Into a world unknown?"--Charles Wesley
"See him, when starved to death and turned to dust,
Presented with a monumental bust!
The poet’s fate is here in emblem shown:
He asked for bread, and he received a stone".--Samuel Wesley
While reading numerous non-LJ weblogs about an issue unrelated to this post, I've been struck by how much name dropping I see among the "fringe literati" whose entries I read. The names vary from the genuinely well known to obscure friends of the weblog diarists.
Some of this I consider healthy, because in some cases folks want to cross-market their friends, and what could be wrong with trying to promote someone you like? But some of the name-dropping has the "look at me, I'm a player, stand in awe" that makes life so curious.
I'm sitting this morning thinking about that most curious attempt at immortality of all--immortality through being "remembered" and "known".
Celebrity is a curious thing. That fellow who apparently can't sing on the singing reality program snares a small-label record deal. Another fellow becomes a celebrity because he is a disc jockey who crossed some line in the sand three times too often, and got disciplined for doing so (although, personally, if I wished to be a celebrity, I'd still pick "gurdonark" as my nom de notoriete over "Bubba the Sponge").
Some lawyers hire public relations firms devoted solely to planting articles about them in the press. This marketing device is expensive, and my rough, half-tutored understanding is that it requires time spent in meetings with people with immaculate (dyed) hair and a seemingly intimate familiarity with "How to Win Friends and Influence People". By the way, for those of you who have not read "How to Win Friends and Influence People", I will provide the "gurdonark notes" version: "Smile a lot, and talk with interest about the person to whom you are talking".
No matter how one slices it, there's an allure to the idea that "I'll write/do/be something impressive, and make a mark". It's a form of a number of things I ubiquitously call "acquisitiveness". Instead of owning a big house or a Jaguar automobile, one will "own" a little slice of a few generations of the zeitgeist. It's an understandable feeling, but it's not only a feeling of the performer/writer/sage/what have you. It's also a dance in which the reader or listener shares.
I find something curious but so human about the way that Lynyrd Skynrd (or Joy Division or John Lennon or whom have you) record sales accelerated after the incident that involved death(s) of the performer(s). Nothing like a death to remind one "hey, I liked that guy".
It's a bit obvious to wonder what life would have been if Syd Barrett, say, had lived a life free from personal demons, and now gardened in late middle age between CDs. Would he have the same allure? I think that people knew better what to do with Iggy Pop at 25 than they do many decades later.
I don't have any grand conclusions, but that idea of "making a mark"--particularly a literary or other artistic mark--intrigues me today. It's a kind of surrogate for an afterlife, I suppose; a curious Heaven shared with reality TV program stars.
Friday night I boarded a plane from Los Angeles to Phoenix (ultimately heading back to Dallas). I fly America West so often that I am dubbed part of the "silver elite", which means I get upgrades when available, and get to board the plane early even when I can't get an upgrade. Friday two attractive English women, blonde and in their late 20s, boarded the airplane into first class just ahead of me. They were dressed in fashions I'll call "designer" dressed-down, with denimware with fancy labels. I'm always intrigued when expensive clothes look cheap.
I am fairly oblivious to celebrities, because (a) I have always adopted what I now think of as the LA way of living, in which one tries not to notice them; (b) the only time I ever recall deviating from (a), a capricious minor somebody humiliated me, reinforcing (a); and (c) I am one of life's oblivious daydreamers generally. But I knew, somehow, that one of these women was famous for something. I just had no idea what.
One of them looked as though she had gotten her sunburn on the sun's surface, so my current surmise is that one of them was a reality television star. I cannot tell you. I cannot even tell you that they were English, as their accent could even have been the more English-y version of Australian accent. I can tell you that when we got to Phoenix, somebody in the airline hallway shouted out to them "Hey! How are you doing!" (they barely nodded) and then turned excitedly to her friends and said "Can you GUESS who that is?" (I didn't hear the answer).
I suppose that as I'm childless, and apt to remain so, I should be worrying about what contribution I am going to make to the civilization in light of my wilful failure to add to the gene pool. Lately I think of all those ants who
work as drones in a civilization to ensure that their sisters and nieces continue to become queens.
I don't have some great answer, because surely it's not wrong to market oneself if one wishes to do so. But it's a frail reed, this self-promotion. I'm not sure it's enough bridge to get one across the river. But what a dangerous prison key it is present to those around one if one is to live one's life as if it only mattered if one is "noticed" or "famous". I will be a bit of a curmudgeon, and say that I don't believe I want to trust my self-worth to other folks' impressions of what is memorable.
That's why I suppose one always writes for oneself. One thinks for oneself. I suppose that one tries to show compassion for everyone, although it is hard to succeed.
I used to say that I'd like my headstone to say "He tried".
But now I wonder if name, date of birth and date of death aren't enough.