For my first “official” post I thought I’d ponder the idea of alter egos, and how they have helped artists create some of their finest work.
It’s usually believed that of any artist, in creating a piece of work- whether it be music, written or otherwise- a part of themselves is given to that work, and I think that this is an appealing idea; a romantic vision of sacrifice in order to create something personal and unique that is beautiful and real. And surely this must bare some truth? Since, aside from the inspiration they draw from other people or their environment, the artist is also mining their own mind and soul, and so must be invested to a degree.
So while it’s easy to imagine the idea of a person putting all of themselves into a project, since that’s what artists typically do, what about the exact opposite? For example in music, the musician detaching themselves from the outcome and removing any personal influence through an alter ego, but creating something of quality that’s different to their usual sound… could it be done?
Well, the hip-hop genre is full of alter egos, from the masked MC MF DOOM to Tupac’s Machiavelli, then in pop music Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust is a fine example, along with Damon Albarn’s pixelated Gorillaz, but the best subject might be four Liverpudlians who created arguably their finest album under such a guise… The Beatles with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
By 1967, The Beatles had already released major works which had re-imagined the sound and raised the standards of popular music, specifically in albums like Rubber Soul and Revolver, so there was a lot of pressure and expectation for them to carry on in the same manner. But as the idea of “The Beatles” transcended each individual member, the fact is that each Beatle was actually outgrowing the band, becoming more confident in their own song writing abilities and wanting to break away from the group. So in this state of mind, after a short break The Beatles hit the studio and started recording what would eventually become the Sgt. Pepper’s LP.
Looking back now, it’s easy to see the full impact that this album had on its release and in shaping music as we know it today, but why is it so widely praised? Aside from the fact that it’s credited by some as being one of the first concept albums, the music itself was revolutionary for the time, and seems not to have aged. Songs like “A Day in the Life” are realised as being the peak of the McCartney-Lennon creative partnership, but what allowed them to be so daring? To challenge traditional methods? This is probably best summarised by McCartney himself when he said,
“I thought, let’s not be ourselves. Let’s develop alter egos … it won’t be us making all that sound, it won’t be The Beatles, it’ll be this other band, so we’ll be able to lose our identities in this.” – Paul McCartney
And there you have it; maybe the most relevant argument for the creation of an alter ego by an artist- to simply relieve the pressure and limitations imposed by their own image and allow them to fully express themselves, be experimental and try things they otherwise wouldn’t. Of course this isn’t only true in music; in literature it dates back to Chaucer’s pilgrim character in The Canterbury Tales, and many other creative elements have been prone to eccentric fictional characters, behind whom have resided talented people craving an outlet. So whether these alter ego’s are imagined into life for the sake of art, or for the pragmatic necessity to create it, they will always remain an interesting, and sometimes even beloved concept.