This interview is a must for all musicians–especially the ones who find themselves playing local gigs only, trying to make it in today’s multi-media music industry, or in Mayer’s own words, the ones who are willing to “sleep on a pool table every night on tour” if they must, because of an unquenchable “desire to be a rock-star”.
The focus of the interview never wanes far off the star’s image. Mayer openly admits to his endless struggle with understanding and instilling a certainty into who we, as a public, think he is; who he wants us to think he is; and who he thinks he really is. This trinity woven thread is what keeps Mayer talking, and acts as the gravitational center point to his pendulum like tangents into sex, relationships, masturbation, media, and oh-yeah–music.
Surprisingly, (at least to me anyhow) is that it is all layered in some profound wisdom. I personally enjoyed the awakening. Amazon.com reported only of the Jessica Simpson sex bits; Perez Hilton advertised his review on the parts about himself (there’s a shock); And TMZ.com chose to focus on the racist issue in the article and Mayer’s use of the n-word (which, for the record, I did not like or approve of at all. As a white man in this country, you just don’t EVER get a pass to say that word!).
Needless to say, I was going into the article with my cynic reading glasses on. Who can blame me? I guess I should have listened to my own advice and not fallen for the tabloid responses. But then again, everyone needs a sound bite (see previous article “American Idiot”), so who can blame Amazon, TMZ, or Perez for tossing out the bait?
So if you don’t own one John Mayer album; if you think he is a douche bag; if you could care less about the sappy tunes he writes and what it was like to fuck Jessica Simpson, then buy this month’s issue of Playboy Magazine. You’ll love it.
And here’s why:
John Mayer publicly grapples with his own inhibitions about fame as a musician in 2010. Fame has become an institution in and of itself in the last ten years, and Mayer finds himself at the core of the evolution. He even takes the time to compare his more recent rise to stardom to that of his ex-flame Jennifer Anniston; “I think she’s still hoping it goes back to 1998. She saw my involvement in technology as courting distraction. And I always said, ‘These are the new rules.’” Tannenbaum responds with the observation that “the rules of celebrity have changed since Friends made her a star,” noting the difference between Anniston and Mayer is that Anniston became famous in a time where talent was the vehicle to recognition; Mayer when talent was a commodity of recognition. Today I would argue the latter is becoming more and more true–recognition is now the method of exposure before talent need be considered. It is get famous first, then show the world what you can do. What is the new direction our culture is taking? And how should musicians who are looking to “break thru” be receiving this message?
Well, if you are like John Mayer you should only starve for attention if you are prepared to spend a life either: a) defending a self-perceived image or, b) living a society-fulfilling prophecy. No matter which path you chose, don’t let your music suffer. Furthermore, continue to ask yourself what your motivation is for the music you pursue. Take some of Mayer’s advice on this, “[o]nce you put aside girls and money, it forces you to realign your motivation for being a musician….I’ve gone from being a musician to being a celebrity. And when people do that, their work usually suffers.” Mayer may sound sardonic, but it is brazenly honest. He talks about what sort of arrogance it took for him to become–quote unquote–a “rock star,” and now, after trying to repair his manwhorish reputation through, ahem, over self-indulgence, he is going to try some kind of “fuck you” attitude in 2010, with a “goal to get more mention in Us Weekly than ever.”
(I think he has already started out on this new path. Or did I need to point out the obvious?)
Mayer seems comfortable with where he is at, both in our opinions of him and his own self-consciousness. Finding himself “squarely nestled in the crosshairs of [our] criticism and media reproach,” his attitude towards Playboy for interviewing him, his reader for caring, and me for writing this, is holistic and existential. At best it is taken as pure comedy–a mask he has now chosen to wear for our entertainment on the outside and his gratification to dupe us on the inside. How Bob Dylan of him! At worst–the point is missed entirely and Mayer will continue to wear the mask we have chosen for him, and even then he will still be laughing at us. How Louis Armstrong of him! “I’m sort of selling them [us] the idea that it’s rainbows and unicorns. I could explain that, in fact, I’m not a douche bag, but that would be at the expense of believing in magic. I don’t want to tear down the façade.”
I have met a lot of musicians who are happy playing gig after gig in local clubs and who claim they have no intention or desire to ever “make it.” Whether their claim is sincere or a simple explanation and defense mechanism as to why they have never gone large, only they will ever known. For the sake of argument however, let us assume that it is a genuine assertion. After all, look at the state of the American music art form–jazz. Most jazz musicians spend a lifetime only ever playing small venue gigs. Even the famous beboppers of the forties and fifties recall their best performances to be in places like “The Five Spot” or “Minton’s Playhouse.” I say good on them. I just wonder, and this is only out of my own pure curiosity, how many of the bands and artists we play on BTR are satisfied with their esoteric indie status and would like to keep it that way, versus how many are actually trying to “breakthru?”
If you want to become a rock star, read this interview. If you want to stay indie and just play your music for the few hundred or so fans that love it, read this interview. Mayer is on point to both audiences. Don’t be a fool like I was and fall for the Jessica Simpson smut-lines, or n-word controversy, and write the article off. And don’t go into it thinking it is just another celeb interview about a douche bag trying to sell more albums. There is some great insight here, especially for those on the brink who can’t decide if the brink provides a better view than the top. Allow me to plagiarize Mayer for a moment: You are more of a rock star while you are trying to become famous than you will ever be once you are famous–stay that way.
“Here’s the thing: I get less ass now than I did when I was in a local band. Because now I don’t like jumping through hoops. It’s been so long since I have taken a random girl home. I don’t want to have to submit myself for approval.”
You just did John.
– Kory French