An Air of Mystery

When I was a kid rock 'n' roll was almost invisible. You had a handful of magazines- Creem, Rolling Stone, Circus- and a couple of late night concert shows- Rock Concert, Midnight Special. But you hardly ever saw rock bands on prime time TV, just the pre-approved soft rock and disco acts that the WWII Generation still running the networks didn't feel threatened by. It began to pick up at the end of the 70s with cable and syndication, but in the interim it created an incredible air of mystery around these bands.

The lack of information created a vacuum, which was filled with myth and urban legend. Hence you heard all kinds of fevered speculation - usually of an occult nature - about rock stars and deals with devils and the rest of it. Kind of like what you hear today about Jay-Z and the Gagger, only back then you could use ignorance and imagination (and not just stupidity) as an excuse.

Mystique is a centrally important aspect of rock 'n' roll, and the over-exposure of social media is making it impossible to build that mystique. At least one behind the scenes luminary understands the important of mystery, and that's former Guns 'n' Roses manager Allan Niven. When asked for his opinion on Axl Rose's Chinese Democracy project which burned up tens of thousands of hours- and millions of dollars- in the studio, Niven had this to say:
“Axl made two huge mistakes: one was releasing it and the other was working with manager Irving Azoff. I’d have done everything in my power to make sure Chinese Democracy was something people always talked about and wondered about – but never got to completely hear."
Niven might be referencing the Beach Boy's Smile project here. But big money did what it always does; stomp all over the intangibles that make pop culture alluring:
“Recording went on for so long, there was no way in hell the record was going to meet expectations. Before its release it was a myth. But Irving (Azoff) wanted to get it out of the way because he wanted a (GnR) reunion. I doubt he was motivated to see it successful – he essentially got paid for its release, not its performance. The release was done purely for financial reasons. I don’t think Irving ever understood the unlikelihood of that reunion taking place; of how deep feelings run.”
Niven goes so far as to say that Axl shouldn't have even allowed mixes to leak:
“Axl should have made sure to keep all tapes and discs under lock and key. Then he could have released the occasional track and he could have worked them live for another ten years. That would have been more mysterious, more fascinating.”
Niven is right- we always want most what we can't have. That was a part of rock 'n' roll for many years. Your primary experience with rock 'n' roll was on the records or in concert. You met rock 'n' roll on its turf, not the media's. Led Zeppelin were the masters of this- they didn't even put their pictures on their record sleeves after their second LP.

Sometimes I think that this also explains Killing Joke's longevity- they were always just out of reach. Everyone I've ever played their records for tuned right into their wavelength, and were always amazed they'd never heard them before. There might be a lesson in that.


Rocky_Fontana said...


This is the real ish right here, amazing as always Chris...

Raj said...


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Anonymous said...

I'm only 28. I always thought that rock and roll was a big part of pop culture in the 60's and 70's.

I've been listening to G N R's Knocking on Heaven's Door lately.I think they did a better job with it than Bob Dylan himself, not that Bob was not a master in his own right. A lot of the other songs on that album were a little too watered down for me. I enjoy listening to the singles from Appetite for Destruction though.