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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2006/12/21
by David Steinberg

The Myth of the Rock Star

As a culture, weve always romanticized the idea of the self-destructive artist. Its not just that bad times can inspire great art; sometimes we think that its required. We want our writers to be miserable, our artists to be poor, and if youre a musician, well you better have an interesting episode of Behind the Music. While some of that is a simple extension of being an entertainer few of us actually have to deal with Tara Reid first hand so we can watch her descents into alcohol infused madness as a funny show without having to think that much about what it will mean for her future rock musicians have an additional layer of pressure on them. Its not just excusable for them to consume to excess, its compulsory.
There are times where this makes sense. Theres a genre of rock in which the musicians are playing a character. Theyre not just guitarists, theyre larger than life heroes. Feats of strength with intoxicants have always been a requirement for that role. Maybe the heavy metal guitarist cant wrestle a god to submission, but he can at least drink like those who did. We dont have quests to go on anymore. The best way for some to prove that they could have succeeded in them if they were to exist is to perform incredible feats of stamina with intoxicants. [1]
The problem with that role is that that has changed from a game that some want to play into a requirement for anyone who is in a band. Its not just that people seem to think that getting on stage somehow magically gives you powers that will prevent excessive quantities of drugs and alcohol from destroying you. It doesnt matter who you are or what kind of person you have been, headline a show in an arena and people will start putting bizarre expectations upon you. [2] Its not enough to play an incredible show. You now must also consume more substances both in terms of the distinct number of different chemicals and the amounts of each than anyone else.
Some of that is obviously wish fulfillment. Give some people millions of dollars and no real day job, and theyd spend it on all sorts of chemicals. Since thats what theyd do, they just assume thats what other people would do in that role. I dont share that fantasy. When I speculate about what I would do with incredible amounts of money and its up there with thinking about what I would do with absolute control of reality for a few minutes [3] for idle thought when Im taking a shower the world I create for myself is interesting enough that the last thing I would want to do is take drugs that would remove me from it.
For others, its a macho thing. The genre is rock and roll, and some cant really say it without prefacing it with, Sex, drugs, and. Ballads are for the weak. Life is limited to a few choices. Anything outside of this narrow band of behavior is suspect behavior and proof of a suboptimal sexual orientation itself a problematic issue for the fan. Instead of rock stars blazing a path that the lesser mortals only wish they could pursue themselves, the fans are the determinants of behavior. Just because you can play the guitar, write lyrics, and sing, doesnt mean that you also get to decide how you should behave.
Ultimately theres a distinction between a rock star and a successful musician. Both might have the same success, but the former has chosen to play a role. Just because some fans automatically conflate the two doesnt mean that the performers have to follow. Do it if you think it will make you happy, but remember, you dont have to let the rules of a minority dictate your behavior. The world is far more interesting than the first glimpses may make it appear and offers more choices than the obvious ones. Part of being a larger than life hero means that youre allowed to explore the non-obvious paths to see whats over there.
[1] Well, and also to have over the top sexual prowess, but thats a different issue.
[2] At this point, someone is going to tell me that I also put some rather high expectations on musicians. While thats true, at least mine are just that I expect the best performance possible on stage, not that they conform to some picture I have in my head about their offstage behavior. Sure I prefer friendly to unfriendly and responsible to irresponsible, but as long as theyre not harming themselves or others, I really dont care at all what people do in private.
[3] It starts with giving me and people I love many of the powers of the Silver Age Superman [4] and just gets more outlandish from there.
[4] You know, the one who could juggle planets, not the wimpier, more realistic current model.
Authors Note: By my calculations, this is the 99th issue of Jambands. Only two columnists have submitted text for every issue; Jesse Jarnow is the other one. Since Jesses column has come up a little late a few times, I believe Im the only one to have never missed a deadline.
My goal was to make it to at least 100 columns without every missing one. Unfortunately, three days before deadline, Seattle was hit with a massive windstorm. While I was one of the lucky ones in that my power was restored less than 24 hours after the storm passed as of this writing 400,000 people are still without power and a friend is currently staying in my house since she has no heat in hers a downed tree knocked out my cable connection. Three full days after the storm, I have no Internet connectivity and have no clue as to when it will be restored. Im just hoping itll be before the long holiday weekend.
Deadlines looming and I cant get this file to Dean. What can I do? For a brief window, a connected neighbors unsecured network opened up, but as soon as I saw it and started to check my mail, it went back down. Ultimately, I had to use my cell phones Bluetooth capabilities to transfer this word document from my computer to my cell phone. Then I used the Internet abilities of the phone to send the file.
Any formatting errors are due to that. For that matter, I would also like to blame any wacky sentence structure or incoherence of thought on the storm. Whats the point of having a scapegoat if you cant abuse it?
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capitol Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at
He is the stats section editor for The Phish Companion and is on the board of directors for the Netspace Foundation. You can read more of his thoughts at

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