In 1972, Paul Stanley, Gene Simmons, and Peter Criss of KISS hired Ace Frehley through this want-ad in the Village Voice: “LEAD GUITARIST WANTED with Flash and Ability. Album out shortly. No time wasters, please.”
Mötley Crüe found Mick Mars in 1981 thanks to an ad the axe-man placed in the Los Angeles Recycler: “Loud, rude, and aggressive guitar player available.”
While “rock star” seems like a dream job—sleeping in late and drinking on company time while being worshipped by the masses and raking in scads of cash—a few who’ve achieved success have turned their backs on their hard-earned status for normal lives and day jobs.
White Stripes drummer and co-founder Meg White has been in the news recently because the garage duo that emerged from humble beginnings out of Detroit has been nominated for induction into the prestigious Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Even at the height of the band’s notoriety in the 1990s and early 2000s, Meg was always the shy, quiet one—especially in contrast to her then-husband, the loquacious Jack White (who, incidentally, took his spouse’s last name upon completion of the “I do’s”—the marriage didn’t last but he kept the tag).
While being interviewed, Meg would often look down and mumble out short replies. So, it’s no surprise that upon the dissolution of the White Stripes around 2010, the drummer disappeared from the public eye. We do know that she’s been married and divorced (Jackson Smith, Patti Smith’s son), but that’s about it—said to suffer “from acute anxiety,” the self-proclaimed “hermit” is not on social media, and has not been photographed by paparazzi in several years. Fans are waiting with anticipation to see if she will show up at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction ceremony.
Cindy Birdsong’s voice was just like her surname and when she started out as a member of Patti LaBelle & The Bluebells, ears perked up. She gained bona fide fame as a member of The Supremes in 1967 when she replaced co-founding member Florence Ballard. But her life took a scary turn just two years later when she was kidnapped and taken on a death-defying freeway ride in Long Beach, California, from which she jumped out of a speeding vehicle and flagged down a passing police car. (The kidnapper escaped but turned himself into authorities a few days later.)
After The Supremes broke up, Cindy released a couple of solo albums but ultimately decided to follow her childhood dream and worked as a nurse at the UCLA Medical Center under her married name, Cindy Hewlett, and later became an ordained minister. As of this writing, she is 85 years old, still residing in Los Angeles, and is said to be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Al Green is another famous singer who was worshipped by millions but decided to devote his life to worshipping just one deity; the once-sexually charged R&B entertainer is now a pastor. His religious bent began at the height of his fame, in 1973, when he became a Born Again Christian. The following year, he was attacked by an abusive girlfriend, Mary Woodson, who threw a potful of hot grits on him, which caused second-degree burns and a long stint in the hospital for skin grafts. Following her assault, Mary used Al’s .38 caliber handgun to kill herself in his Memphis home.
After that “wake-up call,” Al decided to let go and let God. While still performing, his sets were more gospel than pop and in 1976, he became a Baptist minister and bought the Full Gospel Tabernacle church in Memphis. Al, who lives in a house near Graceland, still preaches there to this day.
Grace Slick was one of the most audacious, powerful vocalists of all time—her iconic songs with San Francisco’s Jefferson Airplane made an indelible mark on music history and crowned her the “Queen of Acid Rock.” Her band morphed into the softer, poppier Jefferson Starship, then just Starship, and there was still success a-plenty but after three decades onstage, Grace decided to retire. This is because, she said, “A 50-year-old rock star looks ridiculous.”
She stepped away from the limelight and used her considerable fortune to launch a new career as a multimedia artist. In the 1990s, she turned her focus to painting full-time. Not surprisingly, “Alice in Wonderland” is a favorite subject but she creates everything from portraits to animals, realistic to fantastic, cityscapes, landscapes, nudes, and abstracts. Her media runs the gamut from oil paints, acrylics, and scratchboard images, to pencil drawings. According to her website, Grace lives in Malibu and her artwork can be seen in galleries all over the world.
Terry Chimes, the original drummer of the punk band The Clash, probably suffered from an occupational hazard: a bad back. Why else would he leave the music world to become a chiropractor? After his stint with The Clash, Terry sat behind the drum kit for Billy Idol, Black Sabbath, Hanoi Rocks, and many others. In 2003, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But he left the music business to pursue a career in alternative medicine and became a doctor of chiropractic medicine, and also an acupuncturist.
In a 2006 interview with the BBC, he said, “Over the time I’d been a musician, I’d already become a non-drinking, non-smoking, non-drug-taking vegetarian who does yoga.” Terry’s innovative methods were introduced all over the UK and Asia, and he eventually developed a chain of chiropractic clinics. He currently runs Europe’s largest consulting business in alternative medicine and is actively involved in charity work.
There are even more big deals who’ve stepped away, at least temporarily, to earn their living in other ways. Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson built a successful fish farming business but is still with the band. Steely Dan’s founding member Jeff “Skunk” Baxter’s interest in recording technology led him to become a counterterrorism expert for the US Department of Defense, but he’s still a musician. Alannah Currie of the Thompson Twins went to work as an artistic furniture upholsterer—to name just a few.
Apparently, there can be life after rock n’ roll.
-Staci Layne Wilson
Photo: Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull (Snafje at Dutch Wikipedia)
PS — While we’re on the topic of Rock History, you might enjoy our YouTube series of daily one-minute nuggets of memorable moments…