Stoking the Star Maker Machinery

Tina Brown writes in the Washington Post today about “an interesting little documentary directed by Rosanna Arquette, “All We Are Saying,” that’s at the Tribeca Film Festival. It’s about musicians, but it could just as well be about filmmakers or writers or painters, and it features exceptionally honest and heartfelt interviews with, among others, David Crosby, Sting, Stevie Nicks, Joni Mitchell and members of Radiohead and Aerosmith.

“A couple of years ago,” a grizzled Crosby tells Arquette, “you had one-quarter of the music business owned by a whiskey company, who then sold it to a French water company, neither of whom would know a song if it flew up their nose and died. They haven’t a clue. They know they moved 40,000 pieces out of Dallas this month, but they have no idea pieces of what.”

Joni Mitchell, now a wised-up, beat-up old hippie, likens herself to a horse who can’t go over the jump anymore. Thirty-two years ago, in her great song “Free Man in Paris,” she prophetically bemoaned “the work I’ve taken on / Stoking the star-maker machinery / Behind the popular song.” Today the machinery is so overwhelming it’s crippling her. She starts to write a song; then the thought of the gantlet of press — “which got dumber and dumber and dumber and shallower and shallower and shallower and more and more hostile” — chases away her muse.

These voices are especially striking because you so rarely hear big-time talent talking this way about their work. It doesn’t fit the paradigms of celebrity journalism. Artistic angst — which, after all, only the luckiest people on Earth are in a position to feel in the first place — is not what readers of the fabloids want to hear about. They want to hear about the marital, romantic and weight-gain sufferings of the stars.”