The age of millionaire rockers was a mid-century blip

Tales From The Water Cooler
  • @timwalker

In this week's edition of New York, there's a wonderful profile of Grizzly Bear, an alt-rock band who are presently about as successful as alt-rock bands get. Their last album sold well over 200,000 copies; their songs have featured on high-profile TV ads and in blockbuster movie soundtracks.

Yet not all of Grizzly Bear's band members can even afford health insurance. They are, interviewer Nitsuh Abebe writes, "stuck somewhere between 'scraping by' and 'comfortable enough'". Even with a high profile, they've no chance of being highly paid by 21st century standards.

As if to rub their noses in it, the past month has seen a surfeit of memoirs by ancient, semi-relevant rockers, intent on reminding us of the days when they trashed hotel rooms, flew first class and bathed in champagne.

Last weekend Pete Townshend was serialised in The Times, recalling Mick Jagger's penis. Yesterday Rod Stewart was serialised in the Daily Mail, reluctantly reminiscing about his chain-shagger years, while, in The Guardian, Neil Young revealed he'd only bothered to write an autobiography because he'd broken his toe and had nothing better to do. "I highly recommend [writing] to any old rocker who is out of cash," he said.

Isn't it miserable that Townshend, Stewart and co can still make a packet from knocking out a book, when Grizzly Bear can't even earn a crust from a critically acclaimed LP?

If any of them were still recording music worth listening to, perhaps it'd be less galling. But it's clear that the millionaire rocker was a half-century blip, an accident of history, and that in future musicians will have to work hard to make a wage, like they did before the Beatles' first single, which – as if you didn't know – was released 50 years ago this week. Can't we shut up about it yet?