The Care and Feeding of Fame Monsters

Fame puts you there where things are hollow

David Bowie

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The title of this piece bears no relation to anything Gaga-esque. Although maybe it does, I wouldn’t know, not having paid much attention to her album of the same name. My jury is still out on Lady Gaga. In the 1930s, Elsa Schiaparelli designed a dress with a print to give the illusion of torn animal flesh; she also collaborated with Salvador Dali. And Edge of Glory sounds like something Steps would do. But then Pop music isn’t aimed at me, so that’s neither here nor there. Neither is this intended to be a dig at Ms Germanotta, as I said, the jury’s still out, and regardless of whether the term ‘Fame Monster’ means what I have used it to mean, it is, to my ear, a perfect description of one of the types of person mentioned herein. So I shall begin…

There is a world of difference between someone who is an artist and someone who is famous, although it is possible to be both.

Certain things, such as integrity, skill, and truth, will make me respect an artist whether or not I like their work. Conversely, I can enjoy a work without respecting its creator; so if you catch me whistling Agadoo, don’t read too much into it. Actually, if you do catch me whistling Agadoo please shoot me, or at least have me put into a medically induced coma.

Many of my friends are artists – painters, writers, actors, musicians, – all with varying degrees of success. Most of them are infinitely more talented and skilled than household names in similar spheres. One of the reasons for this is that to be famous, the primary desire must be for fame itself.

How many X-Factor contestants, for example, go on to become TV presenters? Likewise, former Hollywood ‘stars’ doing Panto. What’s wrong with making your own music for a tiny but discerning audience, or appearing in something ground-breaking in a small theatre? Oh yes, that might not grace the pages of Heat magazine.

The pursuit of fame is a very different discipline from the pursuit of artistic excellence; therefore you will see a mixture of the skilled and the not so skilled in the public eye.

The degree of self-promotion involved in chasing fame is something with which many artists are uncomfortable, but for fame monsters, it is second nature. I had a laugh with a writer friend over the holidays at the amount of shameless self-promotion we saw going on even on Christmas Day. That, my friends, is dedication.

Artists like to share their work with other artists for feedback, support, objective criticism; all of which will help hone the work so it will be the best it can be. When you know and trust someone else as an artist, you know you’re going to get the truth, even if it’s not what you want to hear.

When a fame monster asks what you think of their latest effort, they really want to know what you think about them, or more usually, they want to hear how much you like them, how brilliant they are. If you offer constructive comments about the work they’ll invariably glaze over because they think they’re so amazing anything you say is irrelevant. The fact that they’re asking you, as an artist, for your opinion is misleading; what they’re really after is an ‘in’ with your contacts. They know you do something in the same field they aspire to top, so just maybe you know Simon Cowell or Dan Brown and will put in a good word for them.

Even if you’re not approached directly by a fame monster, it’s relatively easy to spot one quite early on. The very young can be forgiven, as they may well grow out of it. As a teenager I had a brief spell of wanting to be famous until I discovered what it entails: being recognised in the street, waking to find fans sleeping in your garden or going through your bins, having to take work that’s embarrassing but high profile. The nightmare list goes on and it’s not for me.

Yes, I do occasionally naff and sometimes embarrassing session work, but that’s a technical job, like a tailor doing his best work on a suit he’d never choose to wear himself, and, most importantly, in many cases no one has to know it’s me. It won’t bring me before the eyes of the world, but it’s on my CV as something I can do but choose not to publicly, like the gentleman with the accordion.

Every fame monster has a touch of desperation that never quite goes away. Ultimately, despite their massive egos, they’re usually deeply insecure and will do anything to be ‘loved’ therefore they will probably change their name and develop a persona early on in their careers.

We all have different faces that we use for different situations, most of which occur spontaneously, such as the various social media personae. My own Twitter persona turned out to be more out-spoken and curmudgeonly than I really am, whereas my blog persona is of someone far more eloquent, opinionated, and, I like to think, wiser than you’d find if you ran into me when I’m propping up the bar at the Groucho. I know I express myself best and my thoughts are more organised when writing. This is why I prefer to have important conversations via email rather than face-to face. So please remember this before dropping a big subject on me in public and getting an inappropriate response, or more likely, no response whatsoever. Think of it like this: my thoughts are a tangled skein of rainbow-coloured 4-ply; my word processor is a new-fangled knitting machine with built-in style and taste parameters. Take your pick.

But I digress.

Yes, I have many facets to my character, or maybe many characters living in my head, but they all came of their own accord as a result of living, learning, and interacting in the real world. I could never develop a character to ‘wear’ in public, and I cringe at those who do.

A friend once said to me, ‘even with your hair extensions and plastic surgery, you’re the least fake person I know.’

I took this as both compliment and insight. True fakery comes from within. No amount of external gloss can hide honesty, and no amount of cod-earnest hand-wringing can disguise a fake.

The first stage of someone having a fake persona is when they start talking about themselves in the third person. The second is when they actually discuss the inception of said fake persona. The third is when they claim to be host to a separate entity with a different name and character who takes them over when they perform. If that’s not the ultimate in fake personae, then they’re demonically possessed and should seek the assistance of a good exorcist.

Another trait of the fame monster is the accent change. It could be ‘up’ or ‘down’ from their roots, maybe a softening or hardening of a regional accent depending where they see themselves. Those looking for commercial success will probably ‘go street’. Pop music is full of middle class bastions pretending to hail from the mean streets of Peckham.

If said fame monster succeeds in Pop but at a later stage wants to ‘reinvent’ themselves as a ‘grown up’ artist they might choose to ‘go posh’ or maybe mid-Atlantic.

Then there’s the name. I have a massive problem with gimmicky names. If you have a boring, ugly, or embarrassing name by all means change it, but let’s keep things in perspective. If you’re plain Ann Brown and fancy something more exotic how about Annabel Browne? Perfect if you intend at some point to ‘go posh’, but if you’re intending to ‘go street’, A to the Bell to the B-R-pwn will not inspire me to take your music seriously.

Your choice of name should be like your choice of tattoo: think about how it’s going to look when your showbiz career’s over and you’re collecting your winter heating allowance from a post office in Chipping Norton with an obscenity scrawled across your knuckles and the name of a teenage rapper on your pension book.

Additionally, fame monsters may also express themselves via their appearance, such as being over, or underdressed for the occasion, having an ‘out there’ haircut, or always wearing a hat in lieu of having a personality.

If in the early part of your career you catch yourself doing anything to make you appear more famous than you are – blue-tacking your poster to the side of a stationary bus so people think it’s a proper advert; Photoshopping your name in lights on a picture of a 20,000 seat arena; sneaking your homemade CD’s into a record store; making a video where people run up to you for an autograph – then stop now. Artistic excellence has flown out the window and you are legging it down the Heat Highway on your way to being photographed drunk in the gutter outside China White or wherever anyone who’s no one hangs out these days.

The reason fame monsters chase fame in the manner they do is because they know deep down they just aren’t very good at what they’re doing. All artists doubt their own talent; it’s part of what makes you strive to get better, but the fame monster knows their talent is minimal at best, but if they get really, really famous no one will be allowed to point them out as a naked emperor, and if you do it’s because you’re jealous.

The clever ones recognise their failings and surround themselves with people who are good at what they do, and so give the fame monster the illusion of having created everything themselves. These are the ones most likely to achieve success. The ones who can’t see their limitations tend to sink into a quagmire of bitterness and rage directed at those who are doing better than them.

Generally speaking the bigger the ego, the deeper the insecurity. I think this applies to all areas of life.

Artists grow, fame monsters change. They are prepared to change themselves into anything the market dictates. Each change of outfit or hairstyle is hailed as a ‘reinvention’, when all they really reinvent is the wheel with their unoriginal offerings.

It’s a wonderful thing for an artist to find their work has an audience, but ideally this should come as a result of doing what they love. Chasing fame is all very well, if that’s what’s important to someone, but be prepared to leave your morals and virtues at the door, and be even more prepared that what you did to succeed will be written all over your face.

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By SJB

2 comments on “The Care and Feeding of Fame Monsters

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