What Makes A Great Rock and Roll Star?

Patti Smith performing at the Orpheum Theatre 2015

Patti Smith – Orpheum Theatre – 2015

While there are lots of opinions on what makes a great rock and roll star – my documentary, The Shamans of Rock & Roll, puts forward the proposition that there’s a magical potency to great rock and rollers – with fans who seem to almost worship them  – because they are, in fact, the shamans for their tribe.

We look at the early lives and music of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, and John Lennon from a shamanic perspective.  And, while the shaman archetype is by no means limited to just these four artists – nor is it limited to just men – I’ve been called out more than once for not including a woman among the four artists that are highlighted.

While I can appreciate that people have differing opinions on which artists they consider worthy of analysis – I consider comments suggesting that my documentary will be viewed as anti-woman or that I’m intentionally excluding women to be shortsighted.  After all, I’m a woman; I have an anthropologist as an adviser who’s a woman; and she’ll be interviewed along with other musical artists that are women.

Bottom line, I’ve chosen to focus on these 4 guys because they had the biggest impact on my life. As a teenager growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania, they inspired me and informed my worldview in a way that other artists have not. That’s not to say that I didn’t love and appreciate lots of other singers and rock & roll artists. But, for me, these guys rose above the fray.

And, it seems that I’m not alone in my experience.

During a recent conversation about her new book, M Train, Patti Smith offered insight into how she sees herself as an artist. She said that she doesn’t consider herself to be a great singer or a musician – she considers herself to be a writer who performs rock & roll. And when she performs, she “grabs for the performer that informs the work” that she’s doing. Adding,

I just modeled myself after the ones I related to . . . and let’s face it, our greatest rock stars have been men . . . I’m sorry, but I haven’t seen a girl yet as great as Jimi Hendrix.

She admitted that it’s a tricky thing to talk about. And, that although she loves women,

When I was young . . . when I thought of rock & roll stars . . . coming up through the 60’s and early 70’s, I gravitated toward our male performers . . . Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and Bob Dylan.

Patti went on to say that as an artist, from an early age, she “staked the right to not have to be fettered by gender.” She knows who she is. And, she doesn’t like the idea of being labeled a “female artist.” Do people say that Picasso was a white, male artist? Artists shouldn’t have to be identified by their sexuality, their race, or their gender.

I hear you, Patti – and, I couldn’t agree more.



“An Evening with Patti Smith. M Train. Reading and conversation with Jonathan Lethem.”  Hosted by The Library Foundation of Los Angeles at The Orpheum Theatre.  November 16, 2015.  http://lfla.org/event/an-evening-with-patti-smith-2/

You Might Say I’m A Dreamer. . .

Anthropologists suggest that a significant factor determining whether or not a person becomes a shaman is that from an early age they are dreamers who have out-of-the-ordinary perceptions.  Their dreams connect them with the spirit world – which, ultimately, is the source of their power.

Like a shaman candidate, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, and John Lennon were dreamers who saw the world differently than most people.

Cave drawings on Sicily - Learn about John Lennon's Connection to Shamanism in the new John Lennon Movie - Shaman's of Rock and Roll

Cave drawings in Sicily

As a child growing up in Minnesota, Dylan recalled staring at the snow and having “amazing hallucinogenic experiences doing nothing but looking out your window.”[ref]Howard Sounes, Down the Highway. The Life of Bob Dylan, (New York: Grove Press, 2001), 17.[/ref] Later, in a “Rolling Stone” interview he commented that “I live in my dreams. I don’t really live in the actual world.” [ref]Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stone Interview, January 26, 1978.[/ref]

Jimi Hendrix was also a shy, dreamy kid – who spoke with a stammer. He claimed to see colors, not notes in his head as he played his guitar.[ref]Charles Cross, Room Full of Mirrors. A Biography of Jimi Hendrix, (New York: Hyperion, 2005), 133.[/ref]  “I used to dream in Technicolor that 1966 was the year that something would happen to me.”[ref]Ibid., 118.[/ref]  And, in 1966, Jimi went to London and everything changed.

John Lennon said that “psychedelic vision is reality to me and always was. Even as a child. When I looked at myself in the mirror . . . I used to, literally, trance out . . . seeing these hallucinatory images of my face changing, becoming cosmic and complete.”[ref]David Sheff, All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko One, (New York: Playboy Enterprises, Inc, St. Martins Press, 1981), 158.[/ref]

And, in his song ‘When I Live My Dream’ David Bowie declares that: “It’s a broken heart that dreams.” He acknowledges that he’s a “dreaming kind of guy.” And, he promises: “Nothing in my dream can hurt you.”[ref]From the album The World of David Bowie released in 1970.[/ref] This is just one of Bowie’s many songs about dreams.

These artists were definitely in touch with the dreamtime. It was a source of their creativity and it gave them the power to transform their lives.  And, for those who were listening . . . it showed us a way of connecting with realities far beyond our normal experience . . . opening us to the possibility of connecting with the source of our power.