC and Mariah Carey brought their gripes into the Top 10, and, in Mariah's case, the Internet and mental wards, but you need only recall how Sinatra admonished George Michael for complaining about autograph hounds to figure out what the "I'm Famous, I'm Deceased" league thinks about Celebrity and Glitter -- "Dumbass kids. They should only know suffering!"

Bob Dylan's unflattering Self-Portrait.
Bob Dylan's unflattering Self-Portrait.
Rick Nelson: Poor little teen idol.
Rick Nelson: Poor little teen idol.
Led Zeppelin's weary Presence.
Led Zeppelin's weary Presence.
Gene Pitney: Pining for his backstage standby.
Gene Pitney: Pining for his backstage standby.
Nirvana's gloomy In Utero.
Nirvana's gloomy In Utero.
'N SYNC encounters the ugly mob.
'N SYNC encounters the ugly mob.
Mariah Carey: Giddy with fatigue.
Mariah Carey: Giddy with fatigue.

Rick Nelson, "Teenage Idol" (1962): Ozzie and Harriet didn't raise their boy Ricky to complain, but once he dropped the "y" he began asking questions. Like how come this teen idol's got fame, fortune and fans, yet he's lonelier than the Beav on a Saturday night? Only after this miserable 45 was issued did the hackneyed phrase "Oh, you poor, poor teen idol" enter the popular vernacular.

Gene Pitney, "Backstage" (1966): In this melodramatic ballad, Pitney portrays a star pining for a lost love. Why does he need this ol' flame so desperately? Just so he can sign autographs and hold interviews secure in the knowledge that his old standby will be waiting backstage for him, no doubt holding a moist towelette to wipe his rapidly swelling head! The arrogance of this song gets misinterpreted as autobiographical when it reappears on a best-of collection titled Greatest Hits of All TIMES that alienates everyone from the Paleozoic Era on up. Fans wonder -- can Gene really be that big-headed to think that future generations will never be able to come up with a tune that's better than "Half Heaven, Half Heartache"? As if to humble their star performer, Pitney's fans don't send a single one of his mope-a-thons into the Top 40 for all of 1967.

Elvis Presley, Easy Come, Easy Go soundtrack (1967): The King could stretch his "I'm Famous, I'm Tired" moments out for decades, as his lackluster '60s filmography and '70s discography proved. But he never complained directly to the fans on record unless you count this 1967 outtake, one of the few RCA will probably never get around to releasing. In the middle of cutting vocals for "The Love Machine" and "Yoga Is As Yoga Does" (his duet with estranged bride of Frankenstein, Elsa Lanchester), Elvis briefly remembered he was the King of Rock 'n' Roll and muttered to the engineers "What are you supposed to do with shit like this?"

Bobby Sherman, "Easy Come, Easy Go" (1970): Some will call this a stretch, but not me. Seeing as its title invokes the King's "I'm Famous, I'm Tired" moment and possibly his very worst film, I'm taking this one very seriously. Even after having his first hit single, Smiling Bobby's a one-man Mott the Hoople on the inside, convinced that the loser game of rock is already into extra innings. "Whatever made me think that I was number one? I oughta know. Easy come and easy go!" he croons, looking over his shoulder to see David Cassidy already stenciling his name on Sherman's parking space. And the hits keep coming and getting more desperate. Remember the insecure "Julie, Do Ya Love Me"? The chart-slipping "Cried Like a Baby"? The finality of "The Drum"?

Bob Dylan, Self Portrait (1970): The height of "I'm Famous"? People are rummaging through your trash searching for enlightenment. The height of "I'm Tired"? Putting your most incomprehensible trash out as a double album.

Neil Diamond, "I Am . . . I Said" (1971): When you start obsessing about a chair not listening to you, it's time for a rest. But where's ol' Neil gonna sit now?

Osmonds, The Plan (1973): After countless world tours playing for millions of screaming girls you can only touch if you marry, the Osmonds put out a preachy concept album about their faith with one song questioning the existence of God, or Mormo, or whoever it is these guys worship. "Are you up there? Are you everywhere? Do you really care?" The boys got their answer when The Plan became the first Osmonds album to escape Top 40 consideration. On to Plan B: "Get Marie's ass in here!"

The Rolling Stones, "It's Only Rock and Roll" (1974): No one looked more famous and tired than Brian Jones, whose eyes get progressively baggier with each album cover. But since Mick and Keith wouldn't record any of his songs, the musical approximation of baggy-eyed Brian is this chucked Berry anthem. Clearly, Mick's getting less than no satisfaction out of pleasing his pimply little fans. "If I could stick a knife in my heart, suicide right on the stage/Would it satisfy ya? Would it slide on by ya?" he bitches to the current crop of Alice and Bowie fans, knowing full well all he's gonna do to improve the live show is wear more glitter goo on his eyes. Then comes the condescending chorus, his way of distancing himself from the rest of the rock milieu, while scoring buddy points with "tired and famous" pals like Lee Radziwill and Truman Capote loitering backstage.

David Cassidy, The Harder They Climb (1975): His first "I'm Famous, I'm Tired" moment came as Keith Partridge in that spoken-word passage from "Doesn't Somebody Want to Be Wanted" ("Y'know, I'm no different from anyone else/I start each day and end each night" -- right on, Everyman!), but as David C., he had to wait 'til 1975 to exorcise demons. The cover of this album depicts Cassidy as a rising rock star who crashes and burns a hole in the sidewalk on the rear sleeve. Might've had real impact, too, if girls were still crushing themselves against the stage to see him. File this under "I'm Famous, I'm Tired And I'm Not Selling Records Anymore."

Bob Seger, "Turn the Page" (1976): Was there ever a time when Bob Seger wasn't tired? Seems like he was complaining about feeling like a number even before he was famous. Maybe he wouldn't have minded people pointing at him in airports so much if they didn't keep coming up to him expecting to get Kenny Rogers' autograph.

Led Zeppelin, Presence (1976): Wuzzat? You don't believe the Zeps made that pact with the devil that caused them to be famous for 10 years but very tired for the last four? If you unscramble the letters of "Achilles' Last Stand" it spells "SATAN T' CHILL LED ASS," while "Nobody's Fault But Mine" clearly jumbles into "FLAME IN NOBODY'S BUTT." And only the surviving Zeps can know what this cryptic "For Your Life" anagram means: "YOU FIRE ROLF!"

Queen, News of the World (1977): Part of being famous and tired entails getting pummeled by the press, which the band likens to being crushed and bloodied by a brainless robot on this LP cover. For its double-whammy 45, "We Will Rock You"/"We Are the Champions," the members of the band flex their supreme muscles (see, look how much money we've made) while making like Charles Atlas recruits who are tired of getting mud and sand facials. Of course, the press misinterprets this as Queen's fascist attitude toward its fans and gives Queen more bad reviews for the scrapbook. If only they had gone after critics by name like Lou Reed did on Take No Prisoners the following year, maybe "anal-retentive toe fuckers" like Robert Christgau would actually like the band pronouncing his name right.

Elton John, "Ego" (1978): Philip Norman's definitive biography describes the superstar's Vesuvian tantrums as Elton's "Little Moments." Here's the one time his "Little Famous and Tired Moment" makes it to wax. He comes out of semi-retirement with a new look (contact lenses and a low-brim hat to hide his not-all-there hair transplant), a new song (a ditty about how everyone's kissing his ass and feeding his ego), and a new video (which looks nothing like Elton John). When the single only goes up to 34, Elton blasts the charts for their "inaccuracy" and threatens to pull all Rocket Records' ads from the trades. Waaah!

Michael Jackson, "Leave Me Alone" (1987): Someone had the bright idea of compiling a stop-action animation video of Wacko Jacko's greatest tabloid moments, from the hyperbaric chamber to Bubbles the Chimp to the Liz Taylor shrine to show that everything we read about Mike is a lie. Maybe actually seeing Michael dancing with the Elephant Man's bones is a form of damage control in the Bizarro world, but then again so is denying child molestation charges and having Macaulay Culken sleepovers.

Nirvana, In Utero (1993): I defy anyone to find three consecutive words in this whole record that don't spell out an unhappy rock star. Even Leonard Cohen gets a heads up!

Sinead O' Connor, Universal Mother (1994): Despite a sleepy cover of Nirvana's famous and tired "All Apologies," everybody's favorite blasphemer didn't come back to say sorry, but rather to stand stock still like Joan of Arc and declare, "My head is not a football for you." Since then, her antics have included denouncing Christianity, becoming a member of the clergy, announcing she's a lesbian and marrying a man. Do you sense a pattern here? Maybe her head really is a football for you!

Kid Rock, "Only God Knows Why" (1998): Kid Rock updates Ricky Nelson's "Teenage Idol" query in an effort to figure out why a rock star still can't find love even after adding a vocoder, a midget, pills to ease his pain and folks that "fuck with me" into the equation. Neither Ozzie nor Harriet would approve of Kid's bad parenting techniques, like watching his youngest son just 'cause "it helps to pass the time."

'N SYNC, Celebrity (2001): The cover is a cross between Sgt. Pepper, Love Gun and Woody Allen's Stardust Memories --the grim teen titans walking on a red carpet through an ugly mob of press, paparazzi and, worst of all -- old people! Justin and the boys can't accept that some people don't like their music and deride, "We got the gift of melody, we're gonna bring it 'til the end," but then Justin blurts out "Oooooh, man, I'm tired of singin'" before the first instrumental break? And on the title track, he complains that he spoils girls by throwing money around and then gets pissed off because they only love him 'cause he's rich and famous. Where's a belligerent Sinatra when we need him?

Mariah Carey, Glitter (2001): Her first product for Virgin was a single which had to be greatly reduced in price to get it into the Top 10, probably because the word Loverboy on a record spells "box office disaster." Speaking of which, previews for her dismal Glitter movie were greeted with laughter and boos (and that was nothing compared to the thud heard round the world when it actually opened in theaters). No wonder Carey went spare-y, posting audio messages on the Internet that she's working too hard and maybe shouldn't be making music anymore. So when the Glitter album was released on the most disastrous day in the history of the world, you almost hoped to hosanna it would at least have songs about how Tommy Mottola and J. Lo are out to ruin her. No dice, but at least fans are sensitive about her condition. One even renamed her Web site Mariah Breakdown and is getting more hits than Carey is.

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