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Saturday, June 13, 2009


As the FF's & Femmes, are about to encounter, Oxford, for its exceedingly dimminutive size, has an extraordinaryly high Name-drop count... due in part, to its centries old position as alma mater to the nation, and in modern times, being close enough, to the governmental and media heart of London, yet secluded enough to be away from the many hives of paparazzi, to make life pleasant.

The northern suburbs of the city indeed still drip with academia, writers, poets, musicians, media giants, and ex members of the diplomatic corp. One of them, Summertown, was my previous home for the last 15 years...partly because of its access to town, and partly because of the lush creative feel you had just walking its Edwardian streets, and on one classic occasion, I stepped outside to find a famous Musician neighbour, walking his bulldog, which promptly crapped on my bit of sidewalk. There is nothing quite like a bit of; "guess who was scooping poop outside my place today" open the conversation.

We were musing on this last night in the tavern in the light of the news that writer J. D. Salinger, who has lived as a recluse for 50 years, is apparently consulting lawyers over a cheeky unauthorised sequel to his The Catcher in the Rye.

The original teenage hero Holden Caulfield, who goes on the run from college, is now portrayed as a pensioner going on the run from his nursing home. It’s an amusing idea; but Salinger himself, at 91, seems unamused. He has spent half a century hiding from his public and impeding biographers; though reportedly writing, he has published nothing since his slim wonderful works of the Sixties. In 1974 he gave his last public comments in The New York Times, saying there is “marvelous peace in not publishing . . . all I'm doing is trying to protect myself and my view”.

I love Salinger — not the Catcher, which I find strangely annoying, but his short stories and Zen-mystical accounts of Franny and Zooey and Seymour and Buddy and Esmé and the rest. They enthralled me in my teens and fascinate me still. His rejection of everything “phoney” borders on the crazy but he manages to be, in both senses of the word, precious. And if he wants to lie low, fine. He has given us much, and may let us have the unpublished stuff when he goes. If he feels that publicity abrades his talent, he is right to protect it.

Journalists naturally disagree: ten years ago a BBC documentary-maker doing a profile spoke in the language of rights: not his, but hers: “He is a professional author, he has made a great deal of money, and in doing that, he must recognise that giving some biographical information is part of the package that happens when you publish . . . we have a right to satisfy our curiosity”. A very modern belief, that.

Salinger is an extreme, slightly potty manifestation of the need for creative people to carve out and defend their own space, but he is worth contemplating in an age when the pitiless glare of celebrity can beat down on even the tenderest shoots of talent, shrivel them in its heat and then abruptly move on, leaving them blighted in chilly darkness.

Artists and performers need moderate doses of applause and recognition, to validate the weary hours spent alone writing or practising; but the form in which it comes can be toxic, especially in an age of global celebrity and global spite.

They need both the sense of public communication, and the money. Yet overdoses of fame can be lethal: they often douse the creative spark and drive the artist into noisy self-parody and consequent self-hate. In a way, the new phenomenon of empty celebrity unbacked by original talent is less destructive: any amount of fame can't do much harm to the oeuvre of Piers Morgan or Paris Hilton.

The lucky ones rapidly get a name and income solid enough to ration public appearances to those they feel comfortable with (like John le Carré or Alan Bennett). Some bow out entirely (like Stanley Kubrick or the later Garbo). Lesser lights — even the best — more often feel compelled to answer every impertinent question, pose for photographs at home and go on every TV show that asks them. Sometimes, that in itself becomes a separate career, invariably a far less creative one.

As for actors and singers, especially women, fame rapidly brings them to a stage when they daren’t walk the dog to the letter-box without full hairdressing and make-up. A few strong spirits ignore this and carry on as normal. More uncertain souls are bullied and crushed by it, then crushed again when the interest fades and nobody seems to care, and then humiliated a third time when nasty media snap them looking stout and disheveled and crow “Whatever happened to . . .?” alongside an airbrushed glamour-shot from the past.

The trouble is that none of it feeds actual creative talent, or the steely courage of live performance. Yet in a commercial world, the roving spotlight pays the bills. And precisely because fame pays, people like that documentary-maker assume they have a “right” to slake their curiosity because the artist has “made a lot of money”. And round it goes.

And no, I have no idea what can be done about it. Except to advise anyone young who writes, sings, acts, or composes to be careful what they wish for. Fame Costs, unless you can find the way to have a big hit , make a mint, and then be happy to hide away for ever, being Ordinary.

Sir Davyd ( who's learned its harder to hit a moving target ) of Oxfordshire.


  1. Fame, (fame) makes a man take things over
    Fame, (fame) lets him loose, hard to swallow
    Fame, (fame) puts you there where things are hollow
    Fame (fame)

    Fame, its not your brain, its just the flame
    That burns your change to keep you insane (sane)
    Fame (fame)

    Sir David Bowie of Greenbriar

  2. very good Bowster... i presume this is why we get the Bowie name ...

    the name of the piece is

    FAME COSTS if you wanted to put that in bold letters under the maddonna pic..

    thanks captn..

    Sir Dayvd ( who is funk to funky...tonight ) of Oxfordshire

  3. I'm bemused by the "I AM THE AMERICAN DREAM" "Maybe we should move to Canada." The last I looked, Canada was an America, as is Mexico, and all the Central and South Americas.

    Internationally Known Photographer Sir James "getting ready for an 1840's America Garden Party" of Taylor

  4. "Fame. I'm gonna live forever! I'm going to learn how to fly! Fame!" So the other song & dance goes.

    Actually we call Bowie, Bowie because of a combination of baseball and rock n roll. Aside from the earlier reference to David Bowie,David Kuhn (aka Sir Bowie) played baseball in high school when Bowie Kuhn was the Commissioner of Pro Baseball.

    He also had a team mate at the time who went on to stardom as "Donnie Baseball"...Don Mattingly of New York Yankees fame. Don remains down to earth and approachable, something that a lot of famous people forget how to do.

    Granted, it is hard to be placed by commoners in that elite category and not be changed as a result. However, I believe that shutting yourself off from others is the highest form of egotism and selfishness. One doesn't become famous without the financial support of those he tries to avoid.

    On the other hand, that doesn't give the masses the right to intrude on the lives of the famous either. At the end of the day we all get naked, look at ourselves in the mirror in disgust, and flush the same shit down the toilet.

    Some are just luckier than others, but mostly those who have more work harder for it than those who have not.

    I was reminded the other day that it takes education and motivation to be a success. If you're the smartest guy on the block but not motivated, you're still a loser. And, if you're an idiot who is motivated, you're still just a highly motivated idiot!

    Sir Hook the Mojo Man of Warrick

    P.S. If grandma looks like Madonna she can drink all she wants!

  5. awww rats theres me thinking that the Kuhnster secretly dresses up in a snakeskin leotard and high red boots, with a lightening flash made up down his face , while grinding out "Drive-in Saturday" in front of the wardrobe mirror..

    This replaced the earlier notion that he was the slickest knifeman in the backwoods, and with his giant blade could skin a grizzly bear and be wearing its pelt, before it had even woken up from hibernation.

    So he is named after a commisioner eh?...hmmmm I bet he still looks good in a dress.

    As for the "Motivated" paragraph. Somedays I'm the brainy unmotivated one and somedays the motivated idiot, it all depends which one falls out of bed in the morning.

    On occasions I can even be unmotivated AND a Putz, but thankfully that is generally one day a month.

    Sir Dayvd ( Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be ) of Oxfordshire