A modest proposal for putting faded pop stars out to pasture

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Phil Collins is marginally famous for being the drummer/singer for Genesis, a UK outfit initially known for immersive prog-rock epics like Trespass and Selling England By The Pound, until they sold out and went commercial. He is slightly more well-known for contributing to Disney film soundtracks. He's destined to be remembered for an indomitable string of monster pop hits so ubiquitous and timeless that his hot streak rivals those of The Beatles and Elvis. (Arguably. For me, anyway.) But right now he's making news because he told Rolling Stone that he's been contemplating suicide lately.

"I wouldn't blow my head off - I'd overdose or do something that didn't hurt," Collins confided, adding that he's lost his appetite for songwriting, is partially incapacitated due to a neck injury, and believes that in a previous life, he fought at the Alamo. Which isn't inspiring for somebody who grew up influenced and buoyed by singles like "Groovy Kind of Love" and "Against All Odds" and "In The Air Tonight." Consider that ambient forefather Brian Eno is three years Collins' senior and yet is still blowing minds in digital stereo, continually striving to conquer new frontiers; one wonders what Eno, who enlisted Collins as a sideman for landmark Another Green World, made of this recent revelation.

What a drag it is. Getting old? No: watching pop stars get old. Eighties pop stars, especially. Neil Young once opined, in song, that "it's better to burn out than to fade away"; there's a great deal of truth to that line, even if Young's own continued creative relevance almost puts the lie to it. His younger peers probably out-grossed him in concert receipts and major-label paychecks back in the day, but now? Now they've made embarrassments of themselves.

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Michael Jackson? Financial insolvency brought on by recklessness, rampant drug abuse, creative downward spiral. Boy George? Drugs, judicial malfeasance, general buffoonery, slathering his face in the kabuki-inspired paint that looked more fetching when he was svelte, oddly alluring, and reasonably gender-indiscriminate.

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George Michael? Soliciting sex in a men's room. Morrissey? A constant stream of racism. Flock of Seagulls' Michael Score? Morphing into Gary Busey's twin brother and not letting go of that asinine, gravity-defying haircut. Billy Joel? Became the national celebrity poster child for DWIs. Madonna? Flavor Flav? Whitney Houston? Don't even get me started.

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This isn't to say that every pop behemoth who prospered financially and frantically bedded back-up dancers during the Wall Street era emerged a shattered, devalued ruin: in their own disparate ways, Kylie Minogue, Annie Lennox, and Cyndi Lauper are doing pretty well for themselves, and Minneapolis's own genre-bender Prince wrestled control of his back catalog and has pursued his muse free of corporate interference.

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All of this has gotten us thinking: a mechanism or process is needed to ease icons and iconoclasts out of the public eye before we're driven to storm their Hollywood ranch homes with pitchforks and flaming torches and smart-phones held aloft. It's probably too late to snuff out most of the artists mentioned above; the damage is already done, and any action taken at this late date would attract too much attention.

So perhaps we should concern ourselves with removing '90s dinosaurs - Fred Durst, Jamiroqaui, Britney Spears, et al. - from circulation by way of a deceptively gradualist process of attrition:

1. A rigorous determination of subjects' continuing relevance, or lack thereof, to Western music or culture. Can the subjects' nostalgia value be harnessed, leveraged, or exploited for considerable contemporary profit? Will anyone actually miss the subject if he/she suddenly vanishes? Is the subject on a suicide watch and/or a bender?

2. One-way flights to the Dominican Republic disguised as all-expenses-paid working vacations with a hot producer of note. Commandeer a posh resort for this purpose.

3. Two or three weeks of innocent fun in the sun, with buffet, open bar, all the cocaine one can snort, etc.

4. Mass, middle-of-the-night kidnappings or "disappearings."

5. Extended transition - aided by extensive regimens of brainwashing, rubber-hose treatments, and creative plastic surgeries - from "celebrated musical icons" to "overworked sweatshop laborers."

6. Advantages: big companies relocate operations to Dominican Republic on the cheap, can brag internally that the likes of Matthew Sweet and Liz Phair are manufacturing or soldering their microchips or weaving baskets by hand or snapping together Avengers action-figures.


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