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Lists: 5 good bands that are kind of unlistenable now because their frontmen became insufferable

stingSting. Buzzkil. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

By David Malitz

It’s a sad truth - the older you get, the lamer you become. This is not exactly 100% science fact, and the Bill Murrays, Nick Caves and, uh, Betty Whites (?) of the world seem intent on proving otherwise. But they are clearly exceptions to the rule. This reality is often harsher in rock-and-roll, which has always been the playground of the young. But sometimes what happens later in life makes it impossible to enjoy what came earlier. With Sting coming to town this weekend we decided to look at five rockers whose later-in-life actions (and music) have rendered their quality music unlistenable.

The Police

Does it get any worse than Sting? That’s a serious question. It’s easy to get into “So Lonely” or “Can’t Stand Losing You” but then you picture Sting playing lute while in the backseat of a Jaguar as the Royal Philharmonic soundtracks some tantric sex act and you just have to turn it off.


Clapton Is God, Ginger Baker is rock’s best drummer and Jack Bruce ain’t too shabby himself. All power trios wish they had the power of Cream. It’s basically the opposite of everything Clapton has done with himself since then, from guitar faces to inspiring John Mayer to having his own signature Fender T-Mobile cell phone. Rock-and-roll! At least he helped inspire this hilarious “Mr. Show” skit.

(You know Bono's after the jump - who else?)


It’s Family Feud. The question is: “We surveyed 100 people and asked them to name a sanctimonious rock star.” Could that question even make the show? Wouldn’t 100 people just answer “Bono”?


If you think Gene Simmons is crass when it comes to objectifying women, that’s nothing compared to how crass he is when it comes to being a shameless corporate shill.

Elvis Costello

A couple years ago I deleted “My Aim Is True,” “This Year’s Model” and “Armed Forces” from my iTunes. Partly because those songs are all so internalized but also because he just seems like an uptight and humorless dude. (Maybe it was always the case - "Elvis was really ambitious. He was overtly and dangerously ambitious, I suppose," his old labelmate Wreckless Eric told me a few years ago, and that was about young Elvis.) You aren’t fooling us with those guest appearances on “Colbert” and “30 Rock.”

Honorable Mention: Lou Reed

It’s hard to defend much of what Reed has been a part of over the last 30 years, from “My Red Joy Stick” to his crotchetiness that knows no ends (which I got to experience firsthand at SXSW two years ago). Not to mention his mediocre-at-best output and that soul-crushing moment when 16-year-old me saw him at 9:30 club reading lyrics off a teleprompter at a 1997 concert. Still, none of this changes the fact that the Velvet Underground is the greatest rock band in the history of music, and their albums will never be tainted.

By David Malitz  |  July 7, 2010; 1:30 PM ET
Categories:  Lists  | Tags: Bono, Elvis Costello, Eric Clapton, Gene Simmons, Lou Reed, Sting  
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Next: Lists: Four post-rock-and-roll careers for Ted Leo


Did you just do this list and leave off Richard Ashcroft?

Or are you joining me in pretending this isn't happening:

Posted by: leafblower | July 7, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

I'd give Lou Reed more credit. New York and The Blue Mask are excellent albums, along with a dozen or so miscellaneous solo songs per decade. (Then again, Hudson River Wind Meditations speaks for itself. So does Metal Machine Music.)

Posted by: Miles_Standish_Proud | July 7, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Sorry Dave, but Bono isn't embarrassing ANYONE except for talentless poseurs! His talent still shines, almost 30 years after the first time I heard him - back when The Edge still had hair and plenty of it! I think many people are down on him because he so frequently talks about his causes, largely the One Campaign, but who else has the balls to face down the world's leaders and make them pony up real cash for the poor and hungry they've left behind? Bono has used his name and fame to try to better the world, and isn't afraid to tackle the hard questions and problems this world faces, as opposed to so many rockers who use it to get the best seat in the restaurant, plenty of Ketel-1 and lots and lots of chicks. That's fine if you can just ride in your limo and ignore the world outside your window without any conscience. Where does it say that rock has to be stupid, numb and unfeeling?
Bono, some of us get it - you're living your life in the best traditions of the late 60s and early 70s. After all, anyone with a scintilla of enlightened self-interest doesn't want to watch Africa slide back into the Stone Age under a crushing load of debt. I think the embarrassment and derision come mainly from people who could be doing as much to help the rest of the world - and don't. They look like the selfish users they are, which never brings out the best in anyone. And, oh yeah, you can still sing like a bastard!
So, Dave, who can you nominate in place of Bono, who obviously doesn't deserve to be on this list of has-beens and useta-was's?

Posted by: momcatusa1 | July 7, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Maybe Wreckless Eric could have used some of Costello's dangerous ambition.

And deleting “My Aim Is True,” “This Year’s Model” and “Armed Forces” from your iTunes - the author is clearly living out his own "sad truth - the older you get, the lamer you become."

Posted by: tkidsean | July 7, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Umm, Gene Simmons is NOT the frontman for KISS. That's Paul Stanely.

Also, while Sting may be a goof, he's not all that insufferable, just goofy. And Clapton didn't really front Cream. No one did for the standpoint of "frontman".

Surprised you didn't have William "Axel Rose" Buckley on here. There's someone who got really insufferable in terms of how he treated his band. Van Morrison to, for band mistreatment, though admittedly he is a solo artist.

Posted by: EricS2 | July 7, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

I think Elvis redeemed himself on Treme.

Posted by: Hemisphire | July 7, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

I was going to formulate a thoughtful point by point rebuttal of this column, but then I realized-you're a bitter wannabe that isn't ever gonnabe, and you have to hang on to your opinion to survive the knowledge. It seems that old chestnut was designed for you-'Those who can, do, those who can't, teach, and those who can't teach become critics'.

Posted by: cc53 | July 7, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

This is one of the worst thought out columns I have ever read. Not only are you wrong, but your logic is is so misplaced. Yes, Bono is sanctimonious but U2 is still a fantastic live act and it's because of him. I don't particularly like Eric Clapton, but to blame him for John Mayer's lameness is beyond me. Have you watched Elvis Costello's TV show? The guy loves music and musicians, and he is an incredibly interesting guy who is far from humorless. He's married to Dianna Krall for god's sake. I can't disagree with you on Gene Simmons, but that is low hanging fruit, my friend and lazy writing. So Lou Reed broke your heart WAAAAAH! Man up. The man is an artist, and while I don't like everything he's done, New York and Blue Mask have more good cuts than 90% of the new stuff I listen to today.

Posted by: LauriK1 | July 7, 2010 6:12 PM | Report abuse

Sure Reed has put out a bunch of crap over the last 30 years but anybody who can curate a show like this is fine by me.

P.S. You were too generous to Bono and Sting.

Posted by: azaghal1981 | July 8, 2010 1:43 AM | Report abuse

where the heck are faces?

Posted by: baconfat | July 8, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

Blah blah blah

Posted by: momcatusa1 | July 7, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse


a) I hope you had on knee pads when you wrote that one.
b) Even his drummer hates him.

And EC's was hilarious on 30 Rock.

Posted by: M__N | July 9, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

People. I am almost sorry to reply at all. However, these questions are just like the lazy lists that music mags and blogs put out. That being said, if you are going to make an argument can you do better than
Cream and Elvis? Sure it creates posts like mine, but come on Malitz. Do you get paid by the replies to this steamin' pile of prose?

Posted by: Snapper24 | July 9, 2010 11:30 PM | Report abuse

The Smashing Pumpkins deserve a spot here.

Posted by: azaghal1981 | July 11, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

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