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photo: Jodi Grinell

Fame

"money for nothin and your chicks for free...."

How anyone could hear Dire Straits without the irony is beyond me. Rock stars by definition can pretty much pay for what they want and then some, and anyone who thinks that work isn't involved isn't paying attention.

In my mad grasp for fame and fortune I've had to ask at least two questions, "Why is fame so important to you, and what is the relevance of achieving fame at a particular age?"

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Your name in lights!

For many artists, and probably the consensus generally in most cultures, fame is equated with recognition, or acknowledgment. The idea is that until you have achieved fame, you haven't received recognition, and, worse, that lack of fame means that you/your work doesn't deserve the fame you hoped for. This notion is so fundamentally wrong and destructive that I wish I could annihilate it in a single stroke of the pen, or swipe across a keyboard.

Vincent Van Gogh is the example par excellence of what this belief can do to a working artist.

Many artists, having reached a level of fame in their time, have complained about the deleterious effects on their personal lives. Greta Garbo comes to mind. Bob Dylan referred to his "famiosity" in this context. Picasso kvetched along similar lines. A "famous" little anecdote: He supposedly received a check written for, say, $100, from a woman who waxed eloquent about her admiration for his work and requesting only some little thing from him that had his signature. Picasso reportedly signed  the check and sent it back to her.

Having your cake(fame) and eating it too(your privacy) is apparently a whole separate task for anyone working or attempting to work in the public eye. Tiger Woods' named his boat, "Privacy." Woods' addictions, personal and private though they were, are now "famous" in their own right. In a casual conversation once with a friend a while ago, I made the suggestion that I believed Tiger Woods was "naive." My friend "Oh, come nowed" me since Woods had obviously "sold out" to Nike and other sponsors -- he was too corrupt, too calculating to be considered naive. But that is exactly my point. In a Vogue article, the writer referred to Woods as having "incredible arrogance" as well as "incredible naivete...."

More to myself than to anyone one else I predicted years ago that Woods would go through some sort of
reckoning in his thirties-- I was thinking of the necessary rites of passage that we all face in growing up, in losing our naivete, in coping with the most personal issues in our family and circle of loved ones, and
particularly the grief that is everyone's lot--I had no clue as to the specific and particular weight of what Woods would encounter through the burgeoning scandal, nor any inkling of his own family background.

But I admired Woods, and still do for what Robert Bly and others would consider his "warrior energy." The problem remains that there are other vital stages beyond the warrior, beyond ambition, however necessary they may be, to become a grownup, to become human, to live a whole-hearted life. Like many other golf fans, I wish the best for Woods and his family and friends, but I have no illusions that he somehow gets to escape his reckoning with his own humanity "in the silences of his personal despair," as Joseph Campbell writes. Perhaps his story, however sordid and grief-laden it is, will actually help young fans of his deal with their own struggle in becoming whole people. Fame definitely came up to bite him in the ass.

My friend was rightly suspicious of Woods' posturing along with his determination to force his will onto the public arena, but the gift and the determination are not to be gainsaid.   And I love his contribution to the game and stand by my song about a young man striving to be his best. The ambition to accomplish something "great" is not to be sneered at.

And so... the opportunity of contributing to the world because of one's "famiosity" is not to be gainsaid either. While I am claiming not to care about fame, I do want it insofar as it is a tool for communicating my work. I don't believe that it proves anything about the worth of that work, or my personal worth as a human being, but I certainly recognize the opportunity fame offers anyone in sharing their gifts. I wouldn't want to waste it.

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"Self Portrait," acrylic on canvas, 1984

 

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