One of the reasons I named this blog “Sex, Gods, and Rock Stars” is because in the last few years, several people have started accusing me, both positively and negatively, of being a “rock star”. I think the first was my girlfriend Ruth, and she definitely meant it as a positive thing. For some reason, though, it has always bothered me. So one of the things I want to explore here is the archetype of the rock star, how it applies to myself as a shaman and a kink/spirituality educator as well as just a general citizen, and what it means in a more grander sense.
I was explaining this last night to Rave, my slave, as I was getting ready for a sleep study. I was telling her that when I think of a “rock star”, my mind immediately brings up images of hair metal kings of the 80’s, like Sammy Hagar and Bret Michaels. One of the reasons the title bothers me is because these people, outside of being musicians, are mostly famous for being irresponsible. They abused drugs and/or alcohol, had indiscriminate sex, had wild parties that caused property damage, and rarely had a fixed address. None of these things apply to me at all – I rarely drink, and even more rarely get drunk or high; although I engage in BDSM play with strangers, I am very selective about whom I engage in sex with; and my idea of a wild party these days is getting my friends in a room together to play board games and have conversations about philosophy. I leave housekeeping tips when I leave too much trash behind in a hotel room. And I’ve lived in the same house for almost eight years.
I have a tattoo that says “diva” on my upper left shoulder/arm. I got it during a different time of transition, a testament to the idea that I am a person worthy of being treated with respect, deference, and maybe a little extra something. When I was more active in theater/opera, I very much identified with the diva archetype – someone with talent, ability, and experience, who expected special treatment and deference in exchange for exposure/use of that talent and experience. Yes, divas are a little more difficult to deal with, but most of the time the temper tantrums and odd requests are worth it, because when the lights go up and the music starts they deliver a performance that moves your soul.
I wonder if some of my resistance to “rock star” is a remnant of my own musical snobbery. When I was in high school, and studying and competing in voice, there was a kid named Jordan in our “advanced chorus”. He was in a garage band called “Manifest Destiny”. I admit, I didn’t understand why he had been accepted into the chorus. He didn’t read music, didn’t know how to sight-sing, and frequently we had to stop rehearsals so the director could give him a quick mini-voice lesson so he could keep up. He frequently came to concerts in clothing that just barely met the requirements for our uniform – usually an unkempt white dress shirt and black jeans – while I, a kid on welfare, had gone to great lengths to have a formal-looking dress shirt and long black skirt. It wasn’t a class thing, at least to me; it was more a matter of respect. I took these performances seriously – a little silly, looking back on it, as it was merely a high school concert – but to me, they were the building blocks of my future in performance.
I never saw Manifest Destiny play, even though Jordan advertised the shows during class. What’s strange to me, and something I never fully processed, is that I was likely listening to music not all that dissimilar to Manifest Destiny’s – the Ramones, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, The Dead Milkmen – in the privacy of my home. I couldn’t afford to go to big name shows, but I likely could have scraped together entrance to a garage band show if I had tried.
I know for certain that part of the reason I didn’t try hard is that no one saw me as one of those kind of kids. I didn’t wear trendy clothes or bond with my friends over The Velvet Underground. Most of my peers who listened to that sort of music had edgy haircuts and leather jackets. They smoked cigarettes on the wall in the parking lot – I smoked mine hidden in the woods behind my house. They acted out in class and were frequently in detention or suspension; I was only given in-house suspension once, and the teacher in charge of babysitting us was positive it had been in error and forced me to go back to class. (It was *not* in error – I had, in fact, skipped the last half of a class after returning from a school trip by opting to go home rather than back to class.)
Even now, with my blue hair and labret piercing, my leathers and my stretched earlobes, I still don’t feel like I could go to a punk show and fit in. It probably doesn’t help that I don’t have many friends in Maryland who listen to that sort of music and still go to live shows. I think my issue now is more of an energetic thing; I feel once you get to know me, any image of me in a mosh pit kicking ass and boot stomping goes right out of your head. I’m much more the diva, lounging on a chaise lounge holding forth on whatever subject I find interesting.
Yet, there’s an undeniable grittiness to the kind of magic I practice; I’m much more likely to draw a circle with a swiss army knife than some elaborate medieval recreation dagger. I’ll use electrical tape in a binding way before I’ll spin my own thread or yarn. I use sex and BDSM to raise energy, rather than dancing a spiral or silently focusing my Will. I wear denim and leathers as my formal ritual clothes (or, if I’m feeling particularly fancy, plain white cotton clothes), rather than looking like an extra from Lord of the Rings.
My shamanism is also modern and urban; I trance easier to Nine Inch Nails than some CD of “shamanic drumming”. I work with pop culture spirits and Deities right alongside ancient ones. My local land vaettir are more concerned about green technology and recycling than groups of people chanting and leaving offerings. I depend on my computer to communicate with my clients, making mp3s of readings, meeting over Skype, emailing advice. I use Googlemancy (typing in my question and then hitting “I feel lucky”) as often as I use my cards or bones.
There’s something to the rock star in this. When I think of a diva, I think of someone upper class, refined, speaking with a pretentious English accent. In contrast, the rock star wears sunglasses and ripped jeans, comes from a working class family in NJ, and hides in dark corners of smoky clubs both hoping and not hoping to be recognized. When I visit a BDSM club or event outside of my region, that’s me in the corner; watching people play, and enjoying the company of my friends, but also flattered as all get-out when someone comes up and tells me they took a class of mine that changed their life, or at least their sex life. There’s a humbleness to the rock star that is absent in the diva; the rock star can go home when the tour is over and play with the dogs in the backyard; the diva expects everyone to cow-tow to them, even the doorman of her apartment building. The diva needs that constant recognition or the facade cracks. The rock star is confident in who they are.
Before I go further, I want to be clear that I don’t think I’m as famous as Dave Navarro, or as talented as Eddie Van Halen. I’m Jordan, playing in a garage band, getting recognized at the Denny’s by the server who went to the show with his girlfriend. If that. But in a way, Jordan is more of the rock star than Navarro, because he still had that dignity, that humbleness, that dreams-still-in-transition look in his eye.
Who are your “rock stars”, in the most literal sense? Who do you think of from the musical (and maybe acting) arts that you think embody the archetype? I seriously want your comments – here, not on the social media what brought you here.