A friend rotated my brain toward the subject of fame.
He aimed my eyes in a new direction when he said, “Do you remember that thing you sent me 10 or 15 years ago?”
I gave him the same blank look that you would have given him.
He continued, “It was that thing Leonard Pitts wrote about being ‘the Man.'”
I recovered it from the Random Quotes database at MondayMorningMemo.com, handed my phone to him and told him to read it out loud. When he was finished, we laughed together like two little boys who heard someone fart in church.
Here it is:
“I’ve got nothing against fame. I’m famous myself. Sort of.
OK, not Will Smith famous. Or Ellen DeGeneres famous. All right, not even Marilu Henner famous.
I’m the kind of famous where you fly into some town to give a speech before that shrinking subset of Americans who still read newspapers and, for that hour, they treat you like a rock star, applauding, crowding around, asking for autographs.
Then it’s over. You walk through the airport the next day and no one gives a second glance. You are nobody again.
Dave Barry told me this story once about Mark Russell, the political satirist. It seems Russell gave this performance where he packed the hall, got a standing O. He was The Man. Later, at the hotel, The Man gets hungry, but the only place to eat is a McDonald’s across the road. The front door is locked, but the drive-through is still open. So he stands in it. A car pulls in behind him. The driver honks and yells, “Great show, Mark!”
The moral of the story is that a certain level of fame — call it the level of minor celebrity — comes with a built-in reality check. One minute, you’re the toast of Milwaukee. The next, you’re standing behind a Buick waiting to order a Big Mac.”
– Leonard Pitts, January 14, 2008
There is something about laughing with a friend that soaks into your heart and redirects your thoughts.
I woke up the next morning thinking about fame, and how easily it comes and goes.
I thought about Bill Cosby and Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. And then my computer told me “Joe the Plumber” had died. Remember Joe the Plumber? He became a celebrity in 2008 when he asked Barack Obama a question. And then it hit me: Andy Warhol was a painter, but what most people remember about him was his colorful comment about each person receiving “15 minutes of fame.”
I could feel the freight train of curiosity gaining momentum in my mind, so I had to quickly decide whether to grab a handrail, swing aboard and see where it would take me, or spend the rest of the day regretting having missed the chance.
I didn’t want to live in regret, so I grabbed a handrail and was yanked off my feet into a noisy, rattling railcar.
When my eyes had grown accustomed to the dust and the half-light, I found the following 19 statements carved into the wooden walls of that railcar. These statements were signed by Marilyn Monroe, Johnny Depp, Erma Bombeck, Tony Bennett, Emily Dickinson, John Wooden, Gene Tierney, Jack Kerouac, George Michael, Eddie Van Halen, Sinead O’Connor, Fran Lebowitz, Michael Huffington, Lord Byron, Arthur Schopenhauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Clive James, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Davy Crockett.
But not in that order. I’m not going to tell you who said what, because I don’t want your reactions to be influenced by your memories of those people.
“Wealth is like sea-water; the more we drink, the thirstier we become; and the same is true of fame.”
“Fame is the thirst of youth.”
“Don’t confuse fame with success. Madonna is one; Helen Keller is the other.”
“Fame comes and goes. Longevity is the thing to aim for.”
“Fame is like caviar, you know – it’s good to have caviar but not when you have it at every meal.”
“I’m not stupid enough to think that I can deal with another 10 or 15 years of major exposure. I think that is the ultimate tragedy of fame… People who are simply out of control, who are lost. I’ve seen so many of them, and I don’t want to be another cliché.”
“Wealth, beauty, and fame are transient. When those are gone, little is left except the need to be useful.”
“Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”
“When kids ask me how it feels to be a rock star, I say leave me alone, I’m not a rock star. I’m not in it for the fame, I’m in it because I like to play.”
“I’m shy, paranoid, whatever word you want to use. I hate fame. I’ve done everything I can to avoid it.”
“A life without fame can be a good life, but fame without a life is no life at all.”
“Fame is a curse… it was the worst phase of my life, which I thank God I’ll never have to go through again.”
“Fame is like a shaved pig with a greased tail, and it is only after it has slipped through the hands of some thousands, that some fellow, by mere chance, holds on to it!”
“When we die our money, fame, and honors will be meaningless. We own nothing in this world. Everything we think we own is in reality only being loaned to us until we die. And on our deathbed at the moment of death, no one but God can save our souls.”
“If fame belonged to me, I could not escape her; if she did not, the longest day would pass me on the chase, and the approbation of my dog would forsake me then. My barefoot rank is better.”
“If a man loves the labour of his trade, apart from any question of success or fame, the gods have called him.”
“First of all, plain and simple, you have no real idea of what it means to be famous until you become famous. It’s a double-edged sword. Obviously there are a lot of amazing things about fame, but there are also a lot of challenging things about it.”
“Andy Warhol made fame more famous.”
“Fame? It’s like old newspapers blowing down Bleecker Street.”
I did not write to you today to warn you about the flickering seduction of fleeting fame.
I wrote to encourage you to grab quickly onto the handrail of curiosity whenever you sense that rattling, noisy, half-lit railcar beginning to gain momentum in your mind.
Ride the rattling railcar of curiosity! Regardless of where it takes you, it is always a wonderful ride.
That is my advice to you.
Roy H. Williams
The odds of a small enterprise surviving for 50 years are fewer than one in a hundred. Now imagine trying to survive half a century while relying on employees who are not paid and who are called upon regularly to risk their lives. That’s the story our roving reporter Rotbart has spent the past 18 months chronicling for his new book, Dedication and Service: 50 Years on Call with the Volunteers of Colorado’s Genesee Fire Rescue. It’s an organization with roots dating back to Benjamin Franklin and his “Bucket Brigade” of 1736. This week, Rotbart and his son, Maxwell, invite Jason Puffett and Hank O’Brien to explain what motivates their firefighting crew and what for-profit businesses can learn from the enduring success of their fire company. It’s hot! It’s on fire! It’s MondayMorningRadio.com