(I Always Wanted) To Be a Star
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two…
– from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” by T.S. Eliot
“Everyday People” is the name of a single by Sly and the Family Stone, released in 1968. It contains the now famous phrase “different strokes for different folks,” which become part of the pop culture lexicon and later, the name of a television show.
Everyday people is also a phrase used often by politicians, interchangeably with the phrase “ordinary Americans.” Hillary Clinton used it recently to describe her listening tour. Here is one of the “everyday people,” identified as such by Politico, who Clinton encountered—a worker at Chipotle:
He’s from Florida, went to high school in Sunrise, lived and worked in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Orlando and Tampa, doing construction, doing demolition, being a carpenter, being a painter, cleaning office buildings, filling music equipment orders at a warehouse for SamAsh.com, working at a Pizza Hut, a Red Lobster and a Dairy Queen.
What makes you an everyday person? Work? Can you not be extraordinary if you work at Pizza Hut or Red Lobster? Would a rich banker be less “everyday?” Is this because having money is uncommon, or because someone who has made money is perceived to have chosen an extraordinary, less “everyday” life? Why is “ordinary American” tied, almost always, to class? I listen to politicians parrot this phrase and I am annoyed at its imprecise nature. What does that even mean, everyday person? As opposed to a Monday person? A Fourth of July person? Why does it irritate me so?
I remember wanting to be famous since I was very, very small. I was a shy child, but a performer—I didn’t like talking to people but I loved to get up on a stage or in the middle of a room and sing, or dance, or act out a play. I knew I would be on Broadway someday, as soon as I knew what Broadway was. I used to interview myself in the bathroom mirror, taking care to remark on my Garbo-like eccentricity, my isolated, strange stardom. Even as a pre-famous child, I wanted people to think me special, unique. I never wanted to be the kind of star everyone says is so grounded, so real. I wanted to be extraordinary.
I also thought everyone did. Sometimes I forget and still do. “What an insult,” I say to my friend, as another politician on TV congratulates a fellow American on being ordinary.
“Not for most people,” he says. “Most people want to be ordinary.”
“But why?” I ask.
“Because it means they’re just like everyone else. They blend in. Most people want that.”
I understand wanting to blend in, but only as a disguise, a way to observe unmolested, unseen. I always thought being a writer would be the perfect way to be famous. People would know your name, respect your work—but see you on the street and never know it was you. Stardom in the abstract, obscurity in the streets. The perfect framework for fame. Of course I didn’t realize there’s almost no such thing as a famous writer. Or at least not one that everybody knows.
Of course, fame and being extraordinary aren’t the same thing at all, and the one doesn’t always preclude to the other. Reality shows have made people who claim to be ordinary very, very famous. Of course, they usually weren’t ordinary in the first place. They are rich, or very beautiful, or particularly stupid, or they have eighteen children, or they have strange, secret hobbies or secrets or goals. They love the beach an inordinate amount.
Sometimes, I wanted to make myself famous. Sometimes, I wanted someone else to make me famous. This depended, mostly, on how hard I felt like working at that moment. Sometimes, and this is uncomfortable to admit, I wanted to be famous for being someone’s girlfriend. I would love and support a talented painter; I would make room for a mercurial musician. Oh, did you know she writes, too, people would say. How interesting. Just some poems, I would say, my Moleskine conspicuously perched on the edge of my lover’s latest masterwork, a divan draped in layers of thickly painted canvas. There would be vermillion pooled on the living room floor.
This was a period in my life where I spent most of my time in coffee shops, writing rip-off Beatnik poetry and pretending to be empowered by my own helpmeet fantasies. In reality, dating artists meant mostly just listening to the kind of boring stories about struggle that artists tell each other. We struggled, not to find fame, but simply to avoid sinking into the great pit of American mediocrity. The one thing nobody wanted to be was ordinary, though I suppose we were all so much alike that it amounted to the same thing.
I never wanted to be la de da, go to parties ‘avec le bourgeois‘
I only wanted to sing my song well
So I could ring a small bell in your heart
– Cat Stevens, “(I Never Wanted) to Be A Star”
At the end of the day, all that pre-starfucking wasn’t really about being famous. We just wanted to be loved by somebody extraordinary, to hope it rubbed off on us. We just wanted to be a little bit somebody else. We just wanted to be loved.
I prefer Batman to Superman, for many reasons, not least Superman’s annoying aspirations to an ordinary life. Batman doesn’t give a fuck about an ordinary life, in either his superhero guise or his alter ego. He’s like, yeah, I have a ton of money and I’m weird and brilliant as hell and I’m not like anyone else.
I feel very uncomfortable with this preference. Am I saying I prefer the rich guy? Am I saying money makes you extraordinary? It probably helps. Or at least it gives you superpowers even when you don’t come from another planet or a serious bout of radiation exposure. Superheroes are tough, after all—you’re either rooting for the guy or girl who was lucky enough to be born with or stumble into Nietzschean superhuman powers, or you’re rooting for the asshole lucky enough to be born with so much money he can buy his own powers. There aren’t a lot of Marxist superheroes.
To stellify: (transitive, mythology) To transform from an earthly body into a celestial body; to place in the sky as such.
(Transitive, astronomy) To turn into a star.
From Donald Spoto’s biography of Marilyn Monroe: “Author Truman Capote once found Marilyn gazing into a mirror and asked what she was doing, to which she replied, “Looking at her.”
“I wanted to have the adoration of John Lennon but have the anonymity of Ringo Starr. I didn’t want to be a front man. I just wanted to be back there and still be a rock and roll star at the same time.”
– Kurt Cobain
Stellification is a risky, dangerous project. To create a star, you can seed a planet with a black hole, but there’s no way of stopping the black hole from growing, and growing, and eating all of the new star’s neighbors, too.
The older I get, the more I want it both ways. (I suppose this applies to much in life.) All the things I rejected, long ago, as too ordinary: being married, having children, working a 9-5, making dinner, watching television shows, falling asleep on the couch—I want those things. But I still never want anyone to say of me that I was ordinary. That I was like everyone else. That I did not stand out, that I lived a small life, that I did not matter much in the larger scheme of things. I still want to matter to a great many people. Or rather, I want my work to matter.
I still interview myself in the bathroom, though I usually take my glasses off so I can’t see the crow’s feet taking time away. But I suppose most people are like this—I’m not so goddamn extraordinary just because I want to be extraordinary, just because I seek fame like four billion other people. Everyday, people say they want their work to matter, no matter what it is. They want to be missed when they die. And they also want to be like everyone else—they want privacy, quiet, cocktails with friends, new furniture and a nice place to live, kids that succeed, favorite movies and grandparents and good food.
Maybe the politicians stumbled into something almost right, by accident (and focus group). Maybe everyday people are people who take life as it comes, everyday, and are better at being happy than the rest of us.
Or maybe I’m watching too much cable news, already.
Life that I was aimed to be
Love by my family tree
That’s fame to me
How about it
– Tupac Shakur, “Fame”