Foxy Shazam front man Eric Nally made a very interesting point about the private lives of rock stars when I spoke to him last week. He brought up the factor of their ambiguity and how they were considered to be characters that all their fans wanted to know everything about even though they were normal people.
Musicians like Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon and Mick Jagger were among the untouchables of their day. When discussing this phenomenon, music writer Lauren Jordan has mentioned that when rock and roll was still an emerging genre, everyone wondered about more than just what those artists talked about in their spare time together or how they made their music. Because those artists were bringing rock and roll to the people at a time when rock was a new, not entirely accepted concept, millions of people were dying to know more about these inspirational icons, just like in the film Almost Famous, she said. But were people like David Bowie and Robert Plant really as ordinary as you or me?
Not all of them. As he began to dabble with LSD, Pink Floyd lead singer Syd Barrett started to become a mystery to even his band mates, who were some of his closest friends. He eventually went nuts during his musical career, having shown signs of schizophrenia, and nobody heard from him for a good long while. (Eventually twee bands started stalking him.)
On stage, Barrett would lapse into odd trances, become unsure of what was happening, and behave abnormally in other ways that simply seemed trippy to their audiences. At one point, the other members of Pink Floyd threw in the towel because Barrett was too hard to work with anymore. Pink Floyd bass player Roger Waters described Barrett's long-term behavior as "disintegration" in a 2001 interview with BBC. As an exception to Eric Nally's theory of rock stars being average people, Barrett proved that maybe being a rock star wasn't the optimal path for continued sanity.
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Nally's most obvious influence, Freddie Mercury, lived a somewhat secretive lifestyle as well. While he didn't totally hide himself from the world like Barrett eventually did, he often stayed low-key despite being a very theatrical performer. He never wanted to discuss his life before Queen, and all his secrets were kept with his best lady friend, Mary Austin.
Even though he started crossdressing in the 1984 music video for "I Want To Break Free," he never actually publicly said anything about his sexuality. The English tabloids sure did, though. Mercury was particularly self-kept when he began getting sick from AIDS in 1987, refusing to admit he was terribly sick until 1989 when he told those he was closest with. After all, he held off so long on announcing to the press that he was gay and had AIDS that he ended up saying so the day before he died. Peter Freestone, one of Freddie's personal assistants during his time with Queen, said in a Freddie Mercury documentary made by the Biography Channel that Freddie told him, "I have AIDS. But that's it. We don't talk about it anymore. There is no sympathy, there is no nothing. I have a life to live."
It's unfortunate that neither Barrett nor Mercury is with us anymore, although they live on in spirit and in music. Those men were figures of genius that really kept everyone wondering about them.
I think this "mythical creature" theory proves to be true with about half of current rock stars. Some of them over share - I don't care about looking at pictures of you riding your bike, Dave Grohl - while it's practically impossible for anyone to get an interview with other artists, like Eddie Vedder. Nally was doing some quality wishful thinking at the very least. If only all rock stars knew where that happy medium of magical mystery was, like they did back in the 60s.