The Demise of The Rock Star Halloween Costume
It’s Halloween again which means it’s time for me to break out my Slash outfit and for my wife to assume the persona of Axl. G N’ R has been our go to costume for many years now. The Slash wig is itchy and hot and it’s hard to keep the top hat perched on my head. But I love putting on that costume. Even the guy in Washington, D.C. a few years ago who told me he loved my “Howard Stern costume” didn’t rattle me. I still walk down the street like I own it.
As I have in years past, I'm wondering if this will be the last Halloween for Slash and Axl. What's the shelf life for aging rock star costumes? Ten years after the band breaks up? Twenty? Is there some sliding scale based on how popular the band was?
I was at a costume party one Halloween a few years back, dressed as Slash of course, when I saw a teenage kid standing at the food table with his headphones on. He had that sullen teenager look about him and wasn't wearing a costume, no doubt because dressing up for Halloween was for losers like me. I’m not sure why, but I asked him what he was listening to. He said “a great band called Guns ‘N Roses” as if I could not possibly have heard of them. Our conversation then went something like this:
“You’re kidding, you know who I’m dressed as?” “No.” “Slash.” “Who’s Slash?” “Who’s Slash?!%#?” “Who’s Slash?” “The lead guitarist for Guns N’ Roses.” “Oh.” “You’ve never seen a picture of the band?” “No.” “Hmmn.”
This exchange illustrates an even deeper problem with the rock star costume genre, one that transcends the specter of waning popularity. With the demise of albums and even CDs, a fan can shimmy down the street, earbuds in, oblivious to what their favorite artists look like! That may seem incredible, but unless you blow up that tiny thumbnail image of the album cover on your phone (assuming the band is pictured on the album cover), do some independent research (which is admittedly easier to do these days), or go to a live show, you'd have no way to know what the band looks like.
It would've been nearly impossible in the Dark Ages of the LP not to know what an artist looked like. Not only are albums large objects that serve as reliable transmitters of images to the eye, but back in the day, albums often included posters of the band. Even the notoriously reclusive Pink Floyd included a poster in the “Dark Side of the Moon” album packaging that had photos of the band members performing live. Those posters were plastered on many a teenager’s wall. And unlike today, MTV broadcast music videos in the LP era, with most videos featuring the bands themselves.
The deconstruction of the album experience through on-demand single-track downloads, streaming stations, and playlists that feature a hodgepodge of artists further impedes the formation of deep connections between fan and artist. Since not as many fans listen to albums all the way through, they have less familiarity with the full sweep of a band’s work and lose opportunities to discover more of the band’s music. This further attenuates the sense of connection between fan and artist and, among other things, makes it even less likely that a fan will care what the artist looks like.
To be sure, the music itself is (or should be) the most important thing to a music fan; what the musician looks like is secondary. But it is not insignificant. So much of the power of rock ‘n’ roll stems from its physicality (Elvis, Mick Jagger), its aesthetic (glam rock, hair metal, grunge), its rebel coolness (Lou Reed’s black leather jacket, Springsteen’s denim jacket). The G N’ R fan that doesn’t know what Slash looks like is hearing the music through only one earbud.