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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Why it's a good thing your children won't be rock stars

In his New Yorker profile of Bruce Springsteen, David Remnick suggests that Springsteen's father Doug, the shadowy figure at the end of the kitchen table in so many of his songs and stage monologues, may actually have been bipolar. Springsteen confirms that his own disinclination to take drugs was because of a deep-seated fear of turning out like his father and adds that his parents' struggles are "the subject of my life".

Such looking over your shoulder is not what we expect from a young rock and roll star, which may be why rock stars actually become more interesting as people as they get older, by which time their music tends to be less interesting. It's only in late middle-age that people realise how much of themselves has been inherited from their parents and grandparents and how little is their own invention. When you're the same age as your rock star heroes you accept them on their own estimation. That airy way they describe themselves into the microphones of journalists and DJs is the way you would  describe your own life if only anybody was bothered to ask about it. More to the point you don't have enough experience of life to be able to wonder about the little gaps in the narrative or the incidents which may have grown in the telling. For instance, you don't question the surprising number of rock stars who claim to have been expelled from school.

When you're old enough to have children of rock star age and you look at life through the prism of family rather than the prism of self, you become more sceptical about the claims they make for themselves and start to get more interested in the circumstances of their upbringing. You realise that people are shaped more by their childhood experiences than by anything that came later. Elvis Presley's still-born twin, Lennon and McCartney's lost mothers, Joni Mitchell's months in the polio ward, David Bowie's disturbed half-brother, Brian Wilson's martinet of a father - these are the things that were driving them long before they were aware of having drives. These were the wounds and sensitivities that shaped their families and in turn shaped them. It's this that makes them run and keep on running.

I read a story about a tennis agent who said that when he was seeking fresh talent he kept a lookout for crazy parents. He wasn't looking to avoid crazy parents. He found it helped to have them. Think of that next time they cut away to the players' box during TV coverage of Wimbledon.