“Pop music is supposed to be fleeting; likewise, its players,” writes Nick Duerden of “an industry obsessed with the idea of novelty”. But what happens to pop stars after their Warholian 15 minutes of fame?
In his new book Exit Stage Left, dozens of former stars (let’s not call them has-beens) tell Duerden in often excruciating detail how it feels to lose their footing at pop’s summit and begin their descent to earth.
“Every artist finds that they are no longer fashionable at some point,” says singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading. “There are no exceptions, none.”
“All doors were shut to us, people wouldn’t take our calls,” recounts Sonya Madan from Britpop band Echobelly.
Yet sometimes it’s the artist who loses interest. Snow Patrol singer Gary Lightbody found he couldn’t write commercial songs any more. The group made an album that represented a “change of direction” (“something no record company wants to hear”, notes Duerden) and a long hiatus followed. His group still records and tours, but not “to schedule, or to order. No more lighters-aloft ballads”.
It is, Duerden explains, “the musician’s familiar dilemma: remain within the box into which you were first placed decades previously, or else go your own way, and to hell with the consequences”. Many people bought the Blow Monkeys’ 1986 single Digging Your Scene, but far fewer bought the 10 solo albums by the band’s singer “Dr” Robert Howard. But, he tells Duerden, “I don’t need the appreciation of strangers any more.”