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F O R E W O R D THE ROCK STAR AS METAPHOR Bill Clinton may have been the first person I ever heard referred to as a rock star in the metaphorical sense. That was partly due to his charisma and partly to do with the fact that his political rise corresponded to the period in the late eighties and early nineties when it became not merely acceptable but advantageous for politicians to consort with rock musicians. Jerry Brown had done that in California in the seventies, of course, even to the point of dating Linda Ronstadt. But those associations didn’t seem to help him beyond his home state or, more exactly, beyond Los Angeles. They just reinforced whatever perceptions might have already existed of him in the general population as a marginal figure, certainly not someone to take seriously as a presidential candidate. (Using Rolling Stone’s offices as his New York campaign headquarters during his 1992 presidential run probably didn’t help in that regard either.) But by the time Clinton was making his successful run for the presidency, the boomer generation that had grown up with rock & roll now wielded real power in the country and, for better and worse, Clinton reflected their ideals, ambitions, tastes, and appetites. His choice of Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Thinking about Tomorrow” as his campaign song and his willingness to meet with the members of U2 while then president George H.W. Bush was clumsily dodging the phone calls that Bono was making to him from the stages of packed stadiums across the United States during U2’s Zoo TV tour both indicated that a generational shift had taken place. (Clinton also fit the rock-star suit. His own sexual proclivities conformed exactly to the long-standing rule of the road among musicians in supposedly monogamous relationships: Blow jobs don’t count.) Suddenly politicians didn’t need to distance themselves from rock stars. Quite the opposite: They actively courted them. We’d come a long way from the days when Jimmy Carter quoting Bob Dylan in his 1977 inaugural address seemed daring. Of course the success of this new relationship depended entirely on the specific politician and rock star. As David Shumway points out, when Ronald Reagan spoke about Bruce Springsteen and attempted to use “Born in the x Foreword U.S.A.” during his 1984 reelection campaign, the gesture blew up in his face. Similar efforts by conservative politicians to use rock songs in their campaigns have met with similar results since then. And the knife cuts both ways. Bono has spoken about how his meetings with the likes of George W. Bush and Jesse Helms about debt relief and AIDS policy in Africa have not only displeased some fans but disturbed his own band members. Along those lines, it’s quite possible that the level of respectability that has allowed rock stars to move comfortably with mainstream politicians has also dimmed the luster of their stardom. Sure, it was fun to watch President Barack Obama tease the members of Led Zeppelin about not trashing the White House when they came by for their Kennedy Center Honors (“So, guys, just settle down—these paintings are valuable!”), but what’s the point of being a rock star if it requires responsible behavior? And right around the time “rock star” became a ubiquitous metaphor, the meaning of stardom in popular music began to change. In 2000 I was hired to do some editing for Vibe magazine, and one piece I worked on was about the rapper Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest. One of the secondary interviews for the story was with a prominent black music executive who wearily described Q-Tip as a “rock star.” It wasn’t a compliment. Hip-hop had fully established itself as a cultural force by then, so the reference carried none of the hurt and bitterness that, say, accompanied the Public Enemy line in “Bring Tha Noize” less than a decade earlier: “Roll with the rock stars, still never get accepted as.” No, the executive was making a different point about Q-Tip. By that point Sean “Puffy” Combs had redefined the image of the successful rapper from a street thug to a mogul, the line entirely blurred, or perhaps just rendered meaningless , between the artist and the businessman. Jay-Z has traveled that same trajectory and beyond, to the point of declaring, only half-jokingly, that...


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