The Worst Rock Stars Ever
As countless episodes of “Behind the Music,” untold numbers of gritty rock and roll documentaries and thousands of pages of pretentious music magazine long-form road interviews have drilled into our brains time and time again, being a rock star is a job. A tough one, at that. Sure, it’s a job that involves quite a bit more traveling, fucking and drinking than any other job (with the possible exceptions of “pilot” or “pirate”), but it’s still as soul-crushing a vocation as any other. As there would be in any profession, there’s bound to be certain percentage of rock stars that just plain suck at it.
This list is not based upon flash-in-the-pan annoyance value alone; if it were, it would be filled with easy choices like Fred Durst and Chad Kroeger. Many of these figures, in fact, might be considered “Rock Legends” by the types of people who are prone to using terms like “Rock Legends.” The rock stars listed here have earned their places in the annals of crappy rock star lore for various reasons; some are monumental failures, some are unforgettable jerks, and some have seemingly dedicated their lives to destroying any possibility that the words “rock and roll” will ever be associated with any sort of artistry or merit.
10. Johnny Rotten – Once the lead singer of Punk’s first prefab boy-band, The Sex Pistols, Johnny Rotten now divides his time between trying to get on television and getting on television and embarrassing himself. If you don’t automatically roll your eyes at every single thing that comes out of Johnny Rotten’s mouth, then there is something drastically wrong with your eyeball muscles and you should see a professional face doctor right away. While the Sex Pistols may have caused genuine controversy upon their arrival in 1977, Rotten’s attempts to duplicate this controversy have generally involved sneering, saying “fuck off” a lot, and doing mildly outrageous things designed to coerce another wave of clueless squares to buy copies of “Never Mind the Bollocks” as novelty items to display in their homes. All the while, he justifies this by claiming that he is shaking things up in the establishment and “having a laugh,” as if the mere sight of his face is enough to send shockwaves of panic through the straight world. He fails to realize that due to his years of overexposure and televised sneering, old people aren’t even scared of him anymore. He has moved from “public enemy” to “loveable scamp.” In fact, I predict that the monarchy will try to have him knighted within my lifetime. He’ll probably accept it, too, “for a laugh.”
Lowest Point – Recently appeared on a British reality television series called “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!,” effectively ending the era of rock and roll.
Mitigating Factor – Uttered the immensely quotable phrase “I'd love to have been born into a wealthy family. I might have turned out even more marvelous than I am now.”
9. Shaun Ryder – Until Prodigy allowed that hideous double-mohawked dancer to sing on tracks, electronic acts were sadly lacking in frontmen. Nobody wants to put posters of pudgy bald guys in windbreakers over their beds, so in the eighties and early nineties the youth culture of England developed a brief fascination with rave-friendly (but still band-oriented) dance-rock. It was the only way to reconcile their love of taking ecstasy with their love of rock-star worship. The Happy Mondays rode the crest of this wave, peaking with the Paul Oakenfold-produced 1991 album “Pills ‘n Thrills and Bellyaches.” I seem to recall there being about seventeen people in the band, but the only ones anyone might remember are lead “singer” Shaun Ryder and a drug-addled dancer named Bez (who was an official member of the band, although he did not actually do anything). Shaun Ryder was grotesquely ugly, high out of his mind all the time, and totally unable to sing, dance, play an instrument, or write anything but the most juvenile lyrics. He was, even with the aid of a teleprompter, prone to forgetting the words to his own songs while performing live. Unfortunately, if a band continues to sell records and attract a following, it is usually not economically viable to fire the singer due to gross incompetence. In Shaun Ryder’s case, however, it probably would have been a good idea; due to his heavy addiction to every single controlled substance known to man, he duped Factory Records into sinking more and more money into the notoriously terrible follow-up to “Pills ‘n Thrills,” eventually leading to the label’s financial collapse.
Pudgy? Yes. Windbreaker? Yes. Bald? NO!
Lowest Point – Recording an inept cover of Freddie Mercury’s “Barcelona” as a duet with an opera singer. Must be heard to be believed. Still unbelievable when heard, in fact.
Mitigating Factor – While serving as the singer of Black Grape, penned the line “Jesus was a black man / No, Jesus was Batman / No, that was Bruce Wayne.”
8. Lenny Kravitz – One of the omnipresent background figures buzzing around the rock scene, Lenny represents the pinnacle of VH1-approved lameness. He is the wealthy son of an actress and a television producer, and as if that weren’t enough to instantly file him away under “inauthentic,” he also happens to churn out record after record of anemic 70s-syle stadium rock homage. Try to summon up a Lenny Kravitz single in your mind: is the title of the song either generic or an undisguised cliché? Probably. Are Lenny’s vocals transparently imitative of Jimi Hendrix or Curtis Mayfield? Probably. Does it contain lots of fuzz-pedal guitar riffs? Of course it does. Lenny Kravitz has been releasing the same crap over and over again for fifteen years, and people who like to hear the same crap over and over again for fifteen years have been buying it over and over again for fifteen years. Rock and roll, in the hands of Kravitz, is all about workmanlike professionalism and predictable results and endless retreads. He is a record label’s dream come true, because he’ll put out a gold record every two or three years without too much fuss or controversy. He’s a critic’s worst nightmare, because he’s too popular to ignore but not bad enough to properly pan. He’s unremarkable, he’s eternal, and he is crap.
Look at those abs!
Lowest Point - His soundtrack cover of “American Woman,” which added a sheen of light-rock gloss to a song that didn’t need it.
Mitigating Factor – He is a fine looking piece of man.
7. Axl Rose – Short-tempered, alcoholic jerks are often drawn to jobs which give them free reign to abuse people. Short-tempered, alcoholic jerks who can screech like speared bush pigs, however, are blessed with the attractive option of becoming hard rock singers. In this profession, they can not only abuse people, but they can get international attention for it. As long as they’re able to hold a band together, that is. Axl Rose, unfortunately, was bad enough that he couldn’t even convince a group of barely-functional junkies to hang out with him. Given the promise of virtually unlimited money, can you even imagine how difficult it would be to scare off junkies? “Hang out with this asshole, junkies, and you’ll be up to your gills in high-quality horse for life.” To a junkie, that is an overwhelmingly attractive proposition. The breaking point, apparently, is when the asshole in question starts writing songs with gigantic string sections. You couldn’t keep a real rocker next to a string section for all the opium in Afghanistan.
Nice hotpants, Axl!
Lowest Point - He scared off Buckethead, for Christ’s sake.
Mitigating Factor – At least he didn’t start a band with Scott Weiland.
6. Liam Gallagher – America’s most resonant image of Liam Gallagher is most likely him standing in the wings of his band’s unplugged performance, drunkenly shouting profanity at the older brother whose songs made him famous. Seemingly trapped in a permanent state of toddler-like petulance, the Gallagher brothers made utter fools of themselves on an almost continuous basis during their brief period of American success. Liam, however, was clearly the worst of the two. While both of them were guilty of spectacularly overestimating their own talents and taking it out on everyone else, Liam was certainly responsible for the majority of the laughable tough-talk. Who can forget when he called George Harrison a “nipple”? Insults like that could strip the paint off a house! Unfortunately, Americans are not too interested in or forgiving of this sort of irreverent banter, and by the time “Be Here Now” rolled around, Liam’s wisecrack-seeds could find no purchase in our fruited plains. Since the UK tabloid press is far more likely to print whatever bullshit comes out of a rock star’s mouth than the American media is, Oasis continued to charm England with their adorable clown act for many years. Say what you will about American culture, but at least we disposed of Liam Gallagher in a timely fashion.
Lowest Point – Probably the aforementioned ridiculous “nipple” comment. Tried to be the Beatles and failed? Why not insult them?
Mitigating Factor – Liam doesn’t sing on all of Oasis’s songs.
5. Steven Tyler – If you’re reading this column, it probably means you hate Aerosmith. How do I come to that conclusion? Because if you’re reading this column, it means that you’re the kind of person who is prone to reading things. Steven Tyler, of course, is the bass-faced lead singer of that abominable musical puppy-farm. To put things into perspective, Aerosmith released their first album only shortly after The Who and Led Zeppelin peaked. Now, one hundred and forty five years later, they’re one of the only “Classic Rock” acts that are still regularly putting out records that people buy. Why? Because people don’t know their asses from their elbows. It also probably has something to do with the fact that Aerosmith brings in pop songwriters to pen their hits. Did you know that “Crazy” was co-written by Desmond Child, a bona-fide hitmaker for rock heavyweights like Bon Jovi, Cher, and Michael Bolton, or that “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” was written by Diane Warren, who wrote “Because You Loved Me” for Celine Dion? None of this matters, because Steven Tyler is not in the music industry as an artist. He’s in it for, as he put it, “The Three M’s: money, music, and mmm… pussy!” Very classy, you flyweight geriatric ghoul. Well, to be fair, I guess one of those “Three M’s” is “music,” but I think the other two cancel it out. The only joy I have in this world is that Steven Tyler will probably die within my lifetime. The Rolling Stones may be old, but at least none of them look like Joan Rivers and openly lust after their own daughters.
Lowest Point - That arcade game about saving Aerosmith from terrorists. Frontpage legend Reid "Frolixo" Paskiewicz and I played it at a shitty arcade, and we honestly could not tell if the game was functioning correctly because of its incomprehensible awfulness.
Mitigating Factor – At least they didn’t actually write “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” not that that lets them off the hook.
4. Morrissey – You may have noticed that I pick on Morrissey a lot. Everyone picks on Morrissey a lot. Morrissey picks on Morrissey a lot. The man is hard on himself. He claims that nobody loves him when thousands of people practically devote their lives to adoring him. He claims to have no charm, but in his rare interviews, he has interviewers eating from his hand. He wrote perhaps the best statement of how lonely kids relate to pop stars that’s ever been written, “Paint a Vulgar Picture,” and yet he still acts like the lonely kid instead of like the pop star; his new album contains a whine-fest called “How Can Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel?” in which he seems to entirely ignore the previous song’s insights into exactly why so many people think they know how he feels. If this all sounds a little too complimentary to Morrissey, forgive me. The point is that I’m sick of his shit. Take some Zoloft, Morrissey. Go to some dinner parties and talk about books or James Dean or whatever it is you care about. Stop being a chicken-shit about love and go find a girlfriend or boyfriend or whatever it is you’re after. Buy a boat and a Hawaiian shirt. Go to the video store and rent “Die Hard.” Sure, you might lose a few fans who love you for your mope-factor, but you might give a lot of hopeless nerds a little bit of hope. “If Morrissey can do it, so can I,” they’ll say, and they’ll stop midway through writing their long-winded livejournal entry and go outside to face the sun. What a wonderful world this would be!
Cheer up, already!
Lowest Point – The line “I will be in the bar / with my head on the bar.”
Mitigating Factor – What a hairstyle!
3. Ted Nugent – Jesus Christ, how much depth do I have to go into here? He’s Ted fucking Nugent. He delights in killing and he wears a loincloth. He’s probably had sex with your mother. He, like Johnny Rotten, had his own show on VH1 (which is the lowest valley on the musical landscape). He has a conservative radio talk show. The little soul patch on his chin is off-center, which really bugs me. He is basically the enemy of all that is decent and tasteful in this world, which probably makes a certain percentage of you love him. In other news, a certain percentage of you are fucking morons.
See, his beard is off center.
Lowest Point – Everything from his birth until the point in 2007 when Shaun Ryder will accidentally kill him with a crossbow.
Mitigating Factor – At least he’s not a member of PETA.
2. Bono – When people in this day and age think “rock star,” they probably think Bono. Bono, on stage in his big sunglasses and his flowing shirt. Bono, with that wry little smile of his, talking to some politician about matters in the third world with a barely-detectable hint of condescension in his voice, the kind that says “we both know that I am right, but you are a fatcat and I am the voice of the people.” Bono’s impeccable hair, and Bono’s resolute chin. If we held elections for “rock star,” Bono would win. While Bono was once just the leader of a post-punk band with political pretensions, he now seems to view himself as the ambassador between rock and roll and the real world. The problem is, rock and roll does not need an ambassador to the real world, nor does it want one. Those familiar with the BBC sitcom “The Office,” which has been released on DVD in America to great popularity recently, might draw a parallel between Bono and Gareth Keenan: If being a rock star is a job, Bono thinks he is assistant regional manager, but he is just assistant to the regional manager. He is rock and roll’s most sycophantic, detestable toadie, trying to worm his way into the world of management without getting hired. For those of you who have no idea what I just said, I will provide an alternate explanation: Bono is a twat. Stop making records and go save the world off camera.
LET ME HELP YOU!
Lowest Point - The winking, self-referential failure that was “Pop.”
Mitigating Factor – Probably brings attention to some good causes, the smug bastard.
1. Jobriath – Right now, you’re probably feeling a little bit cheated. “Who the hell is Jobriath,” you’re probably asking. “Is this a trick? Is this some obscure indie artist who David Thorpe just happens to hate?” No, actually, Jobriath made quite a major bid for mainstream success. Back in 1973, Jobriath was the most hyped new act around. He was going to be the American David Bowie, a flamboyant glam-rock mystery man who would change the way we saw rock and roll and sexuality. There was a huge billboard of a sultry, lounging Jobriath in Times Square. He was signed to Elektra with a major contract. His album was produced by mega-producer Eddie Kramer, famous for his engineering and production work with The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and Jimi Hendrix. The album included studio players like Peter Frampton and John Paul Jones. Full-page ads appeared in every major magazine. Jobriath would be huge. His live debut was to be a lavish concept show at the Paris Opera House, expected to cost two hundred grand; in the show, he would be dressed as King Kong, and would ascend a gigantic glass sculpture of the Empire State Building, which would, as he reached the top, transform into an erupting phallus; he would transform into Marlene Dietrich. No, I am not kidding. However, it never happened. The album was a flop, most likely because it was absolutely god-awful: when I had Zack "GeistEditor" Parsons give a listen to it, he described the discrepancy between its lavish production and awful content as being "like a statue of a retard carved out of white gold." The Paris show, and the subsequent opera-house tour, was called off. Copies of the album, “Jobriath,” are difficult to find nowadays. Jobriath was abandoned, and lived the rest of his days in, according to one article I read, a “pyramid-shaped triplex on the roof of New York's Chelsea Hotel.” He later resurfaced as a lounge singer, and unfortunately died of AIDS in 1983. Aside from the fact that his talent was minimal and his record was pretty much terrible, I have few bad things to say about Jobriath. He tops this list because he is the ultimate example of rock gone wrong. He has not even been granted the status of a cult hero or a mistreated underdog, despite being one of the first openly gay American rock singers. He is almost totally forgotten, despite being so ridiculously ambitious and overhyped. As far as I can tell, there has never been a more spectacular failure in the history of rock and roll. His failure was so overwhelming and complete that, unless you’re old and have a long memory or are a true aficionado of rock lore, this paragraph is most likely the first and last time you’ll ever hear of Jobriath.
Lowest Point – In 1992, the aforementioned mopester Morrissey tried to secure Jobriath as an opening act, being unaware of his death.
Mitigating Factor – At least he’s not still making terrible records.
If a whole damn lot of you think this list is grossly inaccurate, or if you feel that I've missed somebody important, you can send me an e-mail at email@example.com with the subject line "WORST ROCK STAR" and point out who exactly YOU think is the worst rock star of all time. I'd love to hear it, and if I keep hearing suggestions for the same guys over and over again, I would be happy to post a "reader's choice" extension of this article sometime in the future. Thank you for taking the time to bask in my genius!