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OPINION: Why we must all fight against the rockstar stereotype

Laura  Barnes
OPINION: Why we must all fight against the rockstar stereotype

Following the recent death of Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington, in her latest MI Pro column, radio presenter and DJ Rowena Lewis looks at how the idolised rock’n’roll image can act as a disguise – and excuse – for depressive male behaviour…

Following the death of Chris Cornell, we received the news that his friend and fellow rock icon Chester Bennington had died at the age of 41 on what would have been Cornell’s 53rd birthday. Both men had taken their own lives. Nonetheless, no matter how many people in the music industry pass away before their time, we still witness the usual reactions of shock, followed by upset at the loss of talent, before moving on with musing that this is simply inevitable and unavoidable in rock’n’roll. When rock stars die 25 years younger than the average person, instead of proclaiming these deaths as tragedies, maybe it is time to see the rock stereotype for what it really is: a charade hiding far more deep-rooted and concerning issues.

Firstly, we must look inwardly and reflect on ourselves as fans. When it comes to artists, we romanticise them dying young – the utmost commitment to their creations in order to preserve their legacies. Those who are all too eager to trash musicians for “selling out” in their later years still worship the likes of Kurt Cobain and Ian Curtis, whose songs now have greater power and meaning thanks to their ultimate sacrifice. Let’s face it, in rock, being a tortured rebel and dying prematurely is deemed cool. Whilst we are still so happy to make martyrs of musicians, we are part of the problem.

This is merely an extension of an already unsettling aspect of the rock industry. A recent study showed that musicians are three times more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. When we examine how depression manifests itself in males, it becomes clear that the idolised rock’n’roll image acts as the ideal disguise and excuse for depressive male behaviour – in fact, it glorifies it. Rock stars are renowned for their playboy lifestyle and substance abuse, and depressed men are prone to sexual promiscuity as well as being three times more likely to be alcohol or drug dependent. However, people seem incapable of linking the two and realising that being a rock superstar could merely be a cover. The type of debauchery associated with a rock musician’s life is as shocking to some as it is revered by others, so when there is still such a stigma for depressed males, the rock world has formed the ideal front for the men working within it. Why do we as an audience continue to feed into this facade – is it because a bad boy is more entertaining than a sad boy?
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Particular consideration of the male perspective of depression and the rock star stereotype is paramount here; not only because of how the two are interlinked, but due to the fact that hypermasculinity is still so prominent in the rock world. This produces other problems, as it can contribute to aggression, sexism and general contempt of anything that seems overtly feminine. A recent example of this in action on the stage is from this year’s Warped Tour, when the lead singer of The Dickies, Leonard Graves Phillips, launched a misogynistic tirade at a female fan peacefully protesting that “punk shouldn’t be predatory”. This was followed by contentious and quite frankly bizarre statements online from individuals such as Jesse Hughes of Eagles of Death Metal in defence of Phillips’s actions. Misogyny, in itself, is still an ongoing battle for women in rock, which needs to be dealt with on its own. On the other hand, any men entering this environment and existing within a culture that indulges hypermasculinity, with its rejection of female qualities, are bound to be less likely to seek treatment for depression. Favouring stereotypically male qualities over female ones like “emotional openness and communication” is part of the reason men are less likely to use counselling or therapy. This is immensely disturbing when you see that men make up over three-quarters of suicides.

Being male and a musician already leaves a person in two high-risk groups. If you then add being a “rock god” into the mix, with the added pressure of maintaining this front by those who aggrandise this stereotype over actually showing depression for what it really is, identifying someone in a truly dire circumstances becomes nigh on impossible. This can lead to a situation such as that of Cornell or Bennington, where someone begins to believe that suicide is their only option. We live in a society where there is already an abundance of work left to do in supporting those in vulnerable groups, but we must make progress in trying to prevent further grievous losses of our beloved idols. Let’s be truly rebellious – let’s fight the norm of what it is to be a rock star.

Rowena Lewis is a BBC Three Counties Radio entertainment reporter, radio presenter on Hoxton Radio and Boogaloo Radio, and DJ.

Read all of Rowena's MI Pro columns here.



Tags: Opinion , depression , Rowena Lewis , Chester Bennington , mental illness

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