Monday, October 25, 2010

Creating the Pop Star

Take a look at this truly bizarre video circa 1959:

The honesty is shocking, because Annette, like so many others, was a front for talented string pullers like Dick Clark. Those learned writers who’ve created the mythology of rock n’ roll, who’ve turned rock music into a pantheon of charismatic heroes, skirt away from the fact that rock n’ roll was the creation of low-rent entrepreneurs—hustlers like Dick Clark.

Annette Funicello was Disney’s first pop musical star, setting the pattern for those who followed. For all that, her “Tall Paul” is a fascinating piece of pop-rock music, in that it incorporates the street shouting out that kids engage in. Basic rapping. Because rock n’ roll in its early days was music which didn’t take itself seriously, it was free to appeal to the most childish instincts, drawing on the simplest techniques. Walt Disney wasn’t creating populism so much as casually, even cluelessly, exploiting it.

The Beach Boys— at least Brian Wilson—are today treated as musical geniuses. Yet take a look at this later version of Annette and note her back-up band:

Can we say that anyone was taking the Beach Boys seriously then?

For all its cheeziness, by the way, the stripped-down presentation, clean blue suits, retains an innocent appeal.

The Dick Clarks and Berry Gordys of the DIY music business had an easy time of it, because their young stars hadn’t been educated to think of themselves as geniuses. They hadn’t undergone the mythology—the brainwashing—that today’s generation is burdened with. Instead they wanted to have fun, create product, make bucks.

The same situation applies in the literary field. When a writer gets the MFA degree, he or she is certified as an “artist.” Creating work which appeals to the public—which is simple and basic—is unthought of and untried for, if not outright scorned.

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