Friday, September 17, 2010

"See my name on the wall"

Peter Terzian blogs at Earworms about Kristen Hersh and the music of 50 Foot Wave.

I've been meaning to get her book Rat Girl, which sounds very much up my alley, but I was also struck by Peter's thoughts on Hersh's advice to audience members at a panel discussion ("Don’t try to get famous, just try to get good at what you do, because to become famous, you probably have to suck at least a little").

There are certainly exceptions to the assertion offered in the second part of the sentence, but the first part of the advice seems to me extremely sound; Peter then adds:
The truth is that ever since I was a little kid I’ve wanted to be famous. After all, is this not America? I used to watch television and fantasize that I would be cast in a sitcom as a wisecracking adopted orphan, the kind who used to show up in the fourth or fifth season, when the ratings were going south. (Why such a marginal part? Why not a starring role? Why not my own show? To be saved for a future therapy session.) The particulars changed, but the fantasy never went away: At the bottom of my mental list of things to do over the course of my life, right underneath “Travel a lot” and “Be good to other people” and “Read all of Dickens” and “Dress better,” is written, in invisible ink, “Get famous.” To be known and loved by everyone! It always seemed like a great idea. But as I’ve grown older and watched some friends gain fame, I see that it can also become loaded with problems. It’s not like fame has been banging on my door, begging to be let i[n], but lately I’ve taken up the slow process of crossing that particular bullet point out. Family, good friends, a partner, a dog who does a crazy dance every time you walk in the door—that’s famous enough.
When I was little, I too wanted to be famous, partly because I knew I wanted to be a writer and it seemed to me that good writers should be famous (!?!) but also because of an unwarranted assumption that life would only be interesting if I were famous.

In adulthood I realize that it is much more important to me that life should be interesting than anything else (i.e. interestingness and intellectual and artistic stimulation rank considerably higher than fame or fortune); fame or fortune are only incidentally valuable insofar as they increase the opportunity to do interesting things, but in fact fame may undercut that possibility, because many or most people find it hard to converse normally with famous people.

I do know some famous people, both of my own peer group and of others, and I definitely can see that the famous are often subsequently restricted, for their real emotional or intellectual sustenance, to the friends they formed before they became famous - it seems to me now not at all an inherently desirable thing that one should become well-known outside extremely specialized circles, though of course one wants to have a certain amount of authority in daily life (i.e. to have people one likes and respects care about and listen to what one thinks).

Bonus link: the Throwing Muses song that I used to listen to all the time when I was a Young Person....

1 comment:

  1. You may enjoy Daniel Kehlmann's novel entitled Fame. Worth seeking out and recently translated into English.