The Winklevoss twins were ready to rock! It was June 2022, and the billionaire entrepreneurs roared into Asbury Park in a 45-foot Prevost tour bus that announced, in huge, garish letters, that MARS JUNCTION had arrived to bust the house down. The new cover band had come to rock out the hot 1990s/2000s jams of their youth: Blink-182, Fall Out Boy, the Killers, Kings of Leon, Mumford & Sons, Sublime. A year earlier, they’d debuted in Brooklyn after a series of increasingly larger dress rehearsals, and a tour was the next logical step. Now the boys were stepping out hard, traveling in a nine-person team that included a vocal coach and a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter passenger van.

Their performance history was meager. Besides piano recitals, there’d been just one high school production, when they’d played mute eunuchs in Tarzan suits, each mirroring the other’s movements for laughs (as monozygotic mirror twins, the two are reverse images of each other, down to birthmarks and handedness). At Harvard, they’d jammed with classmates Miles Fisher (the future actor and TikTok star) and Divya Narendra (later immortalized in 2010’s The Social Network, along with the twins themselves). But they never had the time to play gigs, what with their Olympic-level rowing and infamous entanglements with Mark Zuckerberg.

Cameron, the band’s guitarist, had been “beyond frightened” before that first show in Brooklyn. Tyler, the band’s frontperson, found the thought of a tour “nerve-racking.” But they’d already tested their mettle as athletes, and both men were confident they could power through stage fright just as they’d once powered through the superman exhaustion of Olympic competition (they’d competed in Beijing in 2008). They’d been made famous through a Hollywood film over which they had no control, then staged a dazzling comeback in the world of Bitcoin (Gemini, the cryptocurrency exchange they’d founded and run since 2014, is currently valued at just over $7 billion). In light of all they’d accomplished, asking crowds of strangers to pay $25 to take them and their music seriously seemed like a light lift. It may not be a third act for the duo, but it could at least be Act 2.5. Fun, they reminded themselves before hitting the stage in Asbury Park, was the prime objective.

Mars Junction in concert
Mars Junction in concert
Another standing-room-only show. Photos by Chris Spiegel

In the 20th century, the label “rock star” was the ultimate statement of individuality, a license for generations of swaggering, staggering musical geniuses to trash greenrooms and hurl televisions off balconies. In this century, the term has an extra meaning. This new usage came from the workplace, and originally implied virtuosity, like “ninja” or “guru.” By the 2020s, however, the term seems to have further devolved into something closer to “productive.” In many offices around America, telling someone they’re a “rock star” is now the same thing as telling them they did a really good job, a verbal downgrade so widespread it’s rendered the term meaningless. A quick search on my local Craigslist jobs board found “rock star” applied to a dental sterilization technician, a Jimmy Johns delivery driver, and a commissary kitchen prep cook in Canoga Park. One board management software company markets itself with a web banner reading “Become a Compliance Rock Star.”

Another switch happened this century, one that feels related in ways visible only to future historians. The bosses are rocking out. The late Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen played guitar in Paul Allen and the Underthinkers. Lamar McKay, BP oil executive, plays guitar in the pro-whiskey Southern Slang. Both bands sound like Home Depot commercials. The founder of Xerjoff hired Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi to jam with him on an instrumental track promoting a new line of perfume. David Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs, is also known as DJ D-Sol. His peppy EDM tracks sound like hold music for a Finnish airline. “No matter how much money you make or what you do, everybody wants to be Keith Richards,” Mangano Consulting CEO Charles Mangano said of his Rolling Stones cover band in a 2006 interview with The Wall Street Journal. Cablevision CEO James Dolan once booked his own band to open for the Eagles, at Madison Square Garden, which he owns.

During the tour, video from Mars Junction’s Asbury Park gig went viral. The comments were rough. As footage from more dates came in, a groundswell of online ridicule quickly followed. At 41, the good news is that neither man much resembles their Hollywood avatar Armie Hammer, now an accused abuser and cannibal. The bad news is, they’re both starting to look like Jeffrey Epstein. In video from the Casbah in San Diego, Tyler wears a sleeveless Nine Inch Nails shirt, slit down the side and fastened at the bottom with safety pins. Below this swings a conspicuous wallet chain, an odd fashion statement for someone who once publicly forecast a cashless society by 2025.

Tyler struggles with the notes. He sings with that push-pull of karaoke, a mix of bashfulness and joyful abandon. In moments without vocals he seems slightly lost, sometimes pointing at the keyboard player or drummer, sometimes pumping both fists skyward, as if declaring victory over the song. Occasionally, he and his brother lock into a lurch that resembles toddlers getting excited by music, or seniors grappling with decreased mobility. During the rappier songs (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine), he makes occasional flapping hand gestures.

Occasionally, he and his brother lock into a lurch that resembles toddlers getting excited by music, or seniors grappling with decreased mobility.

It feels snarky to honestly address their performance, so I’d like to introduce one piece of exculpatory evidence. Mars Junction are a band. And most bands are not good when they start out. I have seen musical groups so, so much worse than Mars Junction. I’ve seen bands so disgracefully bad I had to bolt outside to weep with laughter. I’ve witnessed bands, plural, so disgusted with their meager audience that they verbally attacked the few people who did turn out. I’ve watched band members fight each other, on stage.

I’ve spent years touring with bands. Most of my friends have as well. For us, memories of touring are memories of grueling slogs. Not just the physical labor, the amps lugged up stairwells and the epic quests for clean restrooms, but the emotional labor, the enforced downtime of sound checks, the slow-motion exhaustion of driving hundreds of miles to play to dozens of dinkompoops for tens of dollars, night after night after night after night.

“Dinkompoops”—what a terrible word to call your own fans, the people who came out to see your touring band. And yet, you begin to resent them, the people who support you, because you are so goddamn fucking tired; tired of the driving, and the bad food, and the no sleep, and the ugly odors, and having less privacy than a convict, and at some point you project your fury outward, at these nice but ultimately anonymous people you meet every night, an endless procession of them, these wonderful people you’ve started to call “dinkompoops” in your head because you just want to go home. Money can only shield you from so much. I’ve seen biohazard horrors in nightclub bathrooms I’ve never shared with my therapist or wife.

So what is it about this lifestyle that would attract someone who can do, literally, anything? If you could race Ferraris, or hang glide in the Sahara, or explore the ocean floor, then Christ on the fucking cross, why on Earth would you do this?

Cameron Winklevoss and Tyler Winklevoss walking down the street.
Hotfootin’ it to the Black Friday sale at Guitar Center in 2011. Photo via Getty.

The ultrawealthy-rocker community is still small enough that one or two bad eggs can give the whole gang a black eye. Knicks owner James Dolan is one of the most hated owners in professional sports, a villain of nepotism known for a style of antagonistic mismanagement—the handcuffing of Charles Oakley, one of the team’s most visible ex-players; the weird feud with Spike Lee, one of the team’s most visible boosters—so comic it could be performance art.

His band, JD and the Straight Shot, makes full use of all the tools at his disposal. Besides playing Madison Square Garden, the group has recorded with Joe Walsh, and Dolan himself uses Mick Jagger’s vocal coach. The band benefited from his close friendship with Harvey Weinstein, who placed several of their songs in Miramax films. After Weinstein’s downfall, JD and the Straight Shot released a song called “I Should Have Known,” which sounds like an SNL musical number without a punchline (they also have songs about Trayvon Martin, and how James Dolan pays too much in taxes). Rumors say employee attendance at his concerts is strongly recommended.

Most rich rockers aren’t this publicly egregious. Does it matter? For the vast majority of us, the doings of the ultrawealthy are like the internal workings of a casino (or crypto markets), seemingly designed to keep average folks ignorant of how they’re being fleeced. With every ultrarich performer, there will always be a public suspicion that sooner or later, their real id will pop out. It took 15 years and Jared Kushner’s memoir to learn that Bono privately serenaded Rupert Murdoch, on the French Riviera, to celebrate the purchase of The Wall Street Journal.

Where most tycoons flout rules not really designed for them, however, the Winklevosses are outliers for the opposite reason: They’ve embraced the rules. Crypto’s first converts were a motley assortment of hackers, felons, futurists, self-taught cryptographers, and activist libertarians. The Winklevosses were leading forces, and face(s), of compliance, the push to bring crypto into alignment with all regulatory and legal requirements. Silk Road, the infamous online drug and crime bazaar fueled by crypto, served as their ideological foil until flaming out in 2013. Their first crypto business partner, Charlie Shrem, did two years in federal prison precisely because he didn’t take seriously his own duties as compliance officer (the creator of Silk Road is serving two lifetimes). By every measure of the 21st century, the Winklevosses are compliance rock stars, if not real rock stars. Surely no investor ever has ridden that word, “compliance,” to a 600,000 percent rate of return.

And yet something about the two inspires deep antipathy. My own initial, visceral reaction when seeing the New York Times photos of Mars Junction was to mock them on Instagram. Only in wading through the online bile did I grasp the special nature of anti-Winklevoss antipathy, a cascade of derision seemingly disconnected from things like reasons or details. Thus far, their big scandal is being Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss.

And it’s apparently a huge scandal. One New York Post headline read “There’s [sic] now a billion more reasons to hate the Winklevoss twins.” Not to be outdone, the Daily Beast announced the Mars Junction tour with the actual headline “Winklevoss Twins Take Shitty Band on the Road While Their Startup Flounders.” One YouTube commenter raged, in the breathless, gleeful cadence of AM radio, against Mars Junction and “the Facebook freaks,” before the 60-second video morphed, nightmare quick, into an actual advertisement for a product called Dude Wipes (“Flushable wipes for on-the-go and at home shituations [sic]”). Even Larry Summers, former treasury secretary and president of Harvard, called the twins “assholes,” in public, at a tech conference, for the crime of having worn Harvard blazers to their infamous 2004 meeting.

Wealth doesn’t automatically earn resentment. Billionaires anchor both the Marvel and DC cinematic universes. A search for Elon Musk fans gets 50,000 hits on Google. A search for Winklevoss fans gets eight. If there are online forums for Winklevoss fans—and surely there must be—they’ve done an excellent job of disguising themselves. In the weird calculus of the 2020s internet, the twins are both winners and losers.

They themselves don’t always help matters. Whether using terms like “meatspace” to indicate the physical, non-online world, or referring to their employees as astronauts, or tweeting, as Cameron did in May, “Bitcoin isn’t just an asset. And it’s not just a technology. It’s a movement that offers the blueprint to dismantle traditional power structures,” there is a strain of obliviousness that the non-crypto-holding public may find deeply distasteful. To be fair, the buzzwords aren’t aimed at most people. In their profession, such distastefully cheesy jargon has a function, a specific target audience, and thus a dollar value.

Although it’s less of a value now. In the two months preceding the tour, cryptocurrencies lost a trillion dollars in value, crashing down 50 percent from six months earlier. Gemini laid off 10 percent of its staff right before Mars Junction hit the road. The crash presented profound troubles for employees and smaller investors, some of whom watched their savings vanish nearly overnight. The crash also exposed the lack of exposure for those at the top. The NY Times estimated that the downturn knocked each man’s wealth down to $3.3 billion from $4 billion. Put another way: Each man was able to absorb a loss of $700 million—the same amount Crypto.com paid to rename the L.A. Staples Center last year—and still head out on tour.

I recently had the chance to ask the Winklevoss brothers about the optics of what sure looked like an unforced error. Cameron told me, “The Mars Junction tour was over a year in the making and booked many months in advance of the crypto market downturn. The tour coinciding with the downturn and Gemini layoffs was nothing more than an unhappy coincidence. The timing sucked, but that’s life. Canceling the tour wouldn’t have prevented the layoffs or made crypto markets better. So it didn’t make sense to not follow through with the tour. We felt like we had a responsibility to ourselves, our bandmates, and the venues to see it through.”

He added, “People would be better served to focus on themselves and what they are doing and leave it to us to worry about Gemini and Mars Junction.”

This answer, of course, doesn’t really make sense. But it was an echo. I was reminded of the infamous Wu-Tang Clan LP Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, which, limited to a single copy in 2015, became the most expensive album ever sold (and is now known as the intellectual godfather of NFTs).

According to the book account by Cyrus Bozorgmehr, financial council to the Wu-Tang, the record was sold to Martin Shkreli before Shkreli became the most hated man in America for marking up an AIDS drug by 5,455 percent. When Shkreli was outed as a shit, then got drunk and outed himself as the record’s owner, the Wu-Tang Clan were left with a smoldering crater of an optics problem they chose to double down on.

Bozorgmehr takes more than 200 pages to provide something close to a coherent motive for creating an exclusive album for the ultrawealthy. He writes, with studied fuzziness, “If we don’t support musicians as a society and all contribute to its sustainability, then it will end up in the hands of the most ruthless capitalists out there.” This rationale seems, in its slightly spiteful and punitive tone, to ignore the increasingly logical conclusion that “professional musician” may not be a job for the rest of this century. And that’s sad, but only in the same way it’s sad that there are no more switchboard operators, or ice delivery boys, or town criers.

With the collapse of a recordings sale structure, music tours may eventually be the realm of the independently wealthy. Is this really a surprise? In a world where Christian punk and Nazi rap are real things, billionaire rock bands feel inevitable. It’s their audience that’s the question mark. As capital consolidates into fewer and fewer hands, as essential services are defunded to ensure privatization and inflation outstrips wages already stripped bare by wage theft, as infrastructure fails due to ever-larger climatic disasters and GoFundMe becomes less and less viable as a national health care service, and as the wealthy escape to locations so fabulous and remote that we can’t even peek at them on Zillow, the rest of us stuck here in a rapidly warming meatspace may not be so friendly to the spectacle of billionaires rocking out.

The very public nature of the Winklevoss’ musical journey is way more interesting than the music itself. Why would people so widely and wildly vilified announce where and when to find them? Moguls usually keep their pastimes private and secure. In 2015, Kim Kardashian paid $110,000 to rent out the Staples Center for Kanye West’s 38th birthday. We only know that this happened because, well, it was the Staples Center they rented out, a vast public space made private through sheer dollar power.

They could tour like this. Mars Junction could rent out the entire space—renamed the Crypto.com Arena six months before the crash—fill the place to capacity, then pay every audience member a crisp Ben Franklin to scream like schoolgirls. You could do all this for just over $1.4 million. Which means, as of this writing, you could do all this for just under 73 Bitcoins. Forbes puts the Winklevoss holding at 70,000 Bitcoins.

A VIP pass to a Mars Junction show.
An all-access pass to bitter disappointment.

I asked both men about the politics of covering Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name Of” (the line “they are the machine” has become a mini-trope in the Winklevoss online commentary ecosystem). So do the Winklevosses endorse BLM and the Defund the Police movements? Cameron answered, “We pick songs we love playing and are crowd-pleasers. We aim to have fun and rock out, that’s it.”

This answer, of course, is self-evident horseshit. I asked about their cover of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” Forget the obvious symbolism of singing this song after laying off a tenth of your company; why even attempt such a karaoke minefield? In character, he broke down the technical ambition.

“I have a male tenor range and this song is well within it. The high notes are B4 on a piano, which is actually not that high, it just sounds high. That’s part of Steve Perry’s magic.... I could have played it safe, but I decided not to. Life is too short. I’d rather fail faster, because you learn faster that way. I had a rowing coach who once told me that if you hit all of the goals you set for yourself each year, you’re not setting them high enough. That message really stuck with me, and I’ve always tried to apply it to every part of my life.”

Okay advice. But if there are failures here, that implies there can be success. What would success look like to Mars Junction? Do they want to headline larger clubs? Get a record deal? Play the Crypto.com Arena without having to part with 73 Bitcoins?

There's another way to look at this. We've been living in a Post-Poser Era for some time now. Every song or band, no matter how obscure, can be found instantly and anywhere. “Authenticity” is losing cohesion as a concept; it’s a speed bump to brand building, an abstraction in the distance. But posers were once essential roles in American music. They let the rest of us feel secure in our coolness. Could billionaire dad-band rockers be the new posers? I find the thought oddly comforting. Someone needs to take up the mantle again, and all the better if it’s people we never, ever have to feel sorry for.

And there are certainly so many worse things to be than a poser (like supporting fascism in the recent Arizona senatorial race, as the twins did). If the Winklevoss fellows are smart—and no one accuses them of being dumb—they’ll leap at this rebranding opportunity. Better to be hated like Nickelback than hated like Marie Antoinette.

This article appeared in the Winter 2022 edition of CREEM. Explore the entire issue in our archive, buy a copy, and subscribe for more.

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