The Stranger

The Stranger


After the Nicole Kidman and Lauren Bacall spat, some of the press, in a nice way, agreed with Lauren that Nicole is not a "legend" - though for different reasons, and they suggested that Lauren could have been kinder.

I am no film buff, but even if I were, I think I could remain objective...I truly think that when it comes to legends, the baton has been handed to 'rock 'n' roll'.

Since the 1950's, the number of film "legends" has dwindled seriously, while the number of legends in music has increased dramatically.

In both fields, there is a distinction, sometimes a narrow one, to be made between a great artist and a legend.

I don't feel fully qualified to define what makes a film "legend", but I think it's something along the lines of being an icon, their image transcending reality (sometimes doing a little sci-fi or fantasy might go a long way, but I'm not for one minute going to suggest that every Lexx, Buffy or Superman is a legend!). Acting skill is not necessarily a be all and end all, as some might cruelly suggest Marilyn Monroe proves. In their own way, the actress Pia Zadora and the director Ed Wood could be considered minor legends!

When it comes to music a combination of several qualities help build a legend... these include charisma, sex appeal, being "out there", pushing boundaries and unfortunately, sometimes early death helps too.

On reflection... cinema was relatively young in the '40s and '50s when many of the people we take for granted as being legends came to the fore. The sheer number of films made these days means that it is harder for an actor to break through to legendary status as opposed to "good actor" and/or "risk-taker".

Similarly with music, while some of the legends were consolidated by the '80s - be it recognition of their power, influence and achievements by that time, or by their death. As time passes, because there is less new ground to be broken, the only newcomers who are even close to legendary status could be Jeff Buckley and Kurt Cobain - and both sadly this is largely due to their untimely deaths.

So here's my round-up -

The Film World

Legends include:
     James Dean
     Humphrey Bogart
     Lauren Bacall
     Marlon Brando
     Marilyn Monroe

More recent stars... to be or not to be a legend?

     Jane Fonda - possibly (for Barbarella!)
     Clint Eastwood - definitely
     Harrison Ford - good actor / action hero, but legend, no
     Sidney Poitier - possibly
     Woody Allen - possibly, but maybe for the wrong reasons!
     River Phoenix - possibly, but only due to early death
     Dustin Hoffman - good actor, but legend no
     Steve McQueen - possibly
     Lee Marvin - possibly
     Yul Bryner - possibly
     Christopher Lee - possibly

N.B. Like I imply I try to remain objective... I'm a bit middle of the road when it comes to films, and my favourite actors are Clint Eastwood then Harrison Ford.

If I was more into films, I would have listed many more recent actors, but very few would scrape past possibly to being an actual "legend".

Music - where the modern legends are to be found!

Legends include:
     Eddie Cochran
     Keith Richards
     Johnny Cash
     Gram Parsons
     Jim Morrison
     Sly Stone
     The Beatles
(as a group as opposed to individuals)

The listing of many by only name is not affectation, simply an illustration of the power and allure of that name, how it has become part of the vocabulary. Again being objective... I don't like Jagger much personally, but I believe he has just about attained legendary status.

The almost legends - and what qualifies them (above the filmstars of our generation!)

I am not actually anti-reform when it comes to classic groups. But I do realise it eats into their legendary status.

Worse, I feel guilty about that morbid criteria... would somebody be a legend had they died young or younger?

Legends runners up.

Sid Vicious
For: Murder charge / heroin OD.
Against: Murder charge / heroin OD.

Johnny Rotten
For: Keeping Sex Pistols career short (originally).
Against: Reforming them. Dodgy image since the '80s.

Debbie Harry
For: "Blondie".
Against: Reforming Blondie. Some creditable music and shows, but keeps them in great artist league more than legendary league.

Arthur Lee
For: Love. "All the snot is caked against my pants". Other weird lyrics and wilder actions.
Against: Reforming Love, with no original members. - Superb music, but see above.

Led Zeppelin (as a group as opposed to individuals).
No comment - I don't like them much!

For: Iconic image / image changes.
Against: Dodgy films.

Marianne Faithful
For: "Mars bar", suicide attempts, living on the street etc.
Against: Nothing, but the "For" category keeps her as "semi-legendary".

Lou Reed
For: The Velvets. The Grouchiness.
Against: The Grouchiness. The career longevity... he didn't die young as some thought he might!

Marvin Gaye
For: Classic '60s and '70s material. Shot by dad.
Against: The weaker '80s material. More Great Artist than Legend?

For:Bullying dad. Wacko Jacko.
Against: The child abuse accusations?

Sly Stone
For: Outlaw image, being "out there", musical breakthroughs.
Against: Not dying young?

For: Prolific - hitmaker for Sinead and The Bangles amongst others.
Against: Too prolific!

Mark E. Smith
For: Loudmouth. Prolific output. 5 books related to The Fall, good for a band that has never made the Top 20 (apart from the album chart).
Against: Still, and always will be, a cult.

Neil Young
For: Awesome solo albums. CSNY. Buffalo Springfield. Getting sued for being "unrepresentative" of himself!
Against: Cranking out the same tune (he cheerfully admits to it!). Greendale (not bad, but not great).

For: those album covers (The Stooges, Funhouse, Raw Power in particular, The Idiot, Lust For Life). The music on those albums. The walking on the audience, the self mutilation and other stage antics, the Cheetah coat.
Against: Reforming The Stooges? Nothing musically wrong with that... they sound great, and nobody has cried sell out (yet). However, it edges him more towards great artist than legend.

The Stranger.
September 24 2004.