Take a rock star’s approach to life
Someone flat out called me a rock star last week. A coworker. It was embarrassing. Because I don’t play the guitar. I have zero piercings. And I’ve never trashed a hotel room.
Don’t misunderstand. These things are definitely on my bucket list. I’ll even do cocaine after I retire.
But I’ve thought about what it means to be a rock star. What makes a rock star different from a regular person? It has less to do with the clothes and hair. More with the attitude.
I’m thinking the David Bowie kind. Not Axl Rose.
Anyone who toured with Guns ‘N Roses in the 90s could probably explain the difference. Other bands describe Axl as constantly high. Confrontational. Rude. Privileged. Bossy. Before concerts, he would reserve the entire back stage for himself and spend half his time walking around in tiny boxers. This act didn’t impress people like Chris Cornell.
We’ve all known some wannabe rock stars. The ones who won’t stop talking about themselves. Their projects. They’ll listen to you just long enough to say something judgmental about your life.
Then it’s back to them.
Occasionally, the wannabe rock star does something nice. Makes you feel good about yourself. Just enough to keep you around.
Actual rock stars take a different approach.
Rock stars don’t let anyone get under their skin. Maybe their parents disowned them. Or a handful of trolls boo at their shows. They get weird looks from strangers on the sidewalk.
Who cares? Not them. They’ve followed their calling.
I’m guilty of letting the occasional weasel get under my skin. Sometimes a stranger. Other times, someone I know.
Actually, I was fairly hated in grad school. A few people even started spreading rumors about me. That I undermined people. Threw them under the bus. That I considered myself better than everyone else. Thankfully, nobody knew how to make revenge porn.
After my second year, half the department avoided me in the halls. Instead of moping, I finished my dissertation. Published articles. And got a job.
By the end, everyone wanted to be my friend again. Apparently rumors don’t stand up very well against the truth. But you can’t just tell the truth. You have to walk it. Truth is the tortoise. Takes forever, but usually wins.
Meanwhile, it doesn’t matter what other people think about you. Unless that person happens to be your boss. And your boss thinks you cook meth on the weekends. Then it matters a little.
Fortunately, it’s easy to prove you’re not a meth cook. Not so easy to convince someone to like you. But like I’ve written elsewhere, being likeable is the least of our concerns.
Rock stars improvise when things go to shit. So their tour bus breaks down. Someone steals their equipment. A fire breaks out on stage. The show must go on. They’ll do whatever they can to make a set work. And if they screw up, they’ll just keep going. To the next gig.
I’ve lost count of how many situations have gone sideways. Flight delays. Cancellations. Unexpected bills. Bad breakups.
They all have one thing in common: Nobody cares. I’ve never won anything based on how much my mom screamed at me.
One time, a professor rolled his eyes when I blamed my printer for a late paper. He called me weak sauce. That’s when I started to learn the necessity of planning and improvisation.
I’ve managed to pull through some shitty situations. For a while, I was proud of what a bad ass I’d become. But the truth is I didn’t tough through obstacles for bragging rights. I did it because I wanted that job, or that publication.
So much lies beyond our control anyway. We don’t need to give up extra agency because life doesn’t go exactly as planned.
Rock stars find inspiration everywhere. David Bowie listened to an incredible range of music. He put disc jockies to shame in the 80s and 90s. Just watch some of his interviews. He also read more books than most English professors, including me. Prolific creators are also prolific consumers.
They don’t consume blindly. No, they go after knowledge.
It always amuses me when any kind of artist says they don’t have time to read. That’s like saying you don’t have time to breathe. Or shower.
Eww. Seriously, take a shower. Your sonnet can wait. Some good ideas might even come visit you while you’re exfoliating.
Likewise, eww. Go read a book. Or a blog post. They hold the key to your inspiration.
Sometimes, you do have to put your own work first. You have to sit in front of the blank canvas. But sitting around and waiting for inspiration doesn’t help me. Not most of the time. I’ve got to hunt mine down.
So if I can’t think about what to write, then I read instead. Go exercise. Do some gardening. (Yeah, I garden now.) Watch a show. Grade papers. Shit, I’ll even do the dishes.
These ideas apply universally. So you’re not a musician. A writer. A sculptor. So what? There’s a creative element to almost every job. You can add a dash of rock star to that.
Rock stars have a sense of humor. That means taking life less seriously. Sometimes it’s the only way to cope with all the bad shit that happens. They’ll joke about themselves mainly. Or situations.
I’ve learned to look back on bad relationships with a sense of humor. After all, real life is just a romantic comedy with a sad ending. It’s kind of funny that my ex-fiance never introduced me to his parents. Because he was afraid they would make him dump me.
And then he dumped me, because he was afraid of what his parents would think. The Alanis Morissette version of irony.
It’s also funny that one of my friend’s got divorced a month after her second marriage, and her mom just said, “Called it.”
Humor helps with bad jobs, too. It was funny that one of my bosses came to work hungover every Sunday and asked us to bake him cookies.
It was also funny that our manager forgot to order bread. And half our menu was sandwiches. I actually enjoyed explaining to customers that we were out of bread, and watching their facial expressions. But you know the most common reaction? Laughter. Because that idea’s hilarious. No matter how hungry you are.
And it was really funny when our assistant manager told all the wait staff to wear t-shirts two sizes smaller. To attract customers. And he added: “But obviously, if you’re a dude, wear a normal size shirt.”
I mean, it was horrifying. But we found ways to laugh about those days. Because the only other option was to quit.
Other stuff rock stars do
Rock stars make work (and life) fun. Rock stars know when and how to party. They bring a party with them wherever they go. It’s not about reckless hedonism. Or strippers on a bus. Everyone needs levity. A break from monotony. Routines. That’s how they survive months on the road. A career in art and music isn’t all games. Just looks that way.
They push boundaries. A rock star never settles for the status quo. They try new ways of expression. Take risks. Experiment. They blend and cross genres. They don costumes and makeup. Partly just because they feel like it. But also because they want other people to crack their comfort zones. They create spaces for that to happen.
They cultivate talent. Some rock stars are born with talent. Others just keep practicing until it doesn’t matter. You might be a guitarist. Or a computer programmer. Either way, being a rock star at what you do just means you’ve developed your skills.
They show charity. Sure, rock stars acquire vast fortunes. They tend to share some of that wealth. Maybe not all of them. But a rock star does more than pat themselves on the back for towing old clothes to Good Will. At least they remember their roots and try to help the less fortunate. They don’t give long speeches about how other people just need to work harder.
If you ask me, we could use more rock stars. Not arrogant fakers. But talented artists who inspire coolness and creativity in others. The world’s not doing so hot right now. We’re dealing with epic levels of hate, corruption, apathy, and greed. The vitriol in politics and social media is leaking into our everyday lives — where it can do the most damage.
Everyone’s got a little rock star in them. Even if we suck at guitar. Me? I can’t even do a convincing air riff. I’m guessing that’s what my friend meant. Not that I should go out and buy a leather jacket. Be a rock star in how you perform your life. Stage dive at your own risk.