HMXHellion is Senior Writer/Producer at Harmonix. When not touring with her band VAGIANT, HMXHellion enjoys perfecting her Bloody Mary recipe, the best of which so far is composed of bourbon and root beer. She is also apparently under the delusion that all mixed drinks are called Bloody Marys.
A few years before I started working at Harmonix, I got into this big argument with my roommate at the time over who should be called the “greatest front man in history.” I said Iggy Pop; she said Jason Kendall of the Amazing Royal Crowns. I scoffed. “Iggy Pop is a legend, Jason Kendall is a fad,” I insisted. “I dunno, you should see him,” she gushed breathlessly, taking a big swig of Crystal Light and Popov vodka,(1) “He’s like a rock God.” She was sufficiently “enthusiastic” about the performance that she proceeded to invite her boyfriend over to have really, absurdly loud mommy-daddy time in her bedroom… which was separated from the living room by only a bead curtain.
I decided that it was important for me to see “King” Kendall in action for myself. After all, this was a man who, by proxy, caused my roommate to shout both “Christ Almighty!” and what sounded like “Foul dentures, you gotta move it!” in the throes of nakey passion. I finally made it to a Crowns show and learned first-hand that yes, indeed, Jason Kendall was a rock God. He had that total rockstar thing – a vaguely unearthly presence about him that made everyone else in the room seem like mouth-breathing fart-tards™ by comparison. He also had complete control over the audience. Towards the fifth or sixth song, I probably would’ve complied if he’d told me to stuff a maraschino cherry up my nose and lick the underside of a barstool. The man seemed like the consummate superstar – utterly confident and unassailably cool at all times.(2)
Flash forward seven years to the present day: Jason Kendall just came into my office, ran around my desk in a circle seven times while shouting “GONADS!” Then, while panting, asked if I had any Twizzlers. Upon learning that I did not, he shouted, “I love you anyway!” and goose-stepped back to his desk to upload pictures of his dogs onto Facebook. Rockstars, it turns out, are just average people who happen to love licorice twists and shouting about male genitalia – just like you and me!
So what makes a rockstar a rockstar? What are the magical tricks that transform an average (if slightly unstable) individual into an awe-inspiring legend onstage? Well, not surprisingly, I am more qualified to tell you what does NOT work(3) than what does. Thus, here is a list of 6 things that musicians sometimes think make them cool onstage, but which actually make them look douchier than Summer’s Eve: 6 Things that Musicians Sometimes Think Make Them Look Cool Onstage but which Actually Make Them Look Douchier than Summer’s Eve
1) Getting way too drunk to play well
I realize that it might seem somewhat hypocritical of me, the common-law wife of Mr. Jim Beam, to be telling you not to get wasted onstage. But I’m telling you this from personal experience – when you’re too drunk to play well, the only person having a great time at the show is you. Well, you and the bartender that you’ve been over-tipping and comparing to Lorna Doom all night. It’s fine to be drunk if you can still play perfectly, but if you’re finding yourself singing lyrics like “Smoke… on the something… and something I like pie,” then maybe you should put down the Flirtini and try a delicious glass of sobriety for a change.
2) Rehearsed banter
It’s tempting – believe me, I know. It’s hard to be witty or cool while tuning a guitar and ignoring the creepy goth girl in the front row who is mouthing “I hate underpants” at you. But planned banter never comes off as impromptu. There was this great band in Boston back in the day with a singer who was trying way too hard.(4) In his effort to look comfortable and clever onstage, he wrote down his pre-scripted banter… on his setlist. Needless to say, somebody noticed, and the incident became somewhat legendary in town. Until something funnier happened, anyway.(5)
3) Wearing sunglasses onstage
You wear your sunnnnglasses at night, so you can, so you can look like a total tool. It ain’t dark indoors, Funshine, and your faux Pradas aren’t making anybody want to stroke your chest hair.
4) Refusing to play your “hit” song(s)
I’ve seen Joan Jett play live, like, forty-seventeen times. And you know what she always plays? “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Given the fact that Joan has been touring basically non-stop for thirty years, that means that she has played “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” live approximately (if my math is correct) forty-seventeen times. Unless the woman is mentally ill, at this point she HATES playing “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” But she plays it because PEOPLE PAID MONEY TO SEE HER DO IT. That’s your job as a musician – it’s not your job to satisfy your desire to have a 50-minute wanky jam onstage in which you “use your guitar to explore the issues of third-world suffering.” It’s to play the songs that people f**king enjoy.
5) Over-the-top stage antics
Don’t hump the speakers. Don’t pretend to strangle yourself with the microphone chord. Don’t pour Skittles in your pants and invite fans from the audience to come up onstage and “taste the rainbow.” Just have fun, play your music, and do what comes naturally.
6) Playing “aloof”
I once saw this “rock” band in Western, MA who thought they were the proverbial shiznit. I was curious, ‘cause I’d seen a bunch of really overblown interviews with them in which they would say things like “Our live show is like AC/DC crossed with Zeppelin crossed with the best band in the world… which is us!" With statements like that, you can pretty much guarantee a high level of looseturdery, but during the show, the “frontman” did one of the most ridiculous(6) things I’ve ever seen in a live show ever: he sat down onstage, took out his phone, and started texting.
Now, I can only assume he was going for “look how aloof I am – I am a modern Liam Gallagher only with better eyebrows!” But I can tell you: nobody in the audience was thinking,”Wow, I bet he is having a really sexy conversation about after-parties with Antonio Banderas right now.” Everybody just assumed that either it was a fake text (i.e. a really irritating and ill-conceived affectation) or that he was texting his long-suffering girlfriend. I imagined that, if it was in fact the latter, the text was composed of something along the lines of: “Hey babers, this show is making me want to cut myself just to feel pain. Life is making my heart feel sleepy! Can we just spoon tonight? I feel like eating a whole pint of Cherry Garcia and I cannot afford the carbs. Love you schmumpkin! Ok, back to rocking like a hurricane. Xoxo, Ego McGee.”
I once asked “King” Kendall what his secret to success was; how did he, a bona fide goofball, manage to turn an audience into his loyal and adoring subjects? What was it about him that made him seem like such a rockstar onstage? “Oh wow,” he said, and after a few moments of sufficiently believable modesty, he answered, “I dunno. I was always good to my fans and they were always good to me.” Be good to your fans, budding rockers, and always remember that your fans, however weird, are not stupid. Nobody thinks you are so cool that you, uniquely, can get away with sunglasses onstage. And until you’re so famous that you’re selling out the arena near your hometown where they hold the monster truck rallies… nobody, not even the creepy goth girl in the front row, wants to taste the rainbow.
4) Like, he got his first tattoo, a full-sleeve, in his mid-thirties. A full-sleeve tattoo, no matter how bitchin’, does not cancel out a closet full of silk button-down shirts and a tendency to call women “sweet thang.”