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Thesis Statement Re: Early Mortality of Rock Stars


silverystars 14 / 105  
Oct 18, 2007   #1
I am attempting to devise a thesis statement and outline related to a study titled "Elvis to Eminem: quantifying the price of fame through early mortality of European and North American rock and pop stars."

press.psprings.co.uk/jech/september/896_ch59915.pdf

It basically shows that there is an element of truth in the archetype of a rock and roller, and in the perpetuated idea of "live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse."

However, I would like to sort of dismantle the stereotype, if at all possible in light of this study. In reading "Wilco: Learning How To Die," I learned that Jeff Tweedy, a "rock star," for lack of a better term, hates the image of a drug-addled tortured artist. He talks about how he doesn't party, doesn't pursue oblivion, doesn't want to feel out of control. But due to untreated illnesses --- depression, panic disorder, chronic migraine headaches --- he began abusing prescription painkillers. So he ended up embodying the very thing he held in contempt. But he sought out help through a dual diagnosis rehabilitation center, where not only his addiction was treated, but also the psychological roots of his suffering.

My idea for a thesis statement is that Tweedy is a good example of the antithesis of the rock star stereotype. Those who pursue stardom for all the wrong reasons: not wanting to be creative or artistic, but solely for money, drugs, sex, etc.

The "Elvis to Eminem" study states that the "levels of substance use, suicide, violence and other risk behaviours can be reduced not just on an individual basis but through altering the environment." I found an article discussing the link between artistic brilliance and depression, and how many artists might not want to seek treatment for their suffering, lest their creativity becomes stifled. But the doctor interviewed states that "most creative people who have at least significant depression feel that having the depression treated enhances their creativity rather than reduces it." I think that Jeff Tweedy exemplifies that, in that he was searching for a "drug solution" for his pain, not to indulge in typical rock and roll riskiness.

I also have found that Jeff believes music to be the very thing that has helped him: "Music has probably saved my life. No, not probably - I know certainly it has saved my life. It is probably the only really healthy thing I've ever endeavored to do." So there is a bit of a paradox here: the music industry holds a lot of traps for those involved in it, but perhaps. because of music itself, people are capable of surviving and thriving in being a "rock star" (whatever that means by this point.)

Maybe the load rests primarily on the individual. If a person grows up with traumatic experiences from their childhood, it can have an effect on them that is exacerbated by being a rock star. One example is singer Elliott Smith, who ended up dying from what is believed to be self-inflicted knife wounds. He had abused drugs and alcohol up to a few months before his death; toxicology testing found that he was not on street drugs, and that prescribed medications present in his system were at "therapeutic or sub-therapeutic" levels. But he had begun having flashbacks of repressed memories of being sexually molested by his stepfather.

From what I have read about Jeff Tweedy, though, he was able to learn from his family what can arise from substance abuse: his brothers and father had trouble with alcohol, and from their examples he saw that he could fall into that if he was not careful. "I saw the life my dad had, and I knew I didn't want it . . . He had to care care of a family since he was seventeen, and the only real outlet he had was a twelve-pack after working all day. I saw the guitar as my outlet."

I hope that, despite my rambling, my thoughts are decipherable. I am just not sure at all how to assemble what information I have gathered about one artist, or how to sensibly divide one artist into three main points. If anyone has any ideas about this, they will be welcomed with open arms! :)
EF_Team2 1 / 1,708  
Oct 18, 2007   #2
Greetings!

You've certainly done some good research! If the main focus of the paper is to be Jeff Tweedy, perhaps you could look at it in terms of 1) What the stereotype is; 2) How Tweedy fits (or fit) it; and 3) How he rose above it, distinguishing himself from the others. It depends, in part, on how long the paper will be as to how deeply you want to delve into the psychological aspects of depression/creativity, but it certainly is an interesting topic. You could also focus mainly on his battle with depression and expand out from there to include others' experiences. The main thing, as you seem to be well aware, is to keep it cohesive, so make sure your thesis statement is not too broad.

I hope this helps!

Thanks,

Sarah, EssayForum.com
OP silverystars 14 / 105  
Oct 19, 2007   #3
Hello, Sarah:

Thank you for your reply. Your example outline got the ball rolling for me, and I dashed this off in about an hour. It is somewhat rough, but I am posting it just the same; to gauge whether or not I am heading in the right direction with this.

Introduction:

What do I need to say to set up my thesis?

One might get the impression simply by judging the titles of his songs that Jeff Tweedy, founder and lead singer/songwriter of the band Wilco, embodies the "drug-addled rock star" stereotype to a T: "I Must Be High," "A Shot in the Arm," "Handshake Drugs." But his lyrics belie that limited perception, especially in "Handshake Drugs": "I felt like a clown/I looked like someone I used to know/I felt alright/and if I ever was myself/I wasn't that night" (Tweedy.) These lyrics describe how his abuse of prescription painkillers to treat his depression, panic attacks, and chronic migraine headaches were making him someone he was not.

Thesis Statement.

While the "drug-addled rock star"stereotype is perpetuated by musicians who romanticize substance abuse, mental illness, and even early death, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, due to his disdain for that stereotype, has transcended it by rising above such self-destructive behavior.

Body:

What the stereotype is.

The rock star stereotype is perpetuated by famous musicians who embrace risky behavior such as drug and alcohol abuse and sexual promiscuity. Therefore, the common perception is that all rock musicians experience life in extreme, sordid contrast to the general population.

Television shows like Behind The Music contribute to this portrayal, by illustrating the hedonistic lives of rock stars, and how many of them, because they got involved in the music industry, they end up damaged or dead.

The study Elvis to Eminem: quantifying the price of fame through early mortality of European and North American rock and pop stars concludes pretty much the same; that, statistically, rock stars are twice as likely die young than the general population; alcohol and drug abuse-related problems accounts for more than one in four of those deaths. So there is an element of truth in the stereotype.

How Jeff Tweedy fit it.

The closest that Jeff Tweedy came to fitting the stereotype was during the making of the 2004 Wilco album "A Ghost is Born." He began using prescription painkillers to treat his worsening chronic migraine headaches, which were related to his depression and panic disorder. "I just felt like I wanted to feel better, and I wanted to keep functioning . . ." (MTVNews.com.) He went into rehab shortly before the release of "A Ghost is Born," where he was treated for both addiction and mental illness.

How Jeff Tweedy rose above it, distinguishing himself from the others.

1. Jeff Tweedy was not an example of the "drug-addled rock star" stereotype in the manner of his addiction; he wanted to be able to function, not get wasted.

He self-medicated in order to treat his feelings of depression and panic and the chronic migraine headaches that stemmed from those feelings.

An interview by CBS Cares with psychiatrist Dr. Nancy Andreasen of the University of Iowa discusses the link between creativity and depression, in that many artists don't seek treatment for their suffering for fear of stifling their creativity. Dr. Andreason states, however, that "most creative people who have at least significant depression feel that having the depression treated enhances their creativity rather than reduces it" (CBS.com.)

2. Jeff Tweedy rose above the"drug-addled rock star" stereotype because of his experience seeing the effects of similar behavior while growing up.

Jeff Tweedy's friend David Dethrow said, "His brothers and his father had their difficulties with drinking, and Jeff knew he had to be careful. He knew where he'd be heading if he kept it up, because he saw it in his own home. He didn't like being out of control." (Kot 53-54.)

Tweedy was conscious that he had to try to avoid that tendency, lest he fall into the same trap: "I saw the life my dad had, and I knew I didn't want it . . . He had to care of a family since he was seventeen, and the only real outlet he had was a twelve-pack after working all day. I saw the guitar as my outlet" (Kot 15.)

3. Jeff Tweedy rose above the"drug-addled rock star" stereotype because he hates it.

"As a culture we just seem so obsessed with it, we have all these VH1 shows, everything, Behind the Music, every single thing this culture does seems to perpetuate the idea that if you're gonna do something like that, really believe yourself and make some art and stick your neck out, you're gonna f-ing pay a heavy price. You're gonna end up in the ditch and you're gonna get screwed up and you're gonna do drugs, and I think it's a myth to kind of keep people from trying. Maybe it's a good thing to tell yourself at the end of the day when you're in the checkout line at the grocery store, going through the drudgery of another f-ing day, you buy one of those magazines and go, 'Well, at least I don't have to do that'" (Reese.)

4. Jeff Tweedy rose above the"drug-addled rock star" stereotype because of his love of music.

"Music has probably saved my life. No, not probably - I know certainly it has saved my life. It is probably the only really healthy thing I've ever endeavored to do (DeRogatis.)

In rehab, Tweedy recalls, "The doctors told me, 'Your panic goes away completely when you play guitar,' . . . I guess my color changes, everything. That's why we've never canceled shows, and why I struggled with these problems on my own for a long time. Because I always knew when I got onstage and played, I would feel better" (Binelli.)
EF_Team2 1 / 1,708  
Oct 19, 2007   #4
Greetings!

I think you've done a great job of sketching out your essay. The only thing I might suggest is not to go into too much detail before you get to the thesis statement. Did your instructor advise you to "set up" the thesis, rather than lead with it? If not, you could just switch the introductory paragraph with the thesis. It just seems to me that quoting specific lyrics from specific songs belongs after the thesis, rather than before it.

Aside from that, I don't really have any other critiques at this point because you're doing so well. Just keep an eye out for typos or missing words. I didn't try to correct them because you're not finished yet.

Keep up the good work!

Thanks,

Sarah, EssayForum.com
OP silverystars 14 / 105  
Oct 24, 2007   #5
Hello,

I have tried to flesh out my outline, but am a little uncertain as to whether I am making myself clear. I assure you that your eyes are not fooling you: this is probably fraught with syntax errors. But I haven't taken the time to work on those yet. I'd rather make sure the foundation and structure are intact before I worry about, oh, say, interior design. :) I have about 1300 words so far; I need at least 1500.

//removed//

The body of this needs work; I am most certain of that, but after having written it, I am at a point where I am not sure what needs work.

I also have no clue as to how to conclude this. I feel that I have spun out my reasons like disparate threadbare yarns (for lack of a better similie,) and I am therefore puzzled as how to tie them all together into a good conclusion.

Thanks for all of your help, Sarah!
EF_Team2 1 / 1,708  
Oct 25, 2007   #6
Greetings!

I think it really is coming along very well! Some suggestions for the body:

One of the somewhat foreboding tracks on the album: "Handshake Drugs." - I wasn't sure what this sentence was meant to do. It feels rather as if you presented half a thought and left it hanging there, or that it is left over from the sentences earlier in the paragraph.

Jeff Tweedy has tried to rise above the "drug-addled rock star" stereotype. Because of that, he has distinguished himself from others. - This can't stand on its own as a paragraph. It's unclear what its function is.

Because of his desire for normalcy, Jeff Tweedy tried to eradicate [delete "of"] his feelings of depression, panic attacks, and chronic migraine headaches with pain pills.

Is there anything about his personal life or his plans for the future that you could put into the conclusion? That would help give it a sense of going forward, and avoid stagnation--a sort of "down the long, dark tunnel into the light" kind of feel would be a good way to end.

I hope this helps!

Thanks,

Sarah, EssayForum.com
OP silverystars 14 / 105  
Nov 7, 2007   #7
Here is a very rough draft of my research paper:

The Rock and Roll Stereotype

// removed //
EF_Team2 1 / 1,708  
Nov 8, 2007   #8
Greetings!

I love the opening! And the rest of it is equally good! I have just a few editing suggestions:

Because of his desire for normalcy, he took painkillers in an attempt to eradicate his feelings of depression, his panic attacks, and his migraines, which he. But the pills he took made him someone he was not. - Looks like part of this got lost in a cut and paste. ;-)

lest he fall into the same trap. So much so that, when he started dating his future wife Sue Miller, he quit alcohol "cold turkey" - The second phrase is technically a fragment; you could fix that by eliminating the period and using an em-dash: into the same trap--so much so that,

Because of Jeff Tweedy's intense dislike and lack of respect for the kind of behavior that is attributed to many rock stars, he has survived and thrived. survived his own drug experience with the help of rehabilitation and has therefore thrived artistically - I'd do the same thing here: survived and thrived--survived his own drug experience ...

Really good work!

Thanks,

Sarah, EssayForum.com
OP silverystars 14 / 105  
Nov 8, 2007   #9
Hello Sarah,

I have appreciated all of your help. I have received mostly As for my papers, and only a few Bs, but only for slight syntax and formatting errors. In short, I cannot thank you enough for your assessments. :)

Here is a slightly revised edition. The previous version can be deleted, if need be. This is 1826 words.

The Rock and Roll Stereotype

The image of a "drug-addled rock star" is one who embraces risky and careless behavior, who romanticizes the lifestyle summed up in one common phrase: "sex, drugs, and rock and roll." The general perception is, therefore, that all rock musicians are gluttons for that mode of living - that they exist in extreme, sordid contrast to the general population. But while the "drug-addled rock star" image is certainly perpetuated by musicians who romanticize substance abuse, mental illness, and even early death, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy has transcended it by rising above such self-destructive behavior because of his disdain for that stereotype.

One doesn't have to look too far to see the promotion of the "drug-addled rock star" stereotype in the media. Tabloid magazine covers regularly feature the latest casualties of rock stardom. Television shows like Behind the Music specialize in illustrating the hedonistic lives of rock stars, highlighting how many musicians, because of their involvement in the music industry, end up either damaged or dead. Even a study released in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health showed that rock stars are twice as likely to die prematurely than the general population. The study revealed that there is an element of truth in the stereotype, noting that such factors as "stress, changes from popularity to obscurity, and exposure to environments where alcohol and drugs are easily available, can all contribute to substance use as well as other self-destructive behaviors" (Bellis 901). However, there are those who absolutely do not wish to fit the stereotype. One example is Jeff Tweedy, though he has had his own struggle with substance abuse.

One might get the impression simply by judging the titles of his songs that Tweedy, who is the founder and lead singer/songwriter of the Chicago-based rock band Wilco, fits the "drug-addled rock star" stereotype: "I Must Be High," "A Shot in the Arm," "Handshake Drugs." But his lyrics belie that limited perception, especially those of "Handshake Drugs":

They were translating poorly
I felt like a clown
I looked like someone I used to know
I felt alright
and if I ever was myself, I wasn't that night ("Handshake Drugs").

Those lyrics, in retrospect, convey how he might have felt under the effect of prescription painkillers during the making of Wilco's 2004 album A Ghost is Born. Because of his desire for normalcy, he took painkillers in an attempt to eradicate his feelings of depression, his panic attacks, and his migraines, which "had plagued him since boyhood - they'd caused him to miss forty days of elementary school one year alone" (Kot 50). But the pills he was taking were making him someone he was not. Jeff later said, "I just felt like I wanted to feel better, and I wanted to keep functioning" (qtd. in MTVNews.com). But it soon became too much, forcing him to enter himself into a Chicago rehabilitation clinic in April 2004. His stay in rehab delayed the release of A Ghost is Born, but did not affect its track list; one of the songs featured on the album was, ironically, "Handshake Drugs." The fact that he personally sought treatment for his problems, though, is one of many reasons why he does not embody the stereotype.

Jeff Tweedy is not an example of the "drug-addled rock star" stereotype because of the manner of his addiction; the reason that he self-medicated was because he wanted to be able to function, not get wasted. An interview by CBS Cares, a health-oriented division of the television network CBS, with psychiatrist Dr. Nancy Andreasen discussed whether there is a link between creativity and depression. In particular, one idea highlighted in the interview is that many artists do not seek treatment for their suffering because they fear it will stifle their creativity. However, Dr. Andreason said that "most creative people who have at least significant depression feel that having the depression treated enhances their creativity rather than reduces it" (qtd. in CBS.com). This thought certainly applies to Tweedy; he wanted to be able to function and, above that, he wanted to be able to create. Ultimately, Tweedy found that treatment was the only way he could ensure that he could achieve that.

Another reason why Jeff Tweedy transcends the stereotype is because he simply hates it. In Greg Kot's book "Wilco: Learning How To Die," Tweedy was quoted as unmincingly stating, "I despise the 'drug-addled rock star' image" (Kot 131). Via an e-mail interview, I asked Kot what he thought made Tweedy's substance abuse so different from the average rock star. "I think critical to Tweedy's development, and his disdain for the rock star image, is his background in punk," Kot wrote. "Anybody of that generation, who saw [This is Spinal Tap] and saw how ridiculous rock can be, is very self-aware about subjects such as celebrity, sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, etc. That doesn't mean they avoid these traps, however." Kot told me that it took Jeff a long time to open up to him about his self-medicating. "He wasn't proud of it, and didn't want it be the focus of any story about him. Contrast his attitude toward the dudes in Mötley Crüe or Marilyn Manson or Courtney Love. They are the old-fashioned rock stars, who revel in how screwed up they can get, and have written books about it." Kot summarized his view by saying, "If Tweedy represents the new breed of rock star - more thoughtful, yet just as reckless in many ways - it doesn't mean he's not prone to the same self-destructive traps. He's just more conflicted about it."

Jeff Tweedy has himself talked how the stereotype has the power to discourage people from being creative for fear of succumbing to the trappings entailed with fame:

As a culture we just seem so obsessed with it, we have all these VH1 shows, everything, Behind the Music, every single thing this culture does seems to perpetuate the idea that if you're gonna do something like that, really believe yourself and make some art and stick your neck out, you're gonna fucking pay a heavy price. You're gonna end up in the ditch and you're gonna get screwed up and you're gonna do drugs, and I think it's a myth to kind of keep people from trying. Maybe it's a good thing to tell yourself at the end of the day when you're in the checkout line at the grocery store, going through the drudgery of another fucking day, you buy one of those magazines and go, 'Well, at least I don't have to do that' (qtd. in Reese).

While growing up, Jeff's experience with the effect of self-destructive behavior on his family helped to shape his contempt for the excessiveness of the typical rock star lifestyle. David Dethrow, a childhood friend of Tweedy's, said that "his brothers and his father had their difficulties with drinking, and Jeff knew he had to be careful. He knew where he'd be heading if he kept it up, because he saw it in his own home. He didn't like being out of control" (qtd. in Kot 53-54). Tweedy grew conscious of his need to avoid drinking, lest he fall into the same trap - so much so that, when he started dating his future wife Sue Miller, he quit alcohol "cold turkey" in 1991 (Kot 53). Jeff himself said, "I saw the life my dad had, and I knew I didn't want it. He had to care of a family since he was seventeen, and the only real outlet he had was a twelve-pack after working all day. I saw the guitar as my outlet" (qtd. in Kot 15).

Ultimately, what kept Tweedy from descending deep into the abyss of stereotypical rock star decadence was his love of music itself. According to the article "Tweedy's Ghost Stories," written by Mark Binelli for Rolling Stone, Tweedy's stay in rehab initially meant losing the privilege of playing his guitar, which was something he did every day up to that point. Soon, though, Jeff was given permission to play guitar during the clinic's art-therapy classes, which led to an interesting observation. Tweedy said, "The doctors told me, 'Your panic goes away completely when you play guitar' . . . I guess my color changes, everything. That's why we've never canceled shows, and why I struggled with these problems on my own for a long time. Because I always knew when I got onstage and played, I would feel better" (qtd. in Binelli). Shortly after leaving rehab, Jeff said that "music has probably saved my life. No, not probably - I know certainly it has saved my life. It is probably the only really healthy thing I've ever endeavored to do" (qtd. in DeRogatis). The healing effect that music has had on Jeff shows that there need not be a damaging trade-off in being a rock musician.

Because of Jeff Tweedy's intense dislike and lack of respect for the kind of behavior that is attributed to many rock stars, he has survived and thrived - survived his own drug experience with the help of rehabilitation and has therefore thrived personally and artistically. On Wilco's 2007 album Sky Blue Sky - the first studio album by the band since Tweedy's stay in rehab - he sounds as if he is starting anew. As one article described, the album "sounds like a record written by a man whose life has flashed before his eyes" (Mathieson). The lyrics of Sky Blue Sky's title song reflects that:

With a sky blue sky
This rotten time
Wouldn't seem so bad to me now
Oh, if I didn't die
I should be satisfied
I survived
That's good enough for now ("Sky Blue Sky").

Those lyrics convey a renewed sense of acceptance, satisfaction and well-being - feelings that are found buried and twisted within the lyrics of the previously mentioned "Handshake Drugs."

The general perception that all musicians live dangerously in comparison to the general population is contradicted by the life of Jeff Tweedy. The manner of his addiction was not typical because he was not trying to get wasted or lose his mind on drugs; he wanted to be able to function. He hates the stereotype of a rock musician whose very being is entwined with the glamorization of chemical dependance. He also saw how his family was affected by substance abuse, which molded his disdainful view of such behavior. Above all, writing and performing music is what has kept him from growing to be the very "drug-addled rock star" image he has decried on many occasions.

As J.D. Salinger once wrote in The Catcher in the Rye, "The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one." Jeff Tweedy does not want to die for the cause of the "sex, drugs, and rock and roll" lifestyle; he wants simply to live so that he can continue to pursue the music that he so loves, which is the best example he can set as the antithesis of the Rock and Roll Stereotype.
EF_Team2 1 / 1,708  
Nov 9, 2007   #10
You're very welcome! I think the final result of your essay is excellent!

Sarah, EssayForum.com


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