Whither fame? Having just read comedian/actor Tim Allen’s 20-year-old book I’m Not Really Here plus a Mojo Magazine interview with Paul and Ringo about the reissue of their live music with the Beatles over 50 years ago, that’s the seed that took me to type out more meaningless drivel to the blogosphere so 3 or 4 people can skim it and yawn their appreciation.
Mr. Allen’s book is an odd (but compelling) read in that it isn’t a cover to cover comedic farce, but rather a comically corrupted musing on Physics and the whyness of it all – a true conundrum that you don’t expect from the voice of Buzz Lightyear. When he wrote this book, Allen was in the midst of a hit TV series that hilariously encapsulated what has been lately annoying me as I look back on my own career years. Home Improvements focused on the dopey ‘guyness’ of men and the Neanderthal roots of hammering and building with more power. What’s been bugging me is how unguy-like my own career (and most men’s careers) has been. Look at the cars in the morning heading to work sometime and think about it. The men in the baseball hats crammed into the old Chevys are going to pour concrete, drive a backhoe or pound nails then come home with a satisfied sheen of something created tangibly with the sweat of their sinew. The other XY’s are heading to offices in their leased Hondas likely to shuffle paper, try to stay awake at meetings or answer phone calls then frustratingly fight traffic heading home knowing they left nothing of any lasting import. What seems more guy-like – a 20 floor skyscraper or a cap on tooth #30? Makes you want to get out the shovel and plant an oak.
I was roped in by the weirdness of Allen’s book as one assumes that the average reader was looking for laughs and not an explanation of string theory (which has nothing to do with the stuff wound around a yo-yo but always made me feel like a yo-yo when trying to understand this odd concept). It was the small parts of the book that really interested me, however. Since we all hate to realize we mean so little in the cosmic continuum, we (I) look for ways to identify ourselves with famous people. I loved the Dave Clark 5 as a kid and so did Tom Hanks ergo we must be simpatico buds – pals to the end – and I just know in my heart Tom would love to talk to me and share a coupla burgers. In Allen’s book he mentions watching, as a kid, a Denver show which I loved as well – immediately I felt the warm zen-like oneness young Tim Dick and I had with that shared Sheriff Scotty moment.
The other short but memorable takeaway from his book was his conflicted thoughts on fame. He, like so many other public figures, discussed longing for the anonymity of being able to grab a steak at the grocery store without causing a stir as everyone approached him for an autograph – yet he also realized without that fame he wouldn’t have a career. It seems like Alan Alda might have said something to that effect as well – when someone told him how great it must be to have fame and fortune he said he loved the fortune but they could keep the fame. In the October 2016 Mojo Paul McCartney talks about that as well: “this is so exciting…then after a while it got more and more boring.”
How odd is fame, really? Here are these rich successful people wanting to give it back while so many numbskulls like Honey Boo Boo or the Kardashians will seemingly do anything to stay famous – get Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes by any dumb act they can think of. To extrapolate from a musing in Allen’s book where he brings up the postulate that if you can’t see the moon then does is exist – if you are famous for something but you don’t know it then are you really famous? If Frank Zappa hadn’t had such an eclectic recording career but had only appeared on the Steve Allen Show playing the bike would he still have been a genius?
What I mean is based on 2 weird examples. I can’t conceive of how odd it would be that 230 years after your death your name would be famously associated with something you couldn’t even fathom in your lifetime – yet that is what happened to British agronomist Jethro Tull.
How would he have felt that his name was well-known not for botany, but as a musical group famed for the flute and Aqualung?
What weird thing will be named George Krieger in 2250? Does it matter if I don’t exist? Why are the French called Frogs?
Another one in that vein: you write a stirring march in 1893 and give it a patriotic name “The Liberty Bell” meant to fire U.S. patriotic fervor. 37 years after your death it becomes the ironic theme to a U.K. sketch comedy show only truncated ending on the sound of a whoopee cushion.
Would Sousa be a Monty Python fan? Will someone discover music I’ve written in my lifetime but never performed and a 100 years from now have a hit with it? If I don’t exist – who cares? Why does Progressive allow that annoying Flo to live?
And fame is so fleeting really – if you are over 60 and want a humbling exercise, just ask a teenager who Gary Cooper or Sam the Sham are.
But in the ostensibly 4 1/2 billion years that the earth has been in existence what does any of this really matter anyway? Does the fact that I have a record autographed by the bassist and drummer from Ambrosia matter in the grand schema of life (maybe to my kids who will have to dispose of all my crapola in a few short years)? Heck, I’m starting to think we humanoids are merely a biologic infestation of Terra meant to die out shortly since we are so fragile and unadaptable. If it gets just a little too hot or cold, we consume more and more earthly resources so that we can exist in a cocoon of comfort – to do what? Horde more junk – terrorize each other – sit in traffic – surf the internet – play fantasy football? If anyone believes we are meant as the be-all and end-all, perhaps they may want to ask the next Stegosaurus or Dodo they see what their opinions are about eternal existence (or just how happy the dinos are to be running our cars for a few years). This dodo figures that the insects of the world who seemingly laugh at climate change will ultimately find my Beatles CDs buried under layers of decaying Paris Hilton pictures.
Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled to have been created by my long-suffering parents to have my Georgeness inside this collection of strings (thanks Tim) in the land of the free and in the era of plenty I was sired into. But why am I in this protoplasmic form and not in that annoying buzzing and flying thing that I want to smash with a newspaper (when those things are gone in a few years, by the way, what will people use to squish bugs one wonders)? Hey, I’m grateful to be in me and not in a dung beetle in Ethiopia endlessly rolling my treasured dung for who knows what reason, but why me and not thee? If only Tim Allen had told me.
How lucky to be around now. Not only did I get to live Pink Floyd, Elvis, the Stones et al but now it is actually easier to acquire all that music again in better sound quality and in bigger quantities than when it was popular. Back in the 60’s I remember a futile search for a vinyl 45 at a small record store in Fort Collins for the song “I’m A Man” by the Yardbirds. It might as well have never existed yet it was only a few weeks after it dropped off the charts. Here it is over 50 years later and I can buy a used copy of the single or a CD in the store. Heck, I don’t even have to go to the store – I can order it at 3 AM on my computer. Or, I don’t even have to wait – I can download it and play it now. And I can even get outtakes previously unreleased by the Yardbirds. Who would have believed it? Beethovan would roll over.
50 plus years after the concerts happened (and nearly 40 years after it came out on vinyl), we Beatles fans are lucky enough to finally get Live At The Hollywood Bowl on CD/download.
With 1977 technology, producer George Martin managed to make a pretty good 13 track album that showed the Fabs to be great singers and musicians in the face of overwhelming fan screams that rendered their primitive stage setup inadequate (Ringo in that Mojo article says that he had to watch the movements of the other band members to know where they even were in the song as he couldn’t hear the instruments). The new CD adds four more tracks (one – “Baby’s In Black” – already came out on the “Real Love” CD single) while Martin’s son Giles has greatly improved the sound using modern technology and better source tapes. The jet engine-like screams are still there, but the band is more upfront while there is far more treble and bass giving the sound more presence. Knowing how many of the so called ‘live’ albums of the past were actually overdubbed in the studio to improve the harmonies and playing, it is remarkable how flawless the Beatles are on this ‘warts and all’ set from 1964/65. It likely sounds better on CD now than it ever did to the fans or even the band on stage. Yes, it would have been nice to have all the songs from the shows, but what we have is excellent. The packaging is fine though one can quibble with changing the cover from the old vinyl album (which isn’t even reproduced in the generous booklet) to match up with Ron Howard’s documentary, but it does look good. I wonder if Tim Allen likes it.