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:
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
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.--
I LOVE ANNE CARSON.
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.