Rock (Star) In A Hard Place

Posted on August 8, 2006

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Issues of race, good taste and media manipulation in Rockstar: Supernova

rockstar070506.jpgManufactured rock music? Some critics display their disdain over the current ‘Rockstar: Supernova’ series by tagging it as such, among so many ways of taking potshots at what is obviously a flawed but otherwise watch-able show. Surprisingly enough, my wife has been following the show more religiously than I do, considering that I am the in-house rock music aficionado. While I personally wouldn’t go so far as to tag Supernova ‘manufactured’, I have several issues and concerns that I would like to address.

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Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction/The Panic Channel guitarist) has somehow lost his edge (and I don’t mean straightedge, as he’s quite notorious for his partying habits in the past). What happened to the attitude that he was known for during the late 90’s Guitar World Magazine front cover pictorial? The corresponding write up in the said magazine espoused him to be the heaviest guitarist to ever play in the Chili Peppers when he replaced John Frusciante. While viewers might praise him for being the ‘nicest’ commentator in the ‘Rockstar’ series, a Ryan Seacrest-type of advocate for the underdog, Navarro seems to have been reduced to being a Paula Abdul, giving commentaries not because of his apparent expertise as a music veteran but as a gothic patron saint of pity on reality TV.

Jason Newstead has always been the underrated bassist of yore, despite critical acclaim when he released a solo album years back. It has always been predicted that he is on the verge of leaving Metallica, especially when his bass parts were not highlighted the sound engineers in The Black Album and Live Shit, being drowned out in the low midlevel, high gain thrashings of Hetfield and Hammett. Supernova just might be his real ticket to musical recognition. Unfortunately, his thrash metal technical sensibilities have been similarly subdued, which makes me think whether the executive producers of the show actually influenced the band to be soft with the contestants when it comes to talent. There are occasional flashes of music vet brilliance, but those usually come out whenever one contestant or another plays a grunge number, if not some old radio rock ditty that he wouldn’t be caught listening to back in his thrash metal days.

Tommy Lee, while not necessarily an exceptional drummer (that title belongs to drummers like Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy and King’s X’s Jerry Gaskill) but nonetheless deserving of credit for being the skinbeater for glam rockers Motley Crue, seems unbelievably mild-mannered and soft-spoken after lying low for years of bad press and his attempt to get into the rap metal bandwagon with Methods of Mayhem.

It has been the politically-correct cliché that race does not have anything to do with it, but one look at the mostly Caucasian majority of the contestants makes one think twice. What are the chances of that happening in a reality TV show that claims on its advertising that it did a ‘worldwide’ audition? Are there not enough talented rock singers in Asia, Africa (specifically South Africa, which has a thriving scene of both mainstream and underground rock.), Malaysia (where the prog/thrash/death flames are kept burning), Singapore (despite heavy government censorship, several alternative/punk/metal bands flourish) or the Middle East (specifically Israel and Pakistan, both of which have emo-metal scenes and Sufi singers who swear by Led Zep, as in the case of the Pakistani rock supergroup Junoon) for at least one of them to actually make it to the show?

Or is it because of the known fact that Western mainstream rock music as an industry is still Single White Male-dominated and has enjoyed the position of being the benchmark of what rock is supposed to sound like all these years? I leave that for people to judge. Sure, there are more Caucasians in the Western Hemisphere, but something tells me that SWM rock hegemony is still somehow being maintained.

To be realistic, Asian mainstream rock fans will still be screaming for and worshipping the bigger-than-life White Male Rock Gods, simply for the inherent sense of The Other and The Different  that similarly duped the early Native Americans into giving all their gold to the White Conquistadors. I take into exception countries like Japan, where local rock stars are venerated like heroes in their own right while somehow maintaining an unsure balance in their patronization and appropriation of Western influences.

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Posted in: Music Reviews