Saturday, August 22, 2015

When the curtain comes down: the alternative lives of rock stars

Facebook/Iron Maiden

We read this week that Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson has begun selling private jets through Harrods. As you do.

While the idea of selling something like a jet aircraft through London's most overpriced and ridiculous department store isn't so surprising (its reputation for the exotic extends from selling actual gold bars to Dubai camel milk chocolates), the fact that the man behind it is as famous for Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter (released as a Christmas single with the intention of scaring "the living daylights out of Cliff Richard") is less so.

Dickinson is, however, hardly your average heavy metal lead singer. His aviation services company, Cardiff Aviation, employs more than 60 staff, and, having fenced internationally (he was once ranked Britain's No. 7) he launched a business selling fencing accessories (and we're talking about the sport, not garden enclosures).

And so, it was announced this week, that Dickinson would be behind a 'pop-up' venture selling six-seat Eclipse 550 jets through the Knightsbridge department store for around £2.2 million each. This is something the jets' manufacturer claims - in what must be normal private jet salesmanship - is "the lowest acquisition cost of any jet on the market, allowing you to achieve jet speeds at the purchase price of a turboprop!". So, in your face, Gulfstream.

Dickinson isn't, of course, the only rock star to spin a living out of other enterprises, although the majority are logical extensions of their personal interests - restaurants, like Bill Wyman's Sticky Fingers in London, and booze are popular sources of extra-curricula income. Sting owns an entire Tuscan vineyard, Il Palagio, which offers bottles'Message In A Bottle', 'Sister Moon' and 'When We Dance', while Megadeth's Dave Mustaine is also believed to have launched his own brand of wine, despite being a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. Indeed Iron Maiden recently launched their own wine, 'Eddie's Evil Brew', delicately named after their famous stage icon and described by the band themselves as "a lovely Merlot".

One of the most successful ventures by any rock star, and which has been turned into the day job, is that of Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason. He turned his de rigueur rock star collection of exotic vehicles into a business, Ten Tenths, which rents them out for track days and film and television work.

There are other, even more obscure outlets: Gwen Stefani launched her own range of clothing, L.A.M.B., as, indeed, did Liam Gallagher, with his rather modish Pretty Green label, which has now  also become a chain of shops with branches in London, Manchester, Glasgow, Sheffield and three in Japan. Poison's Bret Michaels brought out his own aftershave, 'Roses & Thorns', which his website modestly claims will "Make your perimeter excite and ignite the senses" and is an "Exhilarating scent with a mysterious kicker...leading to sexy results," whatever that means.

Some, however, have invested their money and downtime in more sensible pursuits. U2's Bono set up the private investment venture Elevation Partners with a pair of ex-Apple executives, putting money into Silicon Valley companies like Facebook, Yelp and Palm. Peter Gabriel - himself the son of an entrepreneurial inventor - reinvested much of the money he made from his first worldwide hit album, So, into his Real World empire, which includes his Real World Studios complex near Bath, as well as the Real World record label that has done as much to champion world music as WOMAD, the event Gabriel helped co-found.

But if you want to go truly off the wall, there is Jeff 'Skunk' Baxter. Baxter was one of the moist sought-after session guitarists of the early 1970s, notably playing on albums by Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers. And then he became a consultant on missiles, and not the kind that rock musicians have a habit of boasting about. 

Baxter, who looked - and still does - like the archetypal 1970s LA session musician, added the signature guitarwork to Steely Dan's Rikki Don't Lose That Number and Bodhisattva, the Doobies' Take Me In Your Arms and Livin' On The Fault Line, and even Donna Summer's Hot Stuff

In the mid-80s however - and no doubt in a moment of idleness - Baxter started thinking about the connection between the digital music technology emerging at the time and technology being developed for military use. This, and a conversation with a neighbour who'd worked for one of southern California's numerous defence companies, led him to develop an academic interest in missiles. 

Indeed, such was Baxter's interest that he ended up writing a white paper discussing how one might retask a US Navy missile system, which in turn caught the attention of a Californian member of Congress, which led him to be invited into the inner circles of defence politics in Washington. As a result, Baxter developed a new career advising on missile-based defence, also working with the US spook community and even appearing on TV as a national spokesman for Americans for Missile Defense, an unsurprisingly right-of-centre organisation which cares about such things. 

Whatever the political hue of Baxter's post-rock guitarist career, it should, perhaps, be provided as career advice for today's generation of pop stars - discovered, elevated and then spat out by TV "talent" shows - and whose own professional trajectories will be, let's face it, brief.

Who knows - One Direction become traffic consultants? Taylor Swift advises on migratory birds? N-Dubz's Dappy reinvents himself as a quantum physicist? Check back here in a decade or two to see if What Would David Bowie Do? was right...

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