Rock star. Ooh just the sound of it. It evokes leather trousers, bright lights, screaming guitars and screaming fans. A life of excess – stimulation and perspiration, passion and parties, and never a dull day.
Rock stars bring in the crowds and send them home woozy with exhilaration and energy. They are the people in the bright lights, right at the front, performing and strutting and drinking in the applause and adulation. They are the people who have that certain something that you can’t make and can’t fake.
In my industry of advertising, it’s both a truism and a cliché [funny how those often come together] to say that talent is everything. And just like in any industry where talent is key you can hear people using “rock stars” to talk about that talent. I once had a boss who always talked about who the “rock stars” were in the agency and across the industry, and that was the highest accolade anyone could get. If you were someone they considered a “rock star”, you were someone to watch. You were cool, and exciting, and (most crucially) you were “in”. You were going places, goddammit!
So what does real rock ‘n’ roll look like? Allow me to help you take a little peak behind the safety curtain…
I once got VIP backstage passes for the last night of a European tour for a band you’ve probably heard of, which I got because I happen know one of them [in the least rock ‘n’ roll way you can imagine – my goddaughter was best friends with the daughter of one of the band members at nursery]. They were closing at my favourite venue on the planet, Brixton Academy in South London, and the gig was, as ever, absolutely epic.
As the lights came on and the general public filed blinking out into the foyer, I flashed my Access All Areas wristband at the security guards with the giddy excitement of a kid at Christmas who thinks he might be getting the console he asked for because his dad gave a knowing look to his mum when there was an ad for it on the telly. I knew I was hitting the big time. I could only imagine what it was going to be like.
The closing party of a European tour! At South London’s premier venue. This is it folks:
THIS IS ROCK AND ROLL!!
But of course it wasn’t at all. It was a load of very tired people having a quiet bottle of beer (or perhaps two) and sharing crisps from a big bowl. No one drove a Rolls Royce into a pool. No one bit the head off a bat. No one smashed a guitar. The only drug in evidence was the paracetamol that the wife of one of the band asked for because she had a bit of a headache after all the loud music.
The guy I know from the band thanked me for coming (!) and asked if I’d enjoyed the show. And then he made a ‘ting ting ting’ noise on the side of his beer bottle and thanked all the people from the venue who had made the gig a success, and all the assistants and crew and management for their hard work over the previous weeks of the tour, and said that none of it would have been possible without every single one of them. They all clapped and then the band’s assistant got a bunch of flowers and cried a bit and said she loved her job.
So here we are, trying to bring some rock ‘n’ roll glamour to our weird creative industry, and it turns out the real rock stars aren’t like rock stars. They’re humble and kind and thoughtful, and most importantly, they know that they’re nothing without the people around them.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that top, top talent isn’t crucially important. There’s no question that you need someone to come up with a melody that people sing on the way home. You need someone to be at the front to make the right noises at the right times.
What I am saying is perhaps the idea of the “rock star” creative or “rock star” account person or “rock star” strategist is… well… a bit narrow? It’s based on something that doesn’t really exist and it assumes that right up front in lights is where everyone should aspire to be. Which isn’t even the case in real bloody rock bands!
Yes, by all means celebrate the ones with their names in lights. Again, they’re crucial and you’re not going to make much memorable music without a few of them scattered across your organisation like the cushions which get scattered across your bed every single day only to be moved off at bedtime and then wait to get scattered again in the morning… [sorry, is that just me?]
But remember that there’s not a single band in the world who can do a damn thing without the lighting guy from the venue. Or the person who books the travel. Or the backing singers, or the brass section. Or the stage crew guy in black who runs on in a crouch mid-song and fiddles with a wire and runs off in a crouch as though he thinks that by crouching he makes himself invisible. Those are the people who make the night happen at all, let alone one to remember.
So take a moment, today if you can, to celebrate those people around you who don’t enjoy the limelight – who in fact would scuttle off stage into the velvety darkness of the curtains like a startled theatre mouse if the limelight came anywhere near them – and give them the appreciation that there’s no show without them.
Wait, before you do that.. maybe bear in mind that they might not enjoy being singled out publicly, so perhaps just a private message or word would do.
Or even just keep it to yourself in a moment of private gratitude, with the hope that the energy of the world will give them a warm feeling about something they can’t quite put their finger on.
Whatever you choose to do, the important thing is to do it. And know that when you do, you’ll be more like a rock star than you ever realised.