How the rebellious image has become much more conscientious over time:
As most of you know, we’ve been focusing a lot this season on the connections between music and health. Our media intern, Ashley Chopin, has been thinking about how the image of the popular rock star has changed over time, and she’s submitted this blog post to be shared with all our patrons!
My name is Ashley, and I’m the current media intern here at the Museum. You won’t see me in person often, but I’m always working behind the scenes on our press releases, informational materials, and other media things that help you keep up with all the exciting things we do!
In honor of this season, I wanted to write a post about something I’ve thought a lot about, especially since I’ve been at college. If you follow any current artist on social media, you probably know that it’s commonplace and basically expected for any pop star or prominent musician to express their political views. In the process of that, I think it’s definitely interesting to notice how mainstream veganism and natural foods have become in pop culture, and physical fitness too.I think you can trace a very clear trend toward wellness from self-destruction in groups like the Rolling Stones to prominently healthy and politically active artists like Neil Young, going through to stars today.
Paul McCartney was one of the first prominent vegans in rock and pop music, and he’s become more outspoken about these issues over time. While the Rolling Stones embodied the more old-fashioned rock and roll aesthetic of self-destruction for years with drugs, McCartney has ended up being one of the healthiest 70-somethings in the world. For one, he’s completely vegan, and eats a huge amount of healthy produce. He also goes for a run and works out every day, even when he’s got a show that night. He says that sobriety and all this focus on health actually makes him more inspired, which contradicts the old notion that you only have good things to write about when your life is down in the dumps. I think Paul McCartney is most interesting because he dates all the way back to when smoking and heroin were expected parts of rock culture, but now he’s one of the most forward-thinking figures out there.
The Smiths were one of the most outspokenly healthy groups in rock history and they even put out an album called Meat Is Murder, so that tells you something about where music and health can intersect. Morrissey, the lead singer, insists that every venue he plays at serve no meat, and Johnny Marr, the guitarists, has been completely sober for years, and runs marathons. They’re one of the first instances I can see of health activism being a goal of their music, like Marvin Gaye had political activism of his What’s Going On album 10 years earlier. Now you have a whole slew of songs about addition, recovery, and a journey towards wellness. Now we celebrate that kind of getting better, where we used to celebrate the most self-destructive people in the industry as the most tragically admirable.
Declan McKenna is one of my favorite artists right now, and he’s only 18, so I think it’s cool to have some perspective from him compared to what McCartney was doing at 18. He’s not only political, but he’s said in interviews that he has to be, because that’s what people from this generation care about and want to hear about. He’s an outspoken vegan, and wears shirts for the movement in England to give 17-year-olds the vote, which is a big issue there. You’ve also got people like Michael Franti, who has rapping street credentials but runs yoga retreats and is active in fighting against GMOs. So it’s just as common now to see an artist talking about juicers and smoothie bars as it used to be for them to talk about cocaine or other drugs.
Anyway, I definitely think it’s interesting because aside from the constant bubble-gum pop at the top of the mainstream charts, I think most people my age are definitely concerned about a lot of wellness issues like body image and veganism, and to see that reflected by musicians as voices of moral guidance is super cool.
I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward a lot to the lecture on the Beatles in India later this month! I think it’ll be a super cool way to see how far we’ve come with views on wellness being expressed through music.