Fame is Overrated

Because I follow a few people via Medium, I now get a daily email and digest of content published on the platform. Most of it’s crap, but a handful of stories stand out and I’ll read them. Like this one, about a musician, Mike Posner.

I’d never heard of Posner, actually—at least not until I read his post.

Like a lot of young performers that ascend fame’s ladder, the ride to the top changed who he was, or at least magnified things about him that he found he didn’t like. Of course, the ride back down celebrity’s hill can be equally as dramatic (as well as ego-deflating). To his credit, Posner possessed some measure of self-awareness and took time to reflect and reconsider. Not every young man facing the crash-and-burn of his career would have had his presence of mind, and taken steps to right himself.

After he had a worldwide hit in 2010, with a song called “Cooler Than Me,” he ended up being dropped by his label. Five years later, he had to redefine and yes, reinvent.

Instead of being defined by terms like “rich,” “young,” and “sort of famous” as he explained, he began to see that he could be something different—and subsequently set the parameters himself on his self-identity. He found meaning instead, in words like “artist,” “human,” “writer,” and maybe the most important, “learner.”

His series of questions were really good. They allow all of us to take a step back and reflect:

  • What are the words that you use to define yourself?
  • Where did they come from?
  • Did you pick them for yourself, or did someone thrust them upon you?
  • Do you want to change them?
  • If so, to what?

Rather than wallow in self-pity, he figured out that he had room to grow and areas that needed improvement. Merely being famous, or “young,” or  “rich,” and as he self-deprecatingly stated, “sort of famous” didn’t allow him the same space that being nobody again, offered up.

I wrote about David Bowie’s death in January. Last night, MTV Live (broadcast via Palladia) had a documentary on Bowie, Bowie: Five Years. Highlighted were five years of Bowie’s long and varied career, including “the Berlin years.”

Like Posner, Bowie “stepped away” from the spotlight—in his case, to escape Los Angeles and the drugs that he recognized were killing him. The three albums produced during that period, including “Low” (in collaboration with Brian Eno and Robert Fripp) were some of Bowie’s most adventurous music and an important and stabilizing transition for one of rock’s most iconic figures. What were the questions he posed to himself at the time?

David Bowie "Low"

David Bowie “Low”

Perhaps more important relative to today’s discussion: why were Posner and Bowie able to “step away” and come to terms with significant flaws in their self-identity? In Bowie’s case, he could have gone the way of many a rocker at the time, falling into a drug-fueled haze and worse, killed himself. He would have “flamed out,” and become another idolized star who died too soon. Instead, he gave the music world another 40 years of amazing material.

In a world fueled by techno-narcissism, with phones, selfies, and social media, these are two very human examples worth considering.

2 thoughts on “Fame is Overrated

  1. Something to remember about Berlin in the 1970s: it was half a city surrounded by an army waiting to invade it. It was an isolated island. An excellent place to force personal reassessment of what really matters to oneself. Bowie was exceptionally well-read in philosophy. In foreign interviews around 1980 he openly spoke about Alejandere Kojeve and living at the end of history–just what does one do when all the great questions have been answered and there is only the final resolution of the Hegelian dialectic to wait for?

    Let’s Dance, apparently.

    I never heard of Posner before this column, likely won’t again–that Norwegian remix of “I Took a PIll in Ibiza” kicked ass out of his own soupy version. But even his first big hit you linked to had that heavy ironic self-reflection angle to it (and the usual half-assed endorsement of violence by women against men). His story strongly reminds me of the movie Rock Star, with our Boston buddy Marky Mark Wahlberg. Kid from nowhere suddenly finds himself lead singer of a longstanding hard rock band, from the basement to money, drugs, groupies, the wild life on the road. The ridiculously corny part is that he misses his dear old faithful girlfriend, quits the life to become “authentic,” and in the end he’s a starving coffee-house acoustic singer singing songs like “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” … and the girl comes back! Talk about fantasy dreamworld. “You gave up millions of dollars a year to buy me stuff with in order to sing this sentimental pap? See ya!” (Note, it’s actually a really good movie except for that sentimental schmaltzy part, worth renting.)

    Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. Tremendous wisdom in that. Regrettably, too many miss that there even can be enlightenment, and so focus forever on chopping more wood and carrying more water. I pick on Posner a bit because he’s not to my tastes, but he honestly could fit in with how many 60s musicians we admire who started out rough, learned hard lessons (at least Posner seems to have missed the mandatory heroin addiction) and came to grips with who they were, and came back singing. Bowie, for one, but the list is long.

    Interesting piece, thanks.

  2. I was talking with my husband about this last nite. He says he has never understood why anyone would want to be in the limelight. So how does one define limelight? I will look the definition up later….being a librarian this is what one does. I need to talk to him more about this.

    Limelight to me is about respect….not that a person is well-known but that the people we come in contact with from the person at the transfer person…to the people we wait in line with..to our co-workers….to our family (not necessarily in this order). Lame but my truth is kindness is what ascends us all and immediately pulls us into the most true limelight.

    I wish I could speak on a larger scale like you, Jim and LP. Maybe I do in some cases…have to think about that.

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