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P R E F A C E At a time when the music scene is fragmented and many of the records that top the charts seem to have reverted to prerock pop, it may be hard to remember how much rock stars once mattered. This book will investigate what some of the more prominent stars meant—and continue to mean—not merely to their fans but in the context of the culture at large. Popular culture in general had long been treated as either ephemeral entertainment or a dangerous influence. Popular music in particular, epitomized by Tin Pan Alley love songs, hardly seemed capable of serious content, and only aficionados understood jazz as an exception. But rock changed all of that. By the end of the 1960s, the news media accepted rock stars as representatives of their generation and its role in what was perceived to be the remaking of America. Rock stars were not mere entertainers but politically charged cultural icons.1 Music mattered in a way it never had before, as Matthew Weiner illustrates in a 2012 episode of Mad Men set around the time of the Beatles’ Revolver release in 1966. Don Draper, a Depression era baby and successful advertising executive , wonders at the quickly changing cultural landscape: “When,” he asks his colleagues, “did music become so important?”2 Music was newly important, I am arguing, not mainly because of how it changed, but because of how its leading performers presented themselves and were perceived. I am also arguing that stardom as a particular social phenomenon , distinct from fame or celebrity, also matters in ways that have eluded most scholars. Star personas are complex and meaningful texts that require the kind of interpretive exploration we devote to other works of art. Moreover, given stars’ widespread popularity, they may more accurately re- flect and more strongly impact the larger culture than most other works. The goal of this book is to explain what the personas of seven rock icons meant to the culture, by examining those stars through their many representations : live performance, films, television, videos, cover art and photography , interviews and journalism, in addition to recorded music and lyrics. These star personas might be the most important of rock & roll’s many products . My argument is that these stars represented a new kind of star, one de- fined by the embodiment of cultural controversies, which replaced the movie star in the popular imagination and helped popular music attain a new cultural centrality. While they inherited the power and prominence of their Hollywood forebearers, rock stars came to stand for many of the changes that caused conflict in post–World War II America. xiv Preface Each of the major figures I consider illustrates a different aspect of the cultural impact of rock & roll and of the new form of stardom. My book is a narrative told in a series of tableaux, the discussion of each star not only advancing a general story about the development of rock stardom but also illustrating from a different perspective the means by which stars’ personas were presented and were received by audiences. Each of the stars I discuss depended differently on media other than sound recording. Each chapter deals with a different social conflict that the star persona in question comes to embody, for example, civil rights and black power for James Brown, high versus low culture for Bob Dylan. Please note that my argument is not that the rock stars I discuss are, in the main, intending to be political actors but that their personas were understood as having distinct political valences. According to Peter Wicke, by 1967 “rock music was now placed in a context in which it no longer defined itself merely in musical terms, but also in political terms.”3 Wicke is cognizant of the contradiction between rock’s revolutionary ideology and its actual existence as an industrial commodity, and he associates stardom entirely with the latter. The argument I’m making is that rock stardom also has to be understood as political, differing not only from Wicke’s position but also from arguments about rock politics made by Dick Hebdige and Lawrence Grossberg. These scholars persuasively argue that rock has been a form of resistance in particular subcultures (Hebdige) or for the youth of postwar American society (Grossberg).4 Grossberg treats rock & roll as “strategic empowerment,” emphasizing what the formation does in the everyday lives of its participants.5 My claim here has to do...


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