Rock music is a lot like fishing. When you are trying to lure in your near robotic prey, without the interruption of you catching them, they would swim endlessly in a soup of their own feces and stray bits of food lest you provide a sexy lure to win them over to Team Dinner. Some of these fishermen just happen to be cursed with lousy tackle such as Robert Zimmerman and Barry Alan Pincus and are forced to adopt the tail feather of Dylan and Manilow. Some like Cher and Prince, dispense with the caboose altogether, cutting in line on the Golden Path to single name immortality reserved for the likes of Jesus and Gargamel. Morrissey is an odd one, in that he chose to just be identified by the name emblazoned on his football jersey. Hip Hop and reggae stars regularly and successfully make themselves larger than life with outlandish identities. These masks are understandable. One needs to attract prey or you starve. But nowadays, we live in a time of plenty, where people need not utilize such tactics to bring attention. Instead, they hide behind these ostrich feather names hoping to keep the avalanche of fish from swimming in their part of the ocean.
There are many who could fall in this list, but here are ten that cover the bases:
"Sid Vicious" (AKA John Beverley or Simon Ritchie, no one is really sure) - This one was a borderline choice, since he was somewhat of a cartoon character, a husk of a person to wear the suit of a name. The reason he makes the list is that the irony became lost on the movement of supposed DIy-ers that were the sucker of the marketing ploy that was the Sex Pistols. Not that they don't have their actual importance in the progression/regression of music, but the persistence of the "Sid Lives" sloganeering underlying the top floating level of punk shows some folks never get the feeling that they've been cheated.
"Sebastian Bach" (AKA Sebastian Bierk) - Poor guy. I mean, it is close to his name, and if it wasn't for that famous lineage of actual musicians that bore the name so many years before, it would be a legitimate swap. And 80's metal had its share of bad names like Nikki Sixx et al, but those fit in with the wagging tongues in the cheeks of that music. Calling yourself Sebatian Bach is on par with writing under the name "Willy Shakespeare" It should have been apparent from the start that one's story is not going to end well.
"E" AKA "the eels" (AKA Mark Oliver Everett) - I actually think this is one of the worst on this list. When I saw his album "A Man Called [E]" surface in the racks at my college radio station, I felt the pure obnoxiousness of calling yourself "E" was crossing the line. Some 10+ years later I heard the eels' (just as bad, all lowercase) "Electro-Shock Blues" I was won over to his excellent breed of downer pop, but the terrible name still sticks in my craw.
"Elvis Costello" (AKA Declan McManus) - The rock giant I love to hate. I used to be a big fan, would wax poetic about him as I do the people I do now, but somewhere along the line I looked at him and thought, aren't you, um, a little old to still be "Elvis Costello" - a nom de Roque that probably held its conceptual water back when it was hatched back on the Mayflower, but is really just corny as fuck now. Especially now, when you are trying to become an Interpreter of Song, writing chamber music and whatnot. Plus, Declan is actually a pretty good name.
"Songs:Ohia" (AKA Jason Molina) - This favorite of mine has the special pretension distinction of utilizing a colon in his name. It's a particularly postmodern thing to do to have a name for your project, as if it is crucial to keep oneself out of the cauldron in which one mixes their brew. Especially when Songs:Ohia creates such personal heartfelt music. Mitigating factor: he appears to have dispensed with it.
"Bonnie 'Prince' Billy" (AKA Will Oldham) - My hero makes this list because he has many times forced me to explain who he is when someone asks "Who's your favorite?" and I am doomed to detail the various clumsy names he's operated under (Palace Brothers (a name I really like actually) Palace Music, Palace Songs, Palace and then the goofy Bonnie one) Having all those names sends up a red flag for not-worth-your time, much like if you were on a first date with someone, and they were delivered a court summons at dinner. But really, he really is good despite the air-quotes.
"Six Organs of Admittance" (aka Ben Chasny) - Another great musician who makes me feel stupid explaining that its just one guy and his expertly played guitar. "Six Organs" is a great backing band name like "Ben Chasny and The Six Organs of Admittance" ) but unto itself, it sounds like a hapless high school goth band.
"Sting" (AKA Gordon Sumner) - Talk about too old to be playing superhero. I mean, it really wasn't a very good name way back when he was cool (and he was once upon a time, cool), but now he has become the new Barabara Streisand, its time to let it go. It just looks silly on you, like that skirt he wore at the Grammies last year.
"Bono" and "The Edge" (AKA Paul Hewson and David Evans, respectively) - These two are the hands down winners. What more warning fable do you need for carefully picking your name than being a multi-millionaire rock star and megalomaniac force for cultural and political change, and still be saddle with a ridiculous name like "Bono?" I mean, didn't you notice Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu snickering at you at all those state dinners? They are thinking "At least that Bob Geldof guy had a real name." And "The Edge," that is a truly unfortunate choice. Do people actually refer to him as The Edge? "I got a triple grande hazelnut latte for 'The Edge' on the bar!" calls the innocent barista. "The Edge, your mother is on the phone!" hollers his wife from the kitchen. "Well, The Edge, that's all I need, I'll get that paperwork started" says his loan officer. Fellas, for real now, let it go.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com
March sees a greatly expanded reissue of Elliott Smith's most critically acclaimed album Either/Or