Pete Rose was once as beloved a baseball player as there ever was. There were angry people when Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record because he had more games in which to do it. People were thrilled at McGwire and Sosa as they chased Maris. By the time Barry Bonds broke McGwire’s record and the even more sacred record of Henry Aaron’s all-time home run number everyone knew it was a sham. The people who had once cheered McGwire and Sosa and Bonds, who had cheered Pete Rose knew it for the sham it was. Pete Rose bet on baseball including games he played in, games he managed. Steroids blew everything else up. Heroes, all flawed and human.
Do you remember when Emmitt Smith broke Walter Payton’s record? People were angry at Emmit because they didn’t see him as the humble Walter Payton, they didn’t see him as the good guy and they didn’t see him as the talent that Walter Payton was, unless you lived in the Dallas/Fort Worth area where Emmitt is still our favorite son. Heroes.
Heroes we all have them and because we all have them to a certain extent we must all need them.
We treat our musical heroes a little differently. We have music heroes from a really early age. We see them on television or in magazines. Their songs are played on the radio. Yet we have this strange tenuous relationship with them. We grow up believing in the notion of drugs, sex and rock and roll. We play air guitar in front of our mirrors with the stereo turned up. We can imagine without too much difficulty that we are Steven Tyler, Keith Richards, Terry Kath even Elton John in a flamboyant outfit playing piano and singing to 50,000 fans. In many ways too it’s a rebellion that our parents actually expected. All kids loved rock and roll and we plastered our room with posters of rock stars, we had black lights and lava lamps. What? I grew up in the 70’s what did you expect? We idolize and worship and then act surprised when they turn out to be flawed and boy do we ever turn on them. I am tired of seeing Keith Richards memes about outliving us all because I know he won’t. One day we will receive that breaking news that he is gone. Paul McCartney too. I saw a post on facebook earlier in the week that said Eddie Money and now Ric Ocasek. I wonder who is next. I don’t wonder because I don’t want to lose any of them. When we see a rock star and all their flaws open to all it’s not like me or you failing at something. The world knows and they tell the story a hundred times a day. People have a macabre fascination with when they might die. People took bets on Amy Winehouse. She couldn’t go anywhere. Cameras in her face waiting on her to be drunk on stage to be frail and people made a joke of her, that beautiful talented woman who really only wanted to be a quirky jazz singer and not a rock star at all. When she died she became a bigger joke even to this day. Me, I cried when I saw her walking down the street hounded by press, she was so frail so fragile so broken and when she died I knew that we would not hear another voice like hers. We did the same thing with Kurt especially towards the end when rumors swirled about whether he was suicidal and how much of an addict he was and then people acted surprised when he died. Just a few days before many of the same people were taking bets on whether he would die of an overdose or suicide. We watched it all. When Chris Cornell died it was all was it drugs or suicide or both. Prince too. We have such a fascination with dying rock stars we have an entire club dedicated to those who died at 27 and when a young rock star dies people want to know how old he was to see if he fits into the club and they can say I knew it all along.
Here I go again right. I mean this is what I do and somewhere in here there is a hook. It’s a music blog man let’s get to the music you yahoo. Okay okay.
Somewhere between 1993 and 1995 the entertainment industry began focusing on another flawed rock star who seemed headed for a disastrous end. It seems a lot earlier than that but that is when this rock star began grabbing the wrong kinds of headlines. He had missed several shows which angered fans, record labels, and promoters alike. I can remember disc jockeys on the radio saying should be a good show if he shows up. I remember when he had his very serious heroin overdose and how the press waited on him like vultures, waiting for him to die. I am sure that many of them had already written their stories about his tragic end. I remember my heart falling somewhere down into my stomach where it sat there. He looked little like I knew him to be, vital and charismatic. Instead he gave a quote about how terrible it was that they wanted a piece of him because he was so sick and couldn’t they see that he was sick and needed help. And they still shouted their questions. Like Amy Winehouse years later they called him pathetic. I was so sad so heartbroken and so scared. This wasn’t any rock star, this was my rock star, the singer of my favorite band one of the most charismatic live performers I had ever seen. This was Dave Gahan.
And for awhile Alan Wilder
You might not readily recognize any of those guys which is kind of cool because collectively they are Depeche Mode my favorite all time band. I have flirted with other bands and there are bands that have very special places in my heart, The Rolling Stones, Mother Love Bone and even the Sex Pistols and of course the Beatles. As far as every day listening bands, the bands you keep coming back to the bands that you just have to turn up their songs Depeche Mode is that band for me. Now I understand you might not like them or maybe you like them but could never love them the way you loved a favorite band. That’s okay really. I am not writing about your favorite band I am writing about mine. They get lumped a bit into just being an electronic band. I have even heard them described as not being very musical at all because all of their stuff is electronic. That’s not exactly true; not true that they are just an electronic band and not true that they have no musicianship. Martin Gore was in a band before where he played guitar and if you are not a fan you have probably not really listened to what a wonderful keyboardist Andy Fletcher is. They have been around since 1980 and you don’t last that long without growing and they have grown individually, collectively and certainly musically. Like any band they are better musicians than when they started, better songwriters and better performers.
By 1988 they had created this strange phenomenon. Depeche Mode had released a few albums which had sold modestly. They had some minor hits and one bigger hit in People are People. The crowds they drew at their live shows were disproportionate to their album sales. They sold out shows without having a huge selling album. Now this might seem a little odd to you. They are an electronic band so they are not exactly hopping all across the stage with huge pyrotechnics. You might think that if you never saw them live. There is something about Dave Gahan. In June of 1988 they played in front of 60,000 fans at the Rose Bowl. Gahan said that he reached a point in that show where he realized he could have told the crowd to do anything, take off their clothes, hop on one foot anything and they would have done it. When he left the stage that night he went backstage and saw his wife and new baby and knew that they would not be enough. His path to self-destruction began that night with that realization.
I saw Depeche Mode sometime around then, a friend took me to a show. Up until that moment I knew a few songs but mostly I was listening to R&B but music that you can sort of dance to has always been cool to me even though I don’t publicly dance and the public should actually thank me for that, monetarily if possible. Depeche Mode still wasn’t that band that they would become. They had some hit songs: Just Can’t Get Enough, Everything Counts, Master and Servant and the big one People are People. Their music was slowly evolving, getting deeper and using more instrumentation. In 1990 they released Violator and I was instantly in love with Depeche Mode and they officially became my favorite band, Policy of Truth is a much more beloved song to me than Personal Jesus which was actually the bigger song. That album is different than anything they had done before. I started working backwards at that point buying Black Celebration and Music for the Masses after Violator. I would see Depeche Mode one more time, at the height of Gahan’s journey into the madness of drug addiction when the disc jockeys could not resist saying that the Depeche Mode show should be good if Gahan bothered to show up. There was a lot of anger directed towards Gahan. I have always thought it strange. He wasn’t the only drug addict performing but there seemed to be a lot more abuse hung on him and of course it’s possible that I am just sensitive to anything that is said negatively about Depeche Mode and Dave Gahan especially. It was the Songs of Faith and Devotion tour, now my favorite album. Martin Gore has developed into a really good song writer and on that album he seemed to know exactly how Gahan was feeling and what he wanted to sing. Walking in My Shoes and Condemnation especially strike that chord perfectly. It’s a wonderful album and knowing now what Gahan was going through the personal demons as well as Martin Gore’s growing alcoholism and Andy Fletcher’s anxiety that would cause him to miss portions of tours the album has more meaning for me.
In 1996 Gahan was court ordered into drug rehabilitation and since that time you have not heard much of a peep from him stepping out of line. He is healthy. He is wiser, but the band made a conscious decision that Gore, Fletcher and especially Gahan all needed time to become healthier people and so two singles compilations were released as well as an album Ultra they had begun and now completed but did not tour. Not many bands would make that sort of decision but Depeche Mode did. Gahan now has more than 20 years in recovery. He has made a few solo albums and Depeche Mode has released a string of new material beginning with Exciter in 2001. Over 5 years after his public meltdown and missed shows and all the disc jockeys could say was should be an interesting show if Gahan shows up. Why? Why do we do it?
Musicians live a harder life than what we know. Many of you will groan and say oh poor rich rock stars. Most of them have a slew of destroyed families, poor health related to alcohol and drugs the very things we dreamed about when we were kids. Yeah drugs sex and rock and roll. There is so much I love about music that has nothing to do with the music itself. I love the stories and the connections. Mostly what I have come to appreciate is that rock stars are human too, with all the frailties and all the flaws. I don’t want to lose any of them and I am sure not taking bets. When one dies the first thing we do is assume its drugs and we are greedy about every story that proves us right. I guess I don’t really understand that. I just see the tragedy, feel the loss because the world is a lesser place. I see Amy Winehouse walking down the street cameras in her face, I see her frailty I see how small she was. I see Dave Gahan never big to begin with, emaciated, unwashed hair long and stringy begging for someone to help him.
Maybe our heroes should be treated a bit more like us especially our rock star heroes. If we expect them to fail rather than cheering them and taking bets on their deaths, playing guessing games for which aging rocker might be next to die maybe we ought to just to appreciate them more, and using a little empathy now and then wouldn’t hurt either. Maybe when the media is hounding them at their most fragile point we should ask more of our media. Stupid idea huh? Supporting the men and women that we have idolized and loved? What a concept.