Item! Guess who's on tour? That's right! Minnie Driver! Hooray! You might not know it, but Minnie was once an actress, perhaps most memorable in swooningly romantic roles in Grosse Point Blank and Good Will Hunting. Sadly, concentration on her singing career means that she has to ignore her acting career. Why, it's been almost a full month since her last release and we may have to wait a few more before getting her next one! How about them apples? Ha ha!
She's not alone, though! Someone's finally filling in Frank Sinatra's old shoes. A crooner and a raging drug addict? Why, who else but Robert Downey, Jr.? Don't worry, like Minnie Driver, he's also taking a little time off of his career to release his album. He's only got four movies coming out in 2005 (but don't worry -- 3 of those are in production and might not be released until '06).
Maybe I'm a little bitter.
It's one thing for manufactured items like Hillary Duff and Lindsay Lohan to have singing careers on top of acting careers. It's all part of the package. They don't have a choice. They're not real; they're products created by an infernal pact between an agent, an entertainment conglomerate, and a legion of demons from the 2nd and 3rd circles of Hell. It's happened for years, it will continue to happen, and there's not a lot we can do except avoid listening to them too much and wait for them to show up in Playboy.
Nor is it a crime for actors to be proficient musicians. In fact, in general, I'd say it's a good thing. They are related fields, after all (Gene Kelly, anyone?), and it's really handy when you're doing movies or plays about musicians to not have to hire two people to play one role. For a while, I was tickled to see bands like The Bacon Brothers or Dogstar (their website is now defunct - sorry). I saw them as nice side hobbies by actors who also liked music, but when they started putting albums together it started to grate on me.
You'd think that at some point, a few stars would take a look at the past and see the music careers of Tim Curry, Leonard Nimoy, Mae West, David Hasslehoff (soon to come out with a rap album?) or hell, Phyllis Diller. Some of these people are even really talented. I'm sure I don't need to remind anybody of Tim Curry's role as Frank'N'Furter in Rocky Horror Picture Show, both on stage AND on screen. Phyllis Diller had a side job as a concert pianist. However, you'll note that neither of them are known for their solo album releases. At least William Shatner knows he's a joke.
I can see the attraction if you've been in a musical, or a movie about a musical artist, but at some point you have to make the distinction between fantasy and reality. As much as I love him, why did Kevin Spacey have to go on tour with a soundtrack album?
Repeat after me: Playing Bobby Darin in a movie does not make me Bobby Darin.
There is a point, however, where it stops being an ego trip and starts being harmful. You're a semi-famous actor and want to put a band together and play a couple of local gigs for fun? Fine. A few shows aren't going to hurt anybody. But an actual album contract? Isn't it enough to make $4 million (Minnie Driver's salary for her role as Carlotta in Phantom of the Opera) while shooting a mediocre movie? Did you really have to grab a $1.8 million record deal to do a crappy cover of a Springsteen song? Can't you give other people a chance at the pie?
Millions of would-be actors and musicians schlep through 40+ hour per week minimum wage jobs just so that they can squeeze out rent payments while they spend their nights practicing their instruments until their fingers bleed, and rehearsing scenes until the wee hours of the morning. They essentially work another 40 hour job for free playing pro bono gigs, performing in community theaters, or even on the street just so that they can stay sharp. All so that they can get their name out there, while they're waiting for the big break that will never come because the people who've got the jobs are double-dipping because they (or their managers or publicists) think it might be fun to cut an album.
"I've always liked to sing!"
It makes me sick.
But here's what makes me even more sick: You, the public, will fall for it. You'll worship them for their flexibility and their versatility, but not for the quality of their music. You'll build fan websites, and go to concerts, and buy up every single copy of Us Magazine that might have all the grungy details of their oh-so-difficult schedules and lives. Then, five years from now, when you dig a scratched copy of their CD out of the Coke-sticky trash in the backseat of your car, you'll say, "What was I thinking?" and sell it back to the store for $2.00 (where it will rot in the used CD bin forever) and think, "Well... at least I got some money back. No harm done."
Sure, no harm done. None, except that you're proving the record companies right. No harm, except that somewhere, right now, there's an incredibly talented singer/songwriter who would die to have just one album contract at 10% of what Minnie Driver is making for her collection of uninspired crap. That same singer/songwriter will grow weary and disgusted and give up, because her big break is a pipe dream because the record companies are too busy making easy money on Robert Downey Jr.'s name recognition and placement on People Magazine's list of "World's Sexiest Men" to actually spend time looking for real talent.
Well, it's up to you. If you don't buy into the machine, the machine will have to change. Nobody's forcing you to buy the overpriced albums by washed up actors (or the washed up singers, for that matter), but if you do it, they'll keep coming out. You really want some quality music and some excellent acting? Support local artists. Please. Find a local music club and check out their performance calendar. Go to a community theater and watch a play. Spend your money where it's appreciated, not where it's just feeding the multi-national marketing machine.
Only you can make the hurting stop.
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
1.12.05 @ 1:28a
Only you can make the hurting stop.
This fired me up so I'll quote the Replacements Unsatisfied:
"Rock! .... and roll..."
Good words, man.
1.12.05 @ 8:29a
Barbra freakin' Streisand (who should stick to singing and not acting).
Madonna (who shouldn't sing or act).
It's a notorious illness.
I'm so pissed about Robert Downey Jr., I can't see straight. If his daddy wasn't a Hollywood mucky-muck, that boy would be nowhere.
1.12.05 @ 9:54a
How about athletes, like Bronson Arroyo? Or other sports-inclined gents, such as Peter Gammons and Theo Epstein? Or even non-Red SOx related folk like Bernie Williams and Walter McCarty, who are musicians?
1.12.05 @ 10:01a
Bronson and Theo aren't cutting any record deals, though, eh?
I hear Bernie Williams is a really good jazz guitarist.
But yeah, as far as I'm concerned, you've still got the priveleged keeping all the pie for the themselves, and, damnit.. I like pie.
You wanna play a few gigs? Sure. Have some fun, but as soon as you start getting these huge deals based on name recognition alone? That's just not cool. Share, damnit, share!
1.12.05 @ 10:05a
I wrote a similar column about entitled celebrities using their cache to infiltrate other mediums. Really annoying. The thing that pisses me off the msot, tho you put it very well, is the teenage pop chicks doing it. You're already making millions as an actress, why do you have to do a crappy cd too? SAY NO to someone for once! And I don't just mean your dates. ZING!
1.12.05 @ 10:18a
See.. like I say here.. the teenie pop chicks don't bother me as much.. mostly, I think, because I expect it. They don't have a choice, they're products.
1.12.05 @ 11:13a
David Cassidy was a singer and musician before he was an actor. And Kevin Spacey's renditions of Beyond the Sea and Mack the Knife are quite good - whether or not he should have TOURED is certainly up for debate, though. But I sense that your ire is aimed more toward those who are already famous getting famouser, rather than any specific lack of ability on the part of those performers.
1.12.05 @ 11:17a
Right. Ability doesn't bother me. I might even find it preferable. It's the fact that they've already got more than most people will ever see, and rather than leaving space for newcomers, they keep hogging MORE.
1.12.05 @ 3:53p
You know...in high school, every girl wanted to play Christine. In grad school, every soprano wanted to play Carlotta. Why? Because it was a shot at a "legit" and entertaining part. And they gave the part to Minnie Driver?!?! Bad enough that the whole crossover genre is making Josh Groban sound like he has a big sound. Let's give the singers some shot at sung roles, please!
1.12.05 @ 5:25p
I have no vocal talent. I can't carry a tune and am tone deaf. I make William Huang sound good. Thus, someday I would like to front for a rock band. I do a gravel voice like Springsteen or Etheridge. I just think it would be cool. Now all I have to do is become famous first.
I don't object too much to crossing over careers, because studies show that most people have 5 to 7 career changes in their lives. Granted J-Lo should stick to singing, but part of it is the diversity each "artist" brings to the particular genre.
1.12.05 @ 10:19p
I can't really get too upset about people diversifying because I have aspirations to get into music and photography myself. Living in LA, I've just learned that it's the nature of the beast. The lack of job security within the movie and music industries make all these cats reluctant to say yes to some unheard of artist, no matter how insanely talented they might be.
I can't get mad at Minnie, I didn't grow up with her, maybe she has wanted to come out with an album since she was 10. Who am I to take that from her just because her acting career took off first.
I think the real problem lies, as Erik said, with us, the audience. We can complain about the J. Los of the world if we want, but as long as folks keep buying her albums, we're going to have this Jenny from the Block-mentality for years to come.
1.13.05 @ 8:59a
What frustrates me, as I think Erik has said, is the lack of choice. Simply cashing in on automatic name recognition..."mainstream" never really used to mean the same-old washed up crap. It's what an artist aimed for, what determined the level of possibilities, a certain cache of success. Now, it's a glut of same-olds.
Josh Groban. I like his version of O Holy Night, but he's basically the schlocky singer David Foster always wanted to be.