May 2009

It's not your brain, it's just the flame

Fame is weird. It makes very little difference whether 10 people know you or 100 people know you. But when a million people know you, everything changes. And nobody can remain unaffected by it. Though some carry it better than others.

I’ve met a fair few people over the years who have attained, or had thrust upon them, varying degrees of fame. Mostly, due to circumstance, musicians. I was struck by how there is a palpable burden associated with it. I’m not talking about wealth or talent or anything like that… I’m talking specifically of fame. Of being known (or more accurately, having a specific, and more than likely distorted, version of yourself known) by a significant proportion of the strangers you meet. Needless to say, for most, there are compensations that ease the burden and they can achieve some level of balance as individuals.

But the downsides are there and sometimes can’t be ignored. The biggest downside is paranoia. Fame breeds paranoia like rabbits breed… well, smaller rabbits. And it can breed arrogance. Serious, megalomaniacal arrogance. Which is a really crap combination. As a result, some of the famous people I’ve met have been extremely difficult to like.

And no. No names. It’s one thing to comment upon the public work and utterances of a person — that’s as much up for grabs as any other part of culture — but blogging behind a real person’s back seems wrong to me. On the other hand, it’s probably fine to say positive things about the people you meet.

Take Eric Clapton for instance. On the two occasions I met him back in the 90s, he was just about the nicest person you could hope to spend time with. His music isn’t really my cup of tea, and the media has made him out to be a bit of a right-wing reactionary. So I was — unjustifiably — expecting him to be a bit of an arse. He wasn’t. And I — quite rightly — felt like a bit of an arse for my prejudice. He was like the coolest uncle you could possibly have. Someone who’d seen a bunch of stuff that you were unlikely to ever see, but could communicate it to you without ever seeming condescending or aloof.

Of all of the well known people I’ve met though, nobody carries fame half as well as Julian Cope. I’ve no doubt it’s caused him his fair share of problems, but he’s worked hard to put it to good use. Most don’t. He’s getting radical, idealistic and subversive messages out into the hands of — well, he’s not selling like Coldplay, but his voice carries further than most. And at the same time he’s remained one of the most likeable, decent people you’ll have the good fortune to bump into. Intelligent, funny and frighteningly well-informed.

A description that also applies to Dorian Cope, his wife and recent addition to the list of bloggers. Her blog, On This Deity, sets out to be

An alternative “On This Day”, On This Deity aims to bring light to and celebrate culture heroes, outsider icons, beloved immortals and symbolic events in history. I might not be able to commit to a daily entry, but will attempt several-times-weekly!

So far it’s been excellent. A wonderful blend of the personal and the analytical. Writing filled with insight and humanity (e.g. 18th May 1980 — the Death of Ian Curtis or 13th May: “Poetry is in the Streets” as One Million March in Paris, May 1968). I recommend it as a worthy addition to any discerning blogroll. See also Merrick’s shout.

Posted in: Opinion