2006 / Music

Rock Stars Join Legions Starting Blogs

Legends, Newbies Alike Are Expressing Their Thoughts Online

When they’re not busy recording masterpieces, playing to adoring crowds or creating fodder for tabloids, it appears a growing number of today’s rock stars are staking a claim in the blogosphere. But who is putting down their guitars and hitting their computer keyboards? And do any of them rock?

Photo: Reina

Photo: Reina

Three years after terms like “blog” and “blogger” really entered the popular mindset in conjunction with the 2004 presidential race, the mass media never seems to tire of covering the growing legions of unschooled upstarts who cast their thoughts into cyberspace.

In fact, the only thing that seems to keep pace with the exploding number of blogs out there is the exponential growth in the number of blog-related news stories be produced. So, here’s one more: it seems that among the herds of folks signing up to be self-publishing citizen journalists who spill their guts are some of rock’s biggest names.

Odd as it might seem, it appears that an increasing number of rock stars — when they’re not busy recording masterpieces, playing to adoring crowds or creating fodder for tabloids — are staking their own claims in the blogosphere.

For a number of reasons, starting a blog would seem like an obvious move for rockers. A Nielsen/NetRatings survey last year said that blogging Web sites saw a 30 percent traffic spike since the beginning of January 2005. The poll also found that nearly 20 percent of all Internet users said that they visit blogs regularly.

So, an audience is clearly gathering. And whether it’s from a promotional standpoint or just as place to maximize their exhibitionistic tendencies, the blog would seem the natural venue for some of music’s most popular figures.

The style of these blogs varies as well. While some use their blog as a conduit of direct communication with their fans (minus the accompanying autographs), others treat it truly like a personal diary. A few even use their blog to engage in futile flame wars with cranky fans who’ve objected to this decision or that.

Or just maybe, these stars are going online because they think they’ve finally found an arena where they don’t face much competition from hip-hop. (Few major hip-hop stars it seems are willing to share their thoughts online)

But who is putting down their guitars and hitting their computer keyboards? And do any of these blogs rock?

Check out a list of famous bloggers worth checking out:

The Who’s Pete Townshend — Pete’s Diaries

Despite the occasional reunion tour, it would seem that the members of the Who would have plenty of time on their hands. Beyond the gigging, the band hasn’t recorded an album of new material since the early ’80s.

But instead of taking time out to pen some new songs, guitarist/band guru Pete Townshend is writing a surprisingly candid and cranky blog. His little essays range from the near poetic to the outright crude. He can write explicitly and tenderly about the ancient aches that accompany getting older. He then tells his own fawning masses to give it a rest.

Online, Townshend comes across as a man who wants to rail against almost everything he sees but feels thoroughly hounded himself. In one posting, overcome with paranoia that people are snooping on his blog, Townshend wrote “journalists looking for a few lines they can turn into some kind of story come here, and not always with detachment – some are most certainly out to get me, as though ‘they’ didn’t do that already.”

Townshend stands out as one of the few in rock’s legendary pantheon who has embraced the Web and opened himself up to speak directly to his fans. He defies expectations. For those thinking he’ll be a cool rock star, you’ll see a jaded, pampered musician. For those expecting self-indulgent dribbling, his writings are surprisingly erudite and easy to empathize with.

Billy Bragg — Billy Bragg’s Blog

It’s curious that while people’s folk-rock balladeer Billy Bragg has had his own site crammed with his left-leaning writings and links, he and his helpers chose to use his MySpace.com page as a new blog. After all, MySpace is infamously owned by News Corp., the parent company of the “fair and balanced” Fox News Channel who in turn is owned by conservative mogul Rupert Murdoch.

But maybe Bragg’s strategy is just the Internet equivalent of a ’60s sit-in. Shortly after he began posting earlier this summer, he launched an online campaign because he objected that MySpace’s terms and conditions for using their sites allowed the company to control any music uploaded to the site. As part of his protest, Bragg yanked all his free downloads from his page.

When MySpace apparently backed down and changed their policy, Bragg claimed victory over the Man.

“Having been adopted by the biggest social networking site on the block, I hope their recognition of the right of the artist to be sole exploiter of their own material now becomes an industry standard because there is much more at stake here than just the terms and conditions of a website,” he said.

Whew! Not light reading by any stretch, but such an auspicious start to the blogging world suggests we’ve seen the start of Bragg’s guerrilla campaign in which more victories and setbacks are sure to come.

Dave Navarro — 6767.com

Say what you like about Dave Navarro, the ex-alternative rock guitar hero and current glamour boy co-host of reality show “Rock Star,” but his daily blogging might be the one sincere thing that he does.

He might act like a glam-rock poseur now, but Navarro deserves some credit. The ex-guitarist for Jane’s Addiction and the Red Hot Chili Peppers has tended his own Web site off and on since the late ’90s. Although he’s frequently pimping whatever he’s doing — his radio show, “Rock Star” or his new pop-metal group, the Panic Channel — he’s consistently answered his fans’ questions honestly and openly as conceivably possible.

In fact, when Navarro separated from his estranged wife Carmen Electra this summer, the mascara-ed one promptly posted about it and treated this uncomfortable issue without classless-ly dishing on his soon-to-be ex or flat-out stonewalling. He maintained his privacy but gave those inquiring minds the 411. He did the same when he and his bandmates pulled the plug on the latest Jane’s Addiction reunion — allegedly before they even told lead singer Perry Farrell.

The Machiavellian mind would say such online loyalty to his fans is a conscious (or unconscious) attempt to keep fickle fans interested in between lengthy musical sabbaticals. But, I suspect Navarro actually enjoys the release and quasi-therapeutic nature of his postings in addition to the public interactions. He’s been doing it for years and could easily retreat behind the wall of celebrity at any time. He hasn’t yet.

Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz — Adam Duritz’s Journal

Adam Duritz, the dread-locked, mope-y lead singer and major songwriter for light-rock heavyweights Counting Crows, is an infrequent blogger. Most of his postings come in packs interrupted by long dry spells. But when they come, they are always an entertaining read.

Duritz the songwriter is highly skilled but almost exclusively introspective. And although he can frequently be counted on to build a snappy hook, he is typically melancholic and occasionally overtaken by more schmaltz-y tendencies.

Duritz the blogger has none of that super-sincerity. He comes across as rather vein, thin-skinned, heavy-handed and utterly childish. Viewed cumulatively, his postings are a bully pulpit, allowing the mighty singer to strike down and smite his own fans for critical comments. It’s often hilarious that a grown man spends his time doing this.

Here are some of Duritz’s best posts (unedited for grammar or correct punctuation):

“Some of you; however, are just plain stupid.”

“God, some of you are absolutely awash in poo.”

“I’m on the downside of my career, I wouldn’t know good music if it crawled out of my butt and bit me, I am a dirty rotten corporate sellout, so are all my friends, you guys are the last best hope for art and indie rock in our society.”

“I don’t want to get into an argument about whether my job is more or less strenuous than a 40 hr work week.”

“I know we have a ton of nice fans because I meet so many of you after every show. Where are you? And isn’t there a Counting A**holes board out there where the rest of you can spend your time sh**ting all over each other.”

Franz Ferdinand — Band Blog

Scottish neo-post-punk outfit Franz Ferdinand take a democratic approach on their blog: all the band members share it.

The four members take turns posting comments, although frontman Alex Kapranos often dominates. This idea can offer a unique and refreshing approach for frequent visitors. We can see an ever-changing perspective and alternating writing style.

The entries cover the familiar themes of what’s it like touring, commenting on their appearances in celebrity tabloid gossip and the members’ newest mix CDs, but are enlivened by the youthful exuberance that the band members inject into it. There’s still a sense of awe when they write about sharing the bill with one of their music idols or they talk about filling a big hall.

The Minutemen’s Mike Watt — Mike Watt’s Hoot Page

Like Navarro, Mike Watt, the famously flannel shirt-clad bassist of post-punk bands fIREHOSE and the Minutemen, has written and designed his own site for years (going back to ’95).

His homepage is filled with gig information, but his postings truly pick up when he’s the road. This is when he offers fans a sneak peak at what the day-to-day life of a middle-aged rocker on the road is like. His entries show a surprising range depending on what he’s up to. When he’s touring for his own project, we get a journey through the modern-day punk-rock circuit of small clubs and lengthy van rides. When Watt is filling in with the newly reunited Stooges (you know, Iggy Pop’s seminal ’70s band), we get a glimpse of the European and Australian festivals and playing as sideman before biblical-sized crowds.

But, the true magic of Watt’s site is how his postings are sprinkled with his peculiar Watt-isms. His postings about mundanely shuttling between airports, tour buses and hotels are spiced up with Watt’s unique take on language. Playing the bass is “working the thud staff.” Showers are called “hosing off.” Falling asleep is “I konk.” I ate is known as “I shovel.”

Ross Halfin (Rock Photographer) — Diary

OK, Ross Halfin isn’t a rock star, but this famed photographer’s blog is interesting enough to qualify.

You might not know his name but chances are, if you’ve ever bought a music-related magazine you’ve seen Halfin’s work. Halfin’s tastes gravitate towards hard rock, hair metal and classic rock and he has taken photos of everyone from the Foo Fighters to Ozzy Osbourne to Def Leppard to the Who to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Halfin’s blog is a diary of a life in near constant motion. He’s constantly jet setting to somewhere in the world to take photos of this band or that legend. As if that wasn’t enough, he’s always running into the world’s most famous rock stars in airports, hotels or bars.

His brief postings are a backstage pass to the life of one of rock’s most well-connected men. He hangs with Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett at one of Cream’s reunion concerts in London. He runs into Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan at the gym. He talks up Aerosmith’s chef and nutritionist.

Last week in fact, Halfin said that he ran into the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson. This is just as every paparazzi in the world is looking to snap a photo of a bereft Robinson now that his marriage to sunny actress Kate Hudson is apparently on the rocks. But what does Halfin talk to him about? British prog-rock outfit Hawkwind and newbie Australian metalheads Wolfmother.

Note: David’s nationally syndicated music column, Soundbytes, appeared in the Entertainment section of all Internet Broadcasting websites. This column was originally published there.

©Copyright 2006 by David Hyland. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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