Saturday, July 27, 2013

A star is born, and then stands there not knowing what to do. (Brushes With Fame)

The first famous person I ever met in my life, probably, was Santa Claus.

You don't think of Santa as a famous person, but really, he is.  Think about it: Santa is, when you are a kid, everywhere.  He's on cards and Coke commercials and wrapping paper and at the mall with a line of people waiting to see him and everybody recognizes him, everywhere he goes, but you mostly see him on TV and in the movies, except for when you finally -- finally! -- get to go to the mall to meet Santa!

And you get your picture taken with him, in awkward poses, and then you go on your way, your brush with fame over.

You don't think of Santa as a celebrity, generally, but he is, and he is, as I said, the first celebrity children get to know -- not personally, we never know celebrities personally, but rather, get to "know" the way we think we "know" celebrities, by gathering information (clues, really) to their personalities.

"Oh, he lives with Mrs. Claus and the elves," we think (probably? We are young) "So he must be a good family man," and we absorb that image of Santa -- the good family man, possibly a little disappointed because he never had children of his own to throw a (snow)ball around with, possibly a little relieved -- and make it our own, so much so that we would be shocked to see a picture of Santa in a sharp business suit, sunglasses on, holding a bluetooth cellphone to his head as he went to a meeting to discuss whether or not to license his image to a line of paper towels. (Santiwipes)(TM).

It is maybe from those earliest memories of childhood -- waiting in line to meet Santa, the man himself, the guy who could travel around the whole world in a night and who had Claymation epics made about his life -- that I formed my own peculiar ideas about fame, although maybe they are not so peculiar, really, maybe everyone thinks about fame the same way.

Here is how I think about fame:

1.  When other people have it, I want desperately to appear to be completely unaffected by the fact that the other person is famous and at the same time I want desperately for the famous person to notice me.

2. I want it.

I wondered, as I typed that last sentence, whether it is cool to admit that I want fame, but you know? I don't care.  I want to be famous.  REALLY REALLY BADLY.  Not just because fame seems to carry with it wealth and glamour and vacations in Ibiza, which I don't even know where it is but famous people go there in the winter and so I want to go there, too.

Famous people can invert weather.  If you are famous, that means that you go to Ibiza, maybe?, in the winter, and I know you are there because people post pictures of you, being famous, in the sunshine and warmth, while I am freezing, and if you are famous, too, then you get to go skiing in the mountains in the spring or summer, so if you are famous, you get to have the weather conform to your whims.

(It is possible that merely rich, rather than rich-and-famous, or famous-and-rich, people can do this trick, too, but if they can, I don't know it because they aren't famous enough for other people to want to tell me about what they are doing.  So as far as I am concerned, fame is the lever that moves the world, here.)

Famous people live in beautiful places, and go to cool events, and meet other cool famous people, and famous people get get things done.  At least, the things I want to get done -- making movies, publishing books, having action figures made resembling the parts they played in the movies they made from the books they wrote.

(Again, the merely rich can probably get things done, too, but if being merely rich were enough to achieve the level of life-satisfaction that is optimal -- famous level -- than why would people like Nathan Myhrvold work so hard to achieve fame, on top of riches?  Nathan Myhrvold, you may or may not know, is a superrich guy who got superrich working for Microsoft, and then got superricher running a company called Intellectual Ventures which is, depending on who you talk to, a patent troll or the greatest company ever in the world, or both, but which no matter how you look at it is a company that has developed technology that can let mosquitoes be zapped by tiny lasers, and only female mosquitoes, at that. You'd think that would be enough but even on top of that Nathan Myhrvold wrote a giant cookbook called Modernist Cuisine (and by "giant" I mean "even bigger than you were imagining," because Modernist Cuisine is six volumes and over 2,400 pages long, which is at least 2,399 pages longer than it takes to say "Pick up a pizza on the way home and voila, dinner is ready!" so this is clearly a book that does not cook food the way I, for example, cook food.  Nathan Myrhvold wrote that book, in the process cutting some ovens in half, and then went out and promoted that book on talk shows and stuff.  Now, far be it from me to prejudge the American bookbuying public, but I think that about 0.000000000000001% of the public is actually going to buy the book "Modernist Cuisine" because it retails at $525.73 (only $494.23, used, on Amazon!) and weighs 52.2 pounds, and because it suggests that you make cheese dip using only real cheese plus a little bit of "sodium citrate."  If you do not know what "sodium citrate" is, the recipe from the book helpfully explains:

Sodium citrate is a sodium salt of citric acid, which is found naturally in citrus fruits. 
But lest you get to cocky, home cooks, the book also warns:

You cannot substitute citric acid for sodium citrate in this recipe.
So just drop that vial of citric acid right there.

The point is, Nathan Myrhvold can't possibly think that the American public, sitting at home watching "Conan", is going to immediately go online and order this book and start bringing chemistry experiments to their NFL Draft parties, but there he was, still, on talk shows, plugging his "book."  Why?

Because money, and the ability to rig up a laser show that protects you from mosquitoes, is not enough.  Nathan Myrhvold wants fame.)

Like me.

And I know what many of you are thinking: Yeah, but what about the loss of privacy that comes with fame? Don't you want to sometimes be left alone and not have paparazzi taking pictures of you and demanding to know who that woman you went to the movies with was?

(It was Sweetie.  My true fans would know that.)

And the answer is: no.

Having never been subjected to the phenomenon of walking outside of a nightclub at 2 or 3 or 4 a.m. only to be confronted with 10 or 20 or 30 screaming paparazzi trying desperately to get me to "flip them the bird," as we used to never say, so that they can sell that picture to blogs the next day, I can easily be faulted for not knowing what this is like, but, then, I can easily be faulted for saying, or at least wanting to get close enough to say, to the famous people who resent such things, "Trade with me!"

You know what happens when I walk out of a nightclub at 2 or 3 or 4 a.m.?  First of all, nothing.  I can't imagine wanting to be at a nightclub at 2 or 3 or 4 a.m.  Last night -- Friday night -- I let the boys stay up late, until just past nine, because I got home from work late and wanted to spend some time with them.  Then, after they went to bed, I 'partied' by taking some Benadryl for a cold I have and going up to my bedroom to read The Brothers Karamazov.  Also, I read this one column on McSweeney's that I like where the girl talks about nuclear test sites.

So it wouldn't bother me that paparazzi are waiting to take pictures of me outside a nightclub at 4 a.m. because I would not be there, so too bad for them.  But even if the paparazzi eventually figured that out and hung out instead where they are likely to find me (McDonald's drive-thru, 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning, anxiously awaiting a "steak, egg, and cheese bagel") I still wouldn't mind them because I want them to be there taking pictures of me.

THAT, after all, is THE WHOLE POINT OF TRYING TO GET FAMOUS:  You want people to notice you and wonder what you are doing (and buy your books so they sell enough copies to be made into movies and then get action figures, etc.) and so I kind of hate people who get famous and then say "I don't want all this famousness to go with the famousness I have," and punch out paparazzi.

There was a time, for example, when Nick Lachey was famous.  He was on a television show, with Jessica Simpson, called "Newlyweds."  Sweetie used to watch that show; I watched only one episode of it, the one where Nick Lachey has nothing better to do than hire a bunch of people to redo his garden, because he is famous, and famous people, when they want to redo a garden, do not take their meager budget to Home Depot and buy one-half of a weed whacker; they just go hire a bunch of people and then have a garden by the time they stop playing video games.

On one of the episodes of Newlyweds, Nick and Jessica were having dinner, sitting outside a restaurant in the beautiful night air of California, which is where famous people get to live.  (Nonfamous people, I think, also live there but if they do, I've never heard of them.  I was in California, once.  I spent every single second staring at all the people around me to determine if they were famous.  I never saw even a single famous person the entire time we were there, although Sweetie says that a guy named "Craig Bierko" stood behind us in line at the airport.  I still get kind of tingly thinking about it.)

Nick and Jessica were complaining that the paparazzi were there taking pictures of them, and that they wanted their privacy, which

(A) What? Was there some part of the "I am going to become a famous singer and then get a television show" path to fame that you misunderstood, and so you thought people would only pay attention to you when on the stage? and

(B) They were complaining about the invasion of privacy by speaking directly to the cameras they were paying to follow them around and record their every move.

You wouldn't -- won't -- catch me being hypocritical about fame, should fame catch me.  If I ever get famous, I will smile and wave to the paparazzi and joke with them and call them all "pal," because I won't want to know their names -- I'm famous, remember? I don't mingle -- and I will remember that the more cameras which are on me, the better I'm doing, and I'll remember, too, that famous people have the ability, anytime they want, to simply get on a jet and go to some remote tiny island in the middle of the bluest, clearest, least-sharky water that you'll ever in your life imagine existed, and stay there until they get tired of being alone and then come back, where people will want to hug them just for existing.

THAT is how I picture fame, and some part of that arose from, as I said, my brushes with fame both in person and in my head, beginning all the way back with Santa when I was a kid and continuing on now, where my brushes with fame primarily happen remotely and not very often.

I have, during my life, spent time attempting to become famous, in some way.  I have, in my time, achieved a tiny modicum, a snaplet, really, of fame.  I have met and/or interacted with famous people.  And I am going to tell about it in this series of posts, because I feel like it, and because maybe that will make me famous.

But this has been a long post already, and I don't want to begin a whole story about a famous person I met or did not meet, or wanted to meet or did not want to meet, so I will instead wrap this up with my first starring role as a person existing in this world.

If you are going to be famous, you have to perform in front of people, and if you are going to perform in front of people and get famous, you have to be a star.  Sure, you can start in the chorus and work your way up, but that takes a long time and involves, as the phrase says, work.  So I didn't begin my quest for fame standing in a line with other hopefuls, but rather, standing right out in front of them, the focal point and star of the show.

The event was a choir concert from when I was in fourth, or fifth grade.  That may not sound like much, but did you know that George Clooney broke into show business when he was discovered by a talent agency performing in his sixth grade marching band? That's not true, but it should be because it would make George Clooney seem more relatable.

I don't remember which concert, particularly, this was; in music class, if I remember correctly or maybe my mind just is filling in the blanks from 36 years ago but if so, it doesn't really remember because my memories are what they are, so in music class, we would sing songs and every so often the class would have an "assembly" to perform those songs, mostly for parents of the people in the classes.  I want to say that these assemblies were usually seasonal, so this was probably a Christmas concert or something of the sort, but it's possible it was an assembly solely for the sake of singing songs.  That kind of thing happened at Hartland Elementary South, where I went to fourth and fifth grades: once, we had an assembly where a woman came in during the school day and sang Pat Benatar songs to us.  She may have even been Pat Benatar, for all I know; I never really knew what was going on back then (or now), but I kind of doubt that, if only because I think more people than me would remember Pat Benatar performing her songs for a schoolful of elementary students in Hartland, Wisconsin, in about 1979 or 1980.

This woman came and performed those songs and was, as far as we were concerned, famous -- although for my part I was more baffled than impressed: Why, I remember wondering, were we being sung at? Still, I've always sort of had a nostalgic soft spot for the song Heartbreaker.

So: choir concerts.  We were going to put on a concert, and around the day of the concert or so, my teacher pulled me aside and said that they had a special role for me.  I was to be the "Emcee!", which I did not understand at all because it didn't make any sense.

"You're going to stand in front of the choir and announce the songs and tell about them," my teacher said.

Looking back, I have to wonder if this was a critique of my singing technique, or perhaps recognition that if I was left to my own devices standing on the risers and singing with the rest of the students, I would likely eventually pull out a book and start reading, or perhaps just get confused about where we were and go wander off.  It seems like it couldn't be about my singing, per se, because who is so bad at singing, as a little kid, that they cannot be trusted to blend in with the 27 other terrible little kind singers all hitting different notes at different times in different keys while the music teacher gesticulates self-importantly slightly off to the side, contortions of arms and faces that are completely pointless in that none of the fourth graders standing in front of her are even looking at her?

It could also have been a recognition of my advanced status -- I was generally considered one of the smarter kids in my class, if not one of the most motivated kids -- that I was chosen to give the introductions to the songs, too, a status that was afforded me as maybe? the most literate of the fourth-graders? After all, in fourth grade, I was one of the first kids to memorize all of the multiplication tables, 1-9, the contest being largely between me and Kevin Donnerbauer, the kid who had only one thumb.  Nice guy.

In any event, for whatever reason, I was chosen to emcee the event, and given a little script to read before each song.  I do not remember being given any particular rehearsal or training in how to read these or anything like that, although I don't not remember it, either.  This was a long time ago.

What I do recall is that at the start of the event, my class was all standing on the risers as the parents settled, in the gym/lunchroom, into their metal folding chairs and the lights dimmed slightly to indicate that parents were to stop talking about property taxes and start instead looking at their children, and my teacher motioned me to walk out.

I didn't know what to do, so I winged it, the way a natural-born celebrity should.  I walked to the microphone, glasses perched precariously on my face, my hair shiny and combed a bit, my sweater vest stretched a little too tightly over my stomach, which wasn't yet fat but was heading there, and took the first of the note sheets out.

I read the introduction to the evening, and the introduction to the song itself, and the name of the song, standing there in the 'spotlight' which was really just the one row of lights in the gym/lunchroom that had been left on, and as I finished the paragraph, the music teacher started waving her arms around and the class started singing whatever song I had just introduced...

...and I stood there.

Nobody had told me what to do during the songs. I looked at the audience, me standing there in front of the microphone holding cards as though I was going to have a solo or something, and then I looked at the teacher, who was waving her hands around like Leonard Bernstein being attacked by invisible bees, and I looked back at my class, who were all struggling to remember the lyrics to the song, and nobody was telling me what to do.

I thought about going to join the class, but there wasn't a clear spot on the risers, and I didn't think I should walk off to the side and just stand there.  Left with no options, I turned back to the audience and just stood there, mutely, looking at them, as they looked at the singers and the teacher and me.

That is what I did throughout the show.  The singing would stop.  I would look at the teacher, who would nod, and I would read the next card.  The class would sing, and I would stand there, holding my cards awkwardly and staring out at the audience for the length of the song.  Eventually, I added a bit of a gimmick to my otherwise-limited repertoire: When the music hit a particular peak, or at the end of the song, I nodded, as if to indicate that was exactly what I, the emcee expected of them.

My long march toward fame had begun.

I wrote about Modernist Cuisine and the fact that cooking is now merely a hobby, back in April 2011, in my post "The Best Cookbook."  Click this link to read that. 

I wrote about Nick Lachey 5 years ago in a post titled "The Best Celebrity I Think I Could Hang Out With," which you can read by clicking this link.


Andrew Leon said...

Being in CA as allowed me to have George Lucas nod at me.
Also, in CA, I have met the members of Jars of Clay, DC Talk, and, well, a lot of others.
However, in LA and TX, I actually got to know some famous people well enough that they knew my name back. People who are no longer famous but were famous enough at the time.

And then there's Geoff Moore, which is a story I plan to tell some time.

All of that said, I'd rather be merely "well-known" and financially well off enough to not have to worry at the end of each month how I'm going to make the pay check stretch to cover the food for the last week than be famous.

Briane P said...

By my theory, though, if you are famous you'll have no worries about the money. Famous people attract money like magnets attract... things that are magnetic? Iron, probably.

Who's Geoff Moore?

Andrew Leon said...

Or that stuff that attracts flies.

Geoff Moore:
Just the song is him. He was really pre-youtube, so there aren't any good options of videos.