5 Rock Stars Who Hated Being Famous

Generations of rock musicians have struggled to balance the relationship between fame and art. The sweet spot of fame is benefiting from mass cultural appeal while not succumbing to it.  

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If you’re famous, then that means you have fans. The Latin word fanum means sanctuary or temple. It’s the origin of “fanatic,” which later became shortened to “fan.” Sanctuary sounds nice, doesn’t it? But what if it’s a trap?

It’s interesting to think about the physical structure in the etymology of the word “fan,” regarding fame as a kind of prison narrative. How people think about fame has evolved over time, but the messy struggle to reconcile fame and art continues.

The five rock stars below responded to fame differently, but they all hated being famous.

Eddie Vedder

The Gen Xers from the Pacific Northwest, fed up with Ronald Reagan and boredom, turned up their guitars and transformed rock ‘n’ roll. They borrowed musical inspiration from Neil Young’s grunge and ’70s guitar bands while focusing a lens on life’s bleak realities. Pearl Jam was one of the scene’s bigger bands, and Eddie Vedder, like Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, became the face of the movement. He outright rejected it. Vedder stopped making music videos—unheard of at the time—and he stopped doing interviews as he moved the band into a less commercial direction with Pearl Jam’s third album, Vitalogy. He’s at his most defiant on “Not for You.”

Small my table sits just two
Got so crowded I can’t make room
Oh, where did they come from?
Stormed my room
And you dare say it belongs to you, to you

Thom Yorke

There’s a scene in Radiohead’s 1998 film Meeting People is Easy where Thom Yorke is so visibly burned out it looks like the “No Surprises” video has come to life, drowning the singer in real-time. With OK Computer, the Oxford group became the “it” band, and journalists inquired whether all the famous people appearing at their shows impressed them. Yorke responded by saying the British are suspicious of success. He said, “Any degree of success […] brings with it ‘You’ve cheated.’” Earlier in their career, when their record label EMI requested another single like “Creep,” Radiohead responded with “My Iron Lung.”

This, this is our new song
Just like the last one
A total waste of time
My iron lung

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan’s contempt for the press is well-known. His sarcastic responses mirrored how much he loathed being his generation’s voice. When asked, “Do you have anything particularly special to express when you sing?” He answered tersely, “No.” Dylan famously fabricated stories to confuse journalists and fans. In Chronicles, he writes, “What did I owe the rest of the world? Nothing. Not a damn thing. The press? I figured you lie to it. For the public eye, I went into the bucolic and mundane as far as possible.”

Well, the sword swallower, he comes up to you, and then he kneels
He crosses himself, and then he clicks his high heels
And without further notice, he asks you how it feels
And he says, “Here is your throat back, thanks for the loan”

George Harrison

George Harrison is known colloquially as the “quiet” Beatle. Contradicting the noiseless dub, his Traveling Wilburys bandmate Tom Petty told Rolling Stone that Harrison “never shut up.” Peter Jackson’s Get Back documentary reveals not so much a shy Beatle but a stubborn one. McCartney drove the Fab Four while Lennon delighted mischievously in its myth. But as Harrison withdrew from the limelight, his introspection grew as he searched for a more profound existence through meditation and studying Eastern religion. But the most curious Beatle wasn’t searching for fame.

Back then long time ago when grass was green
Woke up in a daze
Arrived like strangers in the night
Fab. Long time ago when we was fab

Kurt Cobain

Nirvana songs are reflections of Kurt Cobain’s anguish. His sudden rise to extraordinary fame didn’t quell the lingering pain of a broken home. Cobain became the voice of his generation, like Dylan. And, like Dylan, he rejected it. Nevermind changed culture, and Cobain answered his fame by trying to sabotage it. Enlisting producer Steve Albini, Nirvana made an abrasive album to counteract Butch Vig’s smooth pop production of Nevermind. The drugs, the trauma, it all created a cascading effect he could not escape. Cobain died by suicide at age 27.

Hey! Wait!
I got a new complaint
Forever in debt to your priceless advice

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