Talent is the Fame Monster’s Favorite Snack

A few years ago, when I was delivering sales training for an entertainment company in Las Vegas, I was tasked with helping my Ticket Sellers explain a new show to tourists. Often, headliners would visit our office to answer questions from the Ticket Sellers, so that the Sellers knew how to describe the event to potential buyers, even though they had never seen the production.

This particular upcoming show was going to be a one-man act and other than the fact that the headliner was a famous former athlete with a tribal tattoo on his face, the show had proven to be a hard sell for my team. So, the celebrity came to our office a few weeks before opening night, with his entourage and his video camera crew and explained to all of us the key words that would assist our team in selling the show. The Ticket Sellers took pictures with the celebrity so that they could use that as a part of their sales technique. In between signing autographs, taking pictures and giving out bear hugs that could be considered assault in some states, this celebrity leaned over to me and in his notoriously high pitched and easily recognizable lisp said, “I’ve got to do some fucked up shit for money, huh, sis?”
Of course I nodded slowly with a shrug and a laugh that was clearly not a boisterous mock but one of solemn respectful agreement.

I attended the show as a representative of my company, at least the first hour of it, and in that time, I had learned a lot about the pre-career of the former professional boxer. None of it was nice, or kind or good. It was every bit as painful and frustrating and sad as you might expect. It was a “rags to riches” story, one of overcoming odds but it still leads to that same man, who whispered to me a bit bashful and ashamed of where all of his arduous work had actually taken him. It had turned him from a poor kid with few prospects into a drug addict. And his drug of choice, was fame.

I have often wondered, did he think that I was looking down on him, is that why he made that comment to me? (I do have a naturally very disapproving face.) Or did he feel like everyone that he ran into felt like that about him on some level, and mentioning that he understood it, made him and us more human? Getting on your knees with your mouth open is par for the course when it comes to being truly addicted to anything; a person, a dogma and especially fame.

I cannot say for sure his reason. What we both knew at the performance though was that he was now in a place where he had to take any offers that he could get to keep up the lavish lifestyle of Hollywood, which might include lots of ridicule, vulnerability and embarrassment. Drug addicts don’t really care about pride. So, in one way he had earned the fame and in another, he deserved it.

I’m very rarely critical of creatives. If they are doing whatever they are doing because they love it wholeheartedly, then whether they ever make a living from doing it, is for them and the people who get to enjoy the fruits of their creativity, a back burner issue.

However, I have run across a few people lately with the haughty attitude that as they sit on the sidelines and “boo”, that they, if given the opportunity, would be better artists, singers, dancers, musicians and writers than the people who are currently doing the work and most importantly making a living doing so. Not only would they be better, but they would surpass the current entertainers with their superior value system, by never selling out, or ever compromising their art for “the man”. They’d get fame boy howdy, without all of the demanding work and the addiction.

Interesting, right? Anyway, rest in peace to all of the talented musicians and child actors who are no longer here with us because of how hard that fame shit really is.

As a poet myself, which is basically saying, “a lonely watcher who writes things that sometimes rhyme that nobody on earth reads”, I do not proclaim that I could ever “outdo” Maya Angelou. Even uttering such a thing seems foolish and childish to me, regardless of whether or not I am a fan of hers. Perhaps because my art is dead, there is a profound respect for any of the others that came before, whether they were rich or otherwise publicly noted. Without them there could be no space for me.

Without them, how would I even have found what I love? No, like I said at the beginning of this commentary, I work for a living; a separate job, that I enjoy outside of my writing life. I don’t do so because I don’t think that had I taken another, more academic path that I could have become Poet Laureate by now, but I do so for the reason those critics of other creatives claim to- because I love it and I have the sense that if I did it to eat, that a lot of what I did would no longer belong to me, but to the group that was buying it. I’d be in “dance, monkey” zone and I’m just not that addicted to fame.

These people who I have heard taut about the glory of their talent apparently don’t realize how much it takes to make something marketable. And how many people that there are behind the scenes who are putting this product together that have to get paid for their work before talent does.

You can sustain yourself by having the dream that one day you will become a famous rapper, or DJ or MC. Nothing wrong with hope. (Even though you’re 40.) The irritating part is all of the over the top embellishment of talent, of these ridiculously lofty standards of success and this entitlement attitude. If one of the greatest former heavyweight champions of the world has to take pictures with nobodies in order to sell tickets to his production in Vegas, who are you to think that you aren’t going to have to bow to the masters who own the venue?

Talent doesn’t sell tickets for the most part. There are plenty of examples of very talented musicians, taking themselves down to subways and on street corners, in disguises; singing, or playing and being completely ignored, even though with the proper marketing, they have sold out concert halls.

I have to ask these people who think they can come into an industry and turn it on its ear with their exceptional so-called talent, what are you really willing to do for fame? Are you even willing to work 18-hour days? Jet lagged? Learning lines and songs and dance moves and camera cues and make your entire self-available for consumption? Are you willing to have people digging into your trash, into your history just so you can distribute a few songs?

Because being talented isn’t enough. I don’t have all of the answers but how many of these celebrities that you so call admire, do you actually listen to? That rags to riches story often starts out with I was starving so I slaved day and night for this many YEARS just to get XYZ….

Save a few people born into these circles, most everyone else gave up families, autonomy, freedom etc., to be the person headlining that show. That is the high for their effort. They’ve missed out on years of sleep and love and other things regular folk take for granted and to top it off, if they don’t write and produce and perform their own acts or music, they are beholden for many years thereafter to people who provided that initial spotlight and are often turned into “just fame addicted has beens” which you respect even less somehow.

You might think these famous people don’t deserve their fame because they aren’t as talented as you are but you have no idea, none whatsoever of what they have been willing to sacrifice just to get up and get in front of you, so you can sit in the audience and turn up your nose.  And all fame is, is concentrated attention. It is how advertisers sell things. If you are not marketing products are you even famous? So, while you are jealous of this so-called stature they have, it shows your delusion.
In one way they earned the right to be a commercial and in another way, they very much deserve it.

That day, when that famous guy leaned into me and made that comment, I felt sorry for him. And I feel sorry for any other creatives who try to burst into any entertainment field with a Care Bear Stare and are truly unaware of what awaits. It’s been said that people who reach that level of “success” suffer from a very deeply ingrained sense of low self-esteem, and because of that they are willing and able and capable to do the things the dreamers are not. They will get that elusive love that they don’t have for themselves from the adoring crowd and they are willing to nearly kill themselves to do so.  

I have no idea if that’s true, but I also don’t know any arm chair coaches quitting everything that they have now to try out for any professional teams. The “I’m so talented critics” and their hopes would be crushed after a year of simply learning the bona fide business.

I heard Brene Brown once say something like, if you want to get into the arena, know that you will get your ass kicked. All of these people, whether you think they are talented or not are getting their asses kicked for your entertainment dollar. The only difference between some of these performers and slavery is that many of them volunteered to be tortured, mistreated and used in the name of fame. In one way they earned that heroin high and in another-they deserve it.

I may never become a famous poet and that is perfectly fine with me. I don’t write because I think poets should be on the outside of cereal boxes and using verse to convince elitists to opt for one gas guzzling death machine over the hybrid version. I am an amateur and I do it for the love.

For you loud mouth critics out there who feel your divine talent somehow puts you above the struggle and that your quest for fame is somehow more righteous than a stripper turned music mogul, I dare you to jump head first into those flames and let’s see if you don’t feel the same way as that boxer did about all the fucked up shit that you have to do to feed your pigeons and keep that limelight shining across your face even after you nearly bit a guy’s ear off to win a fight.

Good luck.

Featured image by Martin Fisch –– Flickr.