“People need someone to take their breath away….and then give it back”….Sam Stevens
We arrived at the bustling, hipster village of Morristown New Jersey, with celeb photographer Billy Hess at hand, preparing to experience his first Adam Ant concert shoot. Solo rock artist – the tall, suave, blonde, blue-eyed English Adonis Sam Stevens, wearing a superbly funky “rockstar” jacket – glided through the crowd, waves parting and people staring open mouthed, directly to the bar…not out of character for someone British as they can really drink. After being served a rum and coke in a “sippy” cup to his amusement ” ‘ere , I’m not 5 ffksake …lol ” , he turned around and was suddenly approached by several female Adam Ant fanatics, fanatics known for their dedication and excitability. “‘Ere we go..” he smiled over his mirror shades, striking the most charming of Rock Star Poses and said ‘Hello ladies, what are your names..? ” .. Feeling a tug on my jacket I turned to another cluster of giggly girlies who said .. “WOW!! .. WHO IS THAT ??!” ” Errrrm that’s Sam..”, I said candidly and withheld anything else.. “He’s a proper Rock Star” she said excitedly. And something clicked.. ” Damn, people need a Sam “.. they really do. They flock to a Rock Star. The proverbial moths to the flame and I witnessed it first time, first hand.
Sam stood, chatted, flirted relentlessly and professionally and expertly, posed, inspired and exuded confidence whilst being incredibly kind and gracious. Something that countered any misnomer of arrogance. He’s a bloody nice guy. Sam was asked to pose for pictures at every turn, any request and he dutifully obliged. Impromptu photo shoot almost over, another of the girls cornered me and inquired who he was. I explained that he was a British pop star, very well known in the UK. And he is. Within moments Sam was again trapped between in the corridors of the venue with even more fans requesting a dual photograph…..and it didn’t stop there…. It was a wonder to observe and with many questions buzzing around my head,” what was going on ?.. why were people going nuts over someone they’d never heard of ? .. how was Sam pulling this off so easily to what seemed like a receptive and excitable audience ” Then it dawned on me. These people NEED a rock star. They NEED someone confident and aspirational, someone dangerous and sexual and who looks fucking HOT !!.. They seem to need that hero worship thing. A psyche that has probably been true since these girls (and boys ) were pasting Duran Duran posters on their bedroom walls…. BUT … I calmed myself as it was fascinating but maybe an anomaly, maybe the ladies of this town were on the Prozac fountain and acting out of character, who knows.
Fast forward to the following evening in the quaint city of Ridgefield Connecticut, Sam Stevens again arrived adorned in a flashy white self-designed punk-rock suit, and in déjà vu fashion, the fans belonging to Adam and support acts flocked around him clamouring for a photograph and begging to discover his identity. Again I made it known how famous he was in the UK. Incredibly famous. Some interestingly professed to have seen him in concert in the UK. ” His live show is AMAZING” said one.
Several days later and history repeated itself yet again but this time it was celebrity worship on steroids. The crowd were nuts. Maybe because of the occasion at the Forest Hills Stadium, a massive outdoor venue in New York with Billy Hess commissioned to take photos of a concert featuring Boy George and Culture Club concert, The B-52’s and Tom Bailey from The Thompson Twins. This time the fans bombarded Sam, girls and boys alike….some even thanked me for “allowing” them to have a photo with him. All of them knowing deep in their hearts that Sam Stevens was famous…somewhere in the Universe. And that’s the point. Someone like Sam HAS to be famous and these fans simply HAVE to have a Sam…….I get it…he’s exceedingly handsome, dresses like an absolute rockstar, has incredible confidence, a swagger, resembles David Bowie…and has a British accent. I can see how that works for him in America. I have to admit though that later back stage when the members of Culture Club, Mikey and John, spotted him and matter-of-factly said “Awrite Sam, how you doing mate”, I was nicely surprised. Sam’s low-key stories about hanging with many, many big stars on the London scene back in the day rang true. This was 25 years prior but the man makes an impression. He IS the most famous Rock star that no one’s ever heard of…but hang on, calm, maybe this is just an American thing. Maybe it’s just the Americans that flock to a Brit Rock Star.
So I thought, lets test this out and see what his mettle is made of. Once back in Great Britain I coerced Sam Stevens to accompany me to the Kubix Festival at Herrington Park in Sunderland, a dreary little district near Newcastle, North East England. The line-up included: The Undertones, The Buzzcocks, Funloving Criminals, Peter Hook and The Light, The Boomtown Rats, and headliner Adam Ant. Being my very first British festival, I hadn’t a clue what to expect. I certainly did not anticipate a repeat performance of what happened to Sam in America….but low and behold, it soon became overly apparent that he was also famous in England….only double time. Festival fans of the whole line up immediately and mysteriously became fans of Sam, again stopping him mid-stride for a picture. Again asking me who he was. Only this time I answered, “He’s a very popular rocker in the U.S.” They were hooked. Groups of ‘lads’ took to him ” ‘ere mate gissa picture” “You look fan- bloody-tastic mate.. nice one ” .. Can me bird ‘ave a picture wiv yah ?” One might think his charm and swagger would have people offering their first born as a swap for a moment in the glow. He loved it and was as bloody charming as anything. In an English way.
Besmirched with a modest attitude and a infinite confidence, as well as another elaborately decorated jacket, designed and created by the salacious rocker himself, I turned to Sam and with eyes wide open, I finally asked “How” and “Why”. I don’t get it .
His original answer was simply “Smoke and Mirrors luv”. Coaxing him over his friends Jack and Daniel to embellish the answer, I confronted him with the fact that smoke clears and mirrors break…Although apprehensively concerned about sounding too hubristic, he hesitantly explained as though he were writing a master thesis. “Don’t you get it Eileen ?” After listening to his anarchistic attitude, yet fused with a humble and humanistic concern and compassion for other indie artists as well as society, I realized he was on to something……. Actually I realised I was on to something too, for maybe witnessing something like this has never been put to print before.
Sam: “I’m already famous…it’s just no one’s heard of me yet. People need a me. I’m their answer to their constant disappointment with contemporary music. People need rock stars with attitude, not shoegazing whiners. They need someone to get obsessed about, someone to take their breath away ……and then give it back.” ” I’m a product of the 80’s and as people like Boy George have been very well documented saying.. we were ALL stars, no one gave us permission we just took it. We dressed elaborately, like film stars, like Bowie-like eccentrics, so that people could see we were different from ‘normal people’ and therefore we carried ourselves as though we were already stars.” ” fake fur coats and costume jewellery and not a penny between us .. but we were already stars”.
Sam is an extension of this cultural psyche. A contemporary hard hitting irresistible force of nature that people need.
Sam: ” In actual fact….who’s left? Bowie is gone, Prince is gone, George Michael ….Michael Jackson, Lemmy…. all of them are gone” and people ARE sad about it.
Sam: “People need rock stars. I think that the reason people go and see bands like the Boomtown Rats, Adam Ant, or it might be Duran Duran, is because there is nobody who has taken up the slack. Nobody has filled that void. It’s a kind of thing in the psyche, especially that of the British public, the reason that they loved these bands, was because they need heroes. David Bowie, Prince….they need heroes, something to take them away from their ‘usual lives’. Take Sunderland, it’s pretty bloody grim up here but people at the festival LOVED it and were transported away from their lives, some of the difficult lives that they lead. The psyche of the rockstar fan is an ideal vehicle to take people away from their grim lives. The reason people keep seeing these bands of the 80’s, although some people might like the music, is that there are no new superstars.”
Sam: “If you go back to the 90s, the kind of superstars we got were: Pulp, Blur, Oasis, and the shoegazing Manchester scene, Stone Roses…that sort of thing…. from there it kind of manifested itself into what we have now – acoustic guitar bands that are writing how unhappy they are about their lives or whatever. Heartbreak stories….but nobody is getting up there and saying: fuck this shit!!. No one’s rolling out the Rockstar Glamour. There are NO superstars like Billy Idol, a prime example. When you used to see him on stage or meet him in person you would say, WOW! that’s a proper rockstar! Where are they, this new breed?
There is something about certain people when they walk around the crowd, the way they carry themselves, the way they act, they are already stars. That electricity. Some of those people are the most famous people you’ve never heard of. Certain people, their character and so on is, to coin Robert Palmer, simply irresistible. We have all met an irresistible person in every walk of life, they are like the honey pot that the bees buzz around. The bees couldn’t survive without the honey pot. It gives them a purpose. Some people are there to give purpose to other people. That’s why you end up getting super fans, because it’s that psyche accentuated. They NEED to have something to focus on. It’s like a drug. In the old days we used to put posters up on our walls. We needed someone to idolize, it’s somebody who is doing things you wish you had the balls to do, but people like Sam are doing it, living it and showing you there’s a more exciting version of life happening NOW.
Sam continues “Unfortunately a lot of those rock stars do the crash and burn thing, they waste that talent, they ruin it and burn out by not taking it for what it is. A gift. An absolute privilege and a gift to be treasured every single bloody day. Then you get other stars like Bryan Ferry who was a mega, mega superstar, in the late 70’s, early 80’s, a real icon …. but now he’s just boring. He was great and inspirational but he kind of wasted his privilege. It should have gone to someone else to take it further. Seeing someone like Bob Geldof yesterday at the festival struck me that he’s not the greatest singer, he certainly is not the greatest dancer, but he is a great, great front man. Absolutely fantastic. Even if you recall when we saw John Robb play at the O2 in Manchester, the geezer’s got stage presence. He has an energy like the Ready Brek man. And he’s a really good bloke, a really strong character. We NEED people like these. Stars.”
Sam: There’s now a vacuum, a void… so therefore people go to 1980s festivals or they go to see Gary Numan on stage as they NEED a rockstar. There is no other Gary Numan. There was a vacuum left by the likes of Bowie and Prince, and many, many others that have gone by the wayside. People absolutely, 100% they need somebody. There are very few movie stars doing that kind of stuff as well. It’s the attitude. It’s somebody who walks around a group without being arrogant, KNOWING that they are a star. The way they walk, the way they look…. it doesn’t mean that you have to be an asshole to people but rather a really kind and positive influence to people. It’s not just being able to play music or being able to wear nice clothes, it’s an attitude that you can’t fake. A star is the star whether they’re walking around in slouchies or they’re walking around in concert glamour or my latest jacket design. It’s an attitude. There was a poll on Facebook yesterday asking people whether or not contemporary MUSIC sounded all the same. Whilst it doesn’t all sound exactly the same, music today is very contrived and formulated. People are trying to make something that sounds something like the last big hit. That’s complete bollox as it means you’re constantly looking backwards all the time, constantly trying to copy. That’s why you get loads of people sounding like Adele or you get hundreds of thousands of people trying to be the ‘next Ed Sheeran’. For my part, I don’t want to be anybody else. I don’t want to be the next David Bowie or the next Prince. I want to be the ‘first Sam Stevens’. I want to walk down the road and have people say “I fucking love you, I fucking love your look and I fucking love your MUSIC.” .. ( oh by the way .. Sam IS a real rock star and the music’s fking great but we’re not here to sell that.. well not today anyway .. lol )
Sam: “So where is the new breed of Rock Stars? .. Please for fk sake would someone show me and we’ll round ’em up and create a movement. Maybe there aren’t any but it won’t stop me. However, if there was anybody out there courageous enough to put a festival together of all these brand new rock stars, great Bands, real stars, get them all together with real stars like Bob Geldolf, Adam Ant, Billy Idol, Gary Numan, Duran Duran, Siouxsie, John Lydon, Spandau, then people will go to festivals to see Rock Stars, acts old and new. Its important that the Boomtown Rats are still doing it. In order to respect, that let’s intermingle the new acts with those like Adam Ant and so on. It could be important to have new acts supporting old acts and old acts supporting new acts. Who benefits? It’s the concert-going, festival-going public. It GIVES them their stars.
Most important thing is, if we agree that people NEED Rock Stars where the fk are they??
Where is the new generation of HEROES ??
All words by Eileen Shapiro. More of Eileen’s writing can be found in her author’s archive.