Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Shine a Rock-Star Light

So, tonight I am going to attend Jarvis Cocker's concert at Terminal Five with my friend S. (Not to be confused with partner S., as he largely prefers to abstain from shows in general, unless there is promise of comfortable chairs and cocktail waitresses serving sidecars. And who can blame him? Standing-room-only makes my feet hurt just thinking about it.) There is the distinct chance that we may go backstage after the show, as my friend S. is a friend of a friend (if you get my drift).

This may be the first time in my entire life that I've ever had even the glancing opportunity to "go backstage." And thus, my first experience of the feeling: I'm not sure I want to. But not just that I don't want to...that it actually makes me NERVOUS to think about this happening. Which (as Wednesday's child and a generally inquisitive person) makes me ask, "why?"

Why would I be nervous at the prospect of shaking hands and making brief small talk with a sweaty British pop star? Why would I be actually indignant about the opportunity to gain access to the hallowed area stalked by fan(atics) searching to touch the damp hem of a headliner's tee-shirt?

I have found that in my brief and stilted career of meeting "famous" people, I suffer from a curious combination of star-struck and star-sour. I am mightily annoyed that I am intimidated by the prospect of going backstage, and even more mightily annoyed that I am nervous about that. I am catastrophically annoyed that, despite my deep disinterest in things-and-people-famous, I am not immune to the strike of starlight.

I cannot say star-struck. That would be too strong. I haven't ever been to one of Cocker's concert, or to any of Pulp's. In fact, yrs trly doesn't really go to shows all that often unless they involve costumes or jazz interpretations of Bjork. In other words--sillyness mixed with pageantry. The Sincere Rock Show (or Pop Show, or whatever the kids are calling it these days) gives me the hives, in the way that seeing middle-aged men exposing chest hair at art openings while chatting up younger women does. I DIDN'T SAY IT WAS FAIR. It's just the way I feel about star culture in general, and rock culture in particular.

Yet the possibility for a strike o' starlight to become a star-striking looms in the eves, and I am sore afraid. How much easier it is to meet a famous person in less famous settings. Like, say, at a friend of a friend's party, where the conversation can go something like this:

Friend-of-a-Friend: This is M. She is a poet and designer. M, meet Star. He's a star.

Star: Hi. Poetry, huh. What do you design?

Me: Nice to meet you. I work in advertising...designing advertising stuff. You know, to support poetry. Whew, it's hot tonight, huh?

--Silence falls as Star looks at his/her shoes or over
M.'s shoulder, and M. does same.--

Friend-of-a-Friend: Friend said you two went to see the new MoMA exhibit yesterday. How was it?

--Palpable relief followed by stilted, idle chit-chat.
M. excuses herself and wanders back to bar.--

What exactly is motivating this exchange? Well, embarrassment for one. For some reason, I always assume famous people are so tired of meeting people that they don't have much to say. So, I don't really expect them to say anything, and I don't really like asking them questions. The closest I came to letting myself run off at the mouth before someone whose work I admired was when I met Anne Carson in April. Let me just say


I did not tell her this, in so many words. I did not wax rapturous about how much I like her work, and her daring, and her long, gray-speckled braid. No, I did not. Instead, I said:

Me: Nice to meet you. I really admire your work.

She (placidly, sweetly): Thank you.

Me (unable to leave it at that): In particular, your book on eros. It had a large influence on me.

She: Yes...I liked that book very much once, too.

--Awkward pause. Will M. continue to rhapsodize about A.'s work?
Will compliments become saccharine? Will A. cry and run from the room,
or will she turn her back on the maladroit young poet?--

Me: Well, I guess books are better than kids. When you don't like them anymore, they're easier to get rid off.

She: (Actually laughs.)

This was one of my better moments, trust me. But afterward, I thought, why on earth didn't I just leave it at "I admire your work." And then I said to myself, "why not??? Don't people like to hear that people admire their work?" And then I thought, "why do I have such complicated, WASP-y feelings about fame? I was raised Catholic, dammit! I should be on my knees, kissing her proffered knuckles and weeping!!!"

Yet there it is. Maybe WASP-y is the wrong word. I was tempted to write blue-collar, but I'm not sure that would be accurate, either. I never saw either of my parents interact with someone of insinuated prestige, except perhaps a general at a National Guard ball. Does that count?

It may actually be the perfect example of why I'm pent-up about fame. Growing up in the military, hierarchies bear a tremendous amount of weight on one's life. Fortunately for me I did not grow up on base, where I've heard it's worse (i.e. hierarchy among the officers' kids versus enlisted, sub-hierarchy among generals and colonels versus majors and captains, etc. etc.) My fathers dealt with these hierarchies like they were Protestant caste systems. Yes, you were born into your place--but with hard work, sobriety and tenacity, you could rise to the top by virtue of your, well, virtues. Whenever I did see my father interact with superior officers, he was every inch the army professional. "Yes, sirs" and "No, sirs." and "Thank you, sirs" would float in the air around his head, stiffly perched until he was given leave.

That's right. Given leave. I seem to recall that my father was the superior officer in our house, and our interactions were guided by a similar principle. This may be an exaggeration of my memory, but I suspect it's at least partially true. There was obeisance and discipline before those who must be obeyed, with the hope that one day my virtues would lead up to a satisfactory, independent life where I was master of my own domain.

But what if you are supposed to be awed into obeisance by someone whose "virtues" you find spurious? What if you are confronted by an entity whom society places "above" you, in terms of accomplishments and recognition, but whose accomplishments you find less interesting than their person? What if, under all of this, you chafe at the idea of hierarchies and are resentful of your innate response to the heirs-apparent? And what if you hate their art AND their person?

Well, I suppose those questions are a good start at summing it up. But we can't forget vulgarity! While I may greatly admire someone's work, and may also be awed/intimidated by their power and success, there's a part of me that finds the whole thing vulgar. Hence the WASP comparison. But my leanings are definitely more socialist...it's not that I feel anything-they-can-do-I-can-do-better, but that just-because-you-make-good-music-doesn't-mean-that-social-workers-aren't-as-worthy-of-adulation-so-why-am-I-making-a-big-deal-about-you-when-I-don't-even-value-what-you-do-enough-to-pay-for-the-album? (Shh. Don't tell.)

Or it could be fear that I will say something embarrassing because I'm fighting these internal struggles? Fear of being rejected by someone generically valued by society? Anxiety of influence?

THAT IS IT. I am afraid that I will want to wear Jarvis Cocker glasses. I am so, so afraid.

He does have great style, though. Maybe I should just relax and go with the flow. Even though I was a fat kid, it's no reason to be pent up about the guy. I never robbed anyone, after all, so why be a chump. I'll even tell him I admire his work, should the opportunity come to pass.


Collins said...

what i find most amusing about this is that you are all bent out of shape about jarvis frakking cocker, who never had a mainstream fame here in america and certainly could walk around the streets of most american cities-- including the big apple-- innocuously.

sure, he's a musician (and a fine one at that) who was included on the soundtrack of a relatively mainstream literary (reaching here) movie from years back. and brit pop babies love him. but he's no miley cyrus and in the pop lexicon that makes him pretty much exactly like you.

think of it this way, it's like he is the lead and you the understudy of a recently discovered off-broadway play. sure, people within the biz recognize his name and you even admire his abilities, but pretty soon that will be your name above the title of the show and someone else will be thinking about-- and worrying about their WASPy reactions to-- you and your greatness.

Collins said...

oh and PS...my general protocol when meeting someone "famous" is to stay away from stating the obvious.

case in point: once i met carolyn peck, head coach of the women's pro basketball team in orlando and graduate of vanderbilt in the early 90s. she is an imposing (6 foot 4 without heels) black woman from johnson city, tn (very rural) who worked her way through college and played college and professional ball. i talked my way into the tunnel next to the locker room after a game and when she came out to sign an autograph for me all i said was: "wow. you're really tall."

and that my friend is now NOT to interact with someon you admire.

mem said...

Thanks for the advice. I'm not going to think too hard on comparisons between Jarvis (Albeit Big In Europe) Cocker and Miley (An American Embarrassment) Cyrus. Because my brain might explode.

I recognize, and embrace, the dorkitude of my tastes.

-cue music -

FAAAAAAME!!!!!! I'm gonna live FOREVER!!!!!

mem said...

I embrace the euro-trash dorkitude of my tastes. And I will not dwell too long on comparisons between the career of Jarvis Big-in-Europe Cocker and Miley Jail-Bait Cyrus.

-cue music-

FAAAAAAAME! I'm gonna live forEVer....

(M. exits, with jazz-hands)

mem said...

Why does my computer hate me? Is it because I'm not famous?

Collins said...

i think it just wants to keep you in your unfamous place.

mem said...

Can't we AT LEAST say infamous?