How terribly normal to be 70

By Richard Lee

Motion pictures such as La Bamba, The Buddy Holly Story, The Doors, Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody tell the stories of some of rock’n’roll’s most influential artists.

In these films and other rock’n’roll biopics, audiences see individuals growing into celebrity and coping with all that fame and fortune brings – the good as well as the bad.

What audiences do not see are the issues entertainers confront when they grow old and struggle to remain successful and relevant in an industry whose biggest stars often are its youngest.

This paper focuses on three films whose (fictional) protagonists are older musicians putting their lives and careers into context.

  • Danny Collins – The title character is a superstar with riches earned during the classic rock era, but he wants what money cannot buy, including a reconciliation with the son he has never met.
  • Crazy Heart – Otis “Bad” Blake is a has-been country music star who struggles with alcoholism and is angry that a musician he once mentored has become a success and left him behind.
  • Ricki and the Flash – Ricki Rendazzo abandoned her family to follow her dreams of becoming a rock star but ended up playing in small bars and supporting herself by working in a supermarket.

This paper explores how these three films provide audiences with stronger connections to celebrities than the popular biopics that offer glimpses of lives beyond the reach of most audience members. These three films show the human side of entertainers struggling with the same issues that confront the general public.

The first part of the paper lays out the rationale for this theory; the second part uses existing research studies on film, music and aging to support the theory.

Jandoli Institute Executive Director Richard Lee presented this paper on Feb. 5 at the “No one listens to Springsteen anymore. He’s history!”: Pop-rock Music and 2000s Cinema conference, which was co-organized by the research groups CREW EA 4399 (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle) and CIRLEP EA4299 (Université Reims Champagne-Ardenne, France).

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