Although rock and pop stars are supposed to be wild-living, devil-may-care gadabouts with no sense of social responsibility, leaving a trail of broken bottles and broken-hearted conquests in their wake, the kind of lives that even the most raucous stars lead can point in the vague direction of wisdom. Sometimes…
And that wisdom can be very useful for other newly minted stars busy testing every boundary put in front of them. The advice of people who’ve never been there won’t cut it. What they need are some words of wisdom from a pro, someone they respect. What they need is the fabled “Bono talk.”
But it’s not just Bono who can put a fatherly arm around a truculent starlet and offer them tips for the long haul. Some of music’s elder statesmen (and wildest rogues) have offered a helping hand from time to time.
To celebrate the release of the documentary Bruce Springsteen: In His Own Words (airing Sunday on BBC America, 10/9c), let’s take a look at five great advice givers — including The Boss — from the world of rock and pop:
It might seem a little controlling or coercive, but like a lot of dads, the U2 frontman is chockfull of advice whenever a band threatens to take residence in his band’s hallowed arena. He’s offered “the Bono talk” to everyone from Kurt Cobain and the Strokes to Oasis, Coldplay and The Chainsmokers (see above).
Perhaps Bono’s finest piece of advice, the thing every hotshot band should have on their tour laminates, is this salty thought: “If you’re going out for dinner four times a week and you look round the table and everybody’s on your payroll, then you’ve probably become a p***k.”
Having battled with substance abuse himself, Elton is known for offering solace and steerage to those talents who’ve become enamored of drink or drugs to such a degree it’s starting to impede their abilities. He’s been a personal mentor to Robbie Williams, Pete Doherty (above), Ed Sheeran and George Michael. And he takes his duties very seriously, as these comments to the Daily Mail regarding both Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston prove: “I wish I could have helped [Amy]. I remember seeing her and just seeing everything that was going to happen and knowing there was no one there to stop it… [And with Whitney] I tried, I left messages but either it never got through or she just didn’t want to call me back. I listen to her voice and I just want to cry.”
Very few people are in a position to offer Bono advice, but Bruce is certainly one. And he told Coldplay the best way to play the Superbowl is to rehearse until the whole show is just muscle memory, adding, “Twelve minutes. It ain’t long, but it’s long enough!”
However, there’s at least one superb moment of guidance he brought to the life of Against Me! singer Laura Jane Grace. In her autobiography Tranny she describes having been on the receiving end of some stiff criticism from hardcore fans who felt their band was selling out by signing to the wrong record label: “People tried to take the instruments out of our hands while we were playing, they threw stink bombs at us on stage, they poured bleach all over our merch, our van became a traveling canvas for their graffiti.”
After several months of grief, including an arrest for fighting off a disgruntled ex-fan in a coffeeshop in Tallahassee, Laura was at a low ebb, until she received a letter from Bruce, in which he wrote, “If you’re not reaching out beyond the audience you have to the greater audience you might have, you’ll never find out what your band is truly capable of, what it’s worth, and how much meaning you can bring into your fans’ lives.” And after advice like that, from a performer with his kind of integrity, Laura’s resolve returned and the band kept going.
At the height of Justin Bieber’s tussles with the media (and various police forces), there were a few celebrity friends that offered help and advice. One was Adam Levine from Maroon 5. Another was Will Smith, who rang him on a weekly basis to check in. But perhaps the most — and least — surprising was Eminem. While their musical output is very different, both men have been in the eye of the storm of public outrage, and Eminem has taken a very personal interest in Justin’s wellbeing over the years. In 2013, his manager Paul Rosenberg told the Hollywood Reporter that he’d reached out to Justin’s manager Scooter Braun, saying: “If you ever want Eminem to talk to him, he would do it in a second. He cares about that kid.”
Marshall Mathers‘ actual fathering skills and parental generosity are well documented. His daughter Hailie, now 21, has appeared on several Eminem songs, and he also adopted his ex-wife Kim’s daughter Whitney (15), and her twin sister’s daughter Alaina (24).
Stories of David Bowie’s wisdom and kindness were doing the rounds long before his death in 2016, with fellow performers from Rick Wakeman to Moby speaking of his generosity as a collaborator and restless need to keep his mind moving. And certainly fame allowed him to play a fraternally supportive role in the careers of two of his heroes, namely Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. But perhaps the best illustration of his support comes from an account of a conversation he had with Nina Simone, the jazz and soul icon, and someone with a formidable reputation in the field of not suffering fools gladly. He met Nina in a club in 1974, and she confided that her confidence was at a low ebb. He asked for her number, and called later — at around 3am — to check she was OK, saying: “The first thing I want you to know is that you’re not crazy — don’t let anybody tell you you’re crazy, because where you’re coming from, there are very few of us out there.’”
Touched by this act of kindness — and let’s face it, superb dadding even given the ages of both people at the time — she found herself in regular contact with him, talking things over at length every night for a month. He was inspired by her version of “Wild is the Wind,” and recorded his own version in tribute, and for her part, Nina had this to say about her new best friend: “He’s got more sense than anybody I’ve ever known. It’s not human — David ain’t from here.”