Thursday, July 22, 2010


In the pantheon of celebrity, I am a minor and dim star you need a telescope to find. I've written some stuff, signed some autographs, given the odd speech here and there, and am happy with the level of recognition I have achieved. I don't want to be recognized in a restaurant bathroom and asked to sign something whilst I am taking a leak. I have met famous folk who've had that experience, and whatever privacy we still have is lost, if you are well-known by sight in our society. Be like living in an eternal fishbowl. No, thanks. (One of the good things about being a writer is that you can be famous and unknown. Outside of Stephen King and maybe Tom Clancy, most writers walk about unrecognized almost everywhere. Like being a radio personality who won't do TV -- you are safe until you open your mouth.)

When I speak of celebrities, I refer to those who have done something for which they have earned fame, rather than just somebody who is famous for being famous -- and you can fill in your own empty suit or full-bra in that category.

But even with my tiny light, I have learned one of the best of all celeb perks is that you get to be part of people's lives. You, by virtue of your art, mean something to them, sometimes a lot.

If you were terribly depressed and read a book, saw a movie, or heard a song that caused you to brighten up and want to keep going, you probably feel kindly toward whoever was responsible.

If you have a happy, loving marriage and you associate the music they played at your wedding with that, (or with getting laid the first time, or the birth of your child), then that music and the person who played or sang it might resonate with you your entire life.

Celebrities in the arts hear this all the time: "Man, I was feeling low, but I went to your concert and all of a sudden, I felt way better." Or, "My wife and I saw your movie on our first date, and that was what cranked it up, because we both loved you in it."

I never met Ernest Gold, the composer who did movie and TV music, but I hummed aloud his theme from Exodus to help my wife synchronize her Lamaze breathing when my son was born. I might get senile and forget that, but until that happens, I will remember that tune and smile every time I hear it.

Hey, Jude, and Bridge Over Troubled Water are at the top of my sixties soundtrack. So many memories cycle around those two.

Doesn't matter if your memories are connected to music that maybe didn't stand the test of time, or that gets crapped on by folks who found nothing to like in it. It's your memory, and fuck 'em. (Though if it's disco or eighties hair bands, I feel for you.)

My own experience with this is worth a warm glow when I think of it. I've had people who got into the martial art I study tell me they read it about it in a book I wrote, went looking for it, and began training, based on what I had to say about it. Tickles me.

James Colburn's first starring role as Derek Flint inspired me to pack up and move to the west coast to study martial arts in 1966, when I realized the karate I was getting locally wasn't going to be enough. Harry Harrison's Deathworld and Planet of the Damned made me want to write space opera. John Irving's Hotel New Hampshire had a scene with a police car prowling like a shark that showed me the power of a metaphor used well. I loved and hated him for it -- loved, because it was so good. Hated, because after I read it, I could never write it myself.

John Locke's essays on education stunned me with the power of the written word. Nobody in the English language save Mark Twain can even come close enough to touch him for my money.

Twain's essay on Fenimore Cooper showed me what dead-dry humor was. I've read it dozens of times and I still laugh out loud every time I revisit it. It's just flat-out funny.

Harlan Ellison tells a story about a fan approaching him at a con for an autograph. My memory of the exact detail is hazy, but the essence of it was: The guy is huge, hairy, smelly, obese, wearing a Let-the-Wookiee-Win T-shirt, and not in the least appealing. "Oh, Mr. Ellison, your work has changed my life!" the fan said. To which Harlan allows that he thought: "Oh, my God, what have I done? What were you before ... ?"

It's a perk, being able to touch the lives of people you've never met, and probably won't meet, especially when that effect is on the good side of the ledger. It truly is.

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