STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN (OR HIGHWAY TO HELL?)
THE ROAD TO ROCK STARDOM. HOW YOUNGER BANDS ARE REVITALIZING ROCK AS THEY FORGE NEW PATHS TO FAME, FORTUNE, AND IMMORTALITY
Stars have always favored the melodramatic: They shoot! They fall! They govern our conditions. But in rock & roll’s firmament, stardom has lately assumed a more earthbound stance. We no longer want to build pedestals for our rock stars; they, in any case, wouldn’t care to mount them. What we’re left with are luminaries who prove all too human. The triumph of punk declares itself less in the fall of the Rock God than in Green Day’s bank accounts. That’s why the death of Kurt Cobain-head of the new pantheon, and its first martyr-so dominated music headlines in 1994. If Cobain’s rise questioned who could be a star, his fall asks what role a star in the ’90s can realistically play. So what if Woodstock ’94 didn’t unify a generation of rock and pop fans? Those who rose from the mud-Sheryl Crow, Green Day, Candlebox-at least managed a next-door affinity with the audience: Even if we weren’t all in this together, we could all imagine ourselves in their place. That doesn’t mean, however, that we’ve abandoned the urge to distinguish star from starstruck. The means of assessing fame-column inches, units sold, videos rotated-have become as eagerly debated as the music itself. And if anything, the avenues leading to stardom (or at least to the sales that indicate stardom) have only multiplied in the past year: *The multiplatinum windfall visited upon Epitaph Records by the Offspring has proved the viability of indie distribution (in fact, indies took home 16 percent of the market in 1994, behind Warner Music Group but ahead of Sony). Already the most hotly contested of the Next Big Things-Bay Area punks Rancid- emerged from a fierce bidding war to re-sign with Epitaph after nearly committing to industry giant Epic. *Despite retailer flak for its McDonald’s promotion, EMI sold some 9 million cut-rate albums from acts like Garth Brooks and Tina Turner in four weeks- enough to ensure similar schemes will follow. *MTV Unplugged has hit its stride; for superstars, filming the still-highbrow spots has become as commonplace as making a video. *A boom in soundtrack sales-from The Lion King, 1994’s top-selling album, to Murder Was the Case, Forrest Gump, Reality Bites, and The Crow-has solidified an easy, profitable genre for labels, as well as another marketing tool for bands. *The familiar ”Greatest Hits” compilation (with, of course, Three New Songs) has become a viable means of prolonging as well as recapping a career: Garth Brooks, Bob Seger, and Tom Petty all visited the top 10 with such packages, as should Bruce Springsteen and Michael Jackson. *The much-ballyhooed cyberfuture has finally reached the record biz, with A&R execs Net-surfing for unsigned bands, labels sending out singles and artist interviews on-line, and new formats like CD Plus on the way. In large part, however, the steps on the road to rock stardom look remarkably familiar. We’ll examine those stages more closely on the following pages. But first, let’s look back at those rock stars who were made (and unmade) in 1994 to see what their experiences bode for 1995.