Gimme Some Youth

How do washed-up rock stars maintain lavish homes, fancy cars, stripper ex-wives, cocaine habits and scores of illegitimate children? Easy: They co-opt youth culture.

The one band that seems to need the most help drawing somebody -- anybody -- to its shows is Metallica. After the members alienated half their fans by suing and harassing the most avid of them during the whole Napster debacle, they went on to alienate the other half by releasing St. Anger, a giant steaming turd constructed with the help of ProTools, a group counselor and lead singer James Hetfield's alcohol-detox program. Today their future looks a little grim. So, being smart businessmen, they're following the same formula as Ozzfest and Lollapalooza and organizing the Summer Sanitarium tour, which consists of Metallica and a bunch of bands almost half their age. They are changing things up a bit, though, by playing in an indoor arena instead of a shed like most of those on the summer package-tour circuit. Another difference is the skyrocketing price: General admission tickets go for $75. (This amount seems a bit rich for the kids they want to wrangle in, but they do have to pay for all the lawsuits and therapy somehow.) Summer Sanitarium, which offers only a main stage, also features Linkin Park, the Deftones and others.

Perhaps the real question should be, does this absorption of youth culture even work? In an informal poll, most of the 15- to 20-year-old people we consulted seemed apathetic, but those who did say they were going certainly weren't interested in the headliners.

"I'm definitely going to Ozzfest to see Cradle Of Filth on the side stage," said Corey Young, 18. "I'd love to see the Deftones if I could afford the tickets." Young went on to say that he wasn't interested in seeing Osbourne himself perform because he's "kinda old" and that he'd watch Metallica "just to say I've seen them."

The young women who expressed interest in attending were just as devoted to their favorite bands. "I just love Chevelle and want to go to Ozzfest to see them," remarked 20-year-old Nikitaha Cerve-Blue Eagle. When asked about high prices, she replied that she didn't care, that she'd pay anything to see the band that excited her, but she added that she wasn't really interested in seeing the festival headliner.

At least based on this admittedly anecdotal evidence, the young-old strategy seems to work, but who benefits the most? Obviously the headliners and organizers profit financially, but what about the young bands starting out? According to Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, a crew not especially young but relatively new in the public eye, it's not always a mutually beneficial situation.

"We were playing to empty seats. We were like ginger to cleanse their palates," Homme said, referring to the Queens' stint on Ozzfest. "The more they hated us, the more we antagonized them. As fun as it might have been to piss off rednecks, it didn't really help our career. We probably alienated people who might have stumbled across our records casually."

It seems to be a crapshoot: For every band that jumps off the second stage to sell a million records, countless others disappear without a trace, to be replaced with a fresh pack of musicians eager to stake their claim. Needless to say, the older bands and organizers are more than happy to take whatever credibility and fan base they can get from them. Like the remora and the manta ray, the old/established act and the young/hopeful act have a symbiotic relationship, one that ensures the survival of both. It just wouldn't be summer without them.

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