Making an Impact

I want to make a difference, says just about everybody at least once.

This is especially the case lately in these Un-United States.

Though ALL OF OF US, every last one, do still live in a country that now rips children from the arms of their parents crossing the border and cages them in holding facilities where they see an hour of sunlight a day.

This, by the way, while our attorney general smiles creepily about it as he gleefully quotes a Bible passage used previously by the Third Reich (Note: aka The Nazis) to defend it.

Yes, we have to own our current failures and keep repeating these facts whenever we can even if SINGELHANDLEDLY we can’t change them.

If only because historically it takes A LOT for Americans to make political change but as a people we DO CHANGE – though usually only when our backs are against the wall and there is no other alternative.

Or, as one oft quoted line goes:

Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing – after they have exhausted all other possibilities.

Over the years this has been attributed to everyone from Winston Churchill to Israeli politician Abba Eban, to an unnamed “Irishman” to, well, any amalgamation of sources.  Which makes it no less true.

There is, of course, an argument to be made that everybody thinks they are making a difference because they themselves are different. Every Instagram photo, each Facebook post, all the Twitter rants undisputedly reach people and can be a catalyst to GREAT CHANGE.

… and that’s why there are 96 colors in the box

Or simply deflation when one realizes it didn’t matter as much to everyone else as it did to us. And that even though one or more people than you thought noticed or followed or commented you will NEVER in ten lifetimes match Katy Perry’s 110 MILLION Twitter followers or even Trump’s 52 million.

If only Katy were twice as powerful.

disney princess today… President tomorrow? #itcouldhappen #noreallyitcould

Still, it is essential to remember that each of us has A LOT more power than we think. In fact, every day we hold in our hands the possibility of affecting pivotal decisions, sometimes even life and death ones, among others that cross our paths.

And if you think this isn’t so you have never been a teacher, a mentor, a friend, a lover, a parent or even enemy to anyone.

This, of course, is impossible. In those areas we are ALL double-hyphenates – at the very least.

It is not an exaggeration to say that you never know the full effect you are having on someone you forge any sort of relationship with. Sure, you know what YOU get from them but you don’t truly know how your thoughts, deeds, actions or lack of them served as a catalyst to another person’s change – which then precipitates others, who in turn go on to inspire many others, and then go on to create ______________.

You flatter me so #imblushing

Well, you get the picture. Though perhaps you don’t.

I myself have to be reminded of this every so often, usually when my psyche is at an all time low after seeing kids, usually non-white and poor, taken away from their parents for no other crime than fleeing to the one country where they were told there was an opportunity for freedom – an equal playing field where anyone, even them, could make something of their lives.

Even if this were never true for all (and most especially them in 2018) is beside the point. The United States was always more an idea than a reality. It is no different than the honest advice you might give to a beloved friend or the warm feelings you can’t help but share with a mysterious potential lover who never dreamed anyone would dare think of them the way that you do.

Paging your inner Eliza Dolittle #Icouldhavedancedallnight

Sometimes all any of us have to do is say what we feel (or believe) to someone else, give them something to think about, and change can begin to happen for them, and us, right before our eyes. Other times the timing is wrong but it doesn’t mean there won’t be a great result when we’re not around. In still other cases, we might reach no one but the mere fact that we attempted to finally connect might immeasurably help ourselves, giving us just a little more courage to speak up in different circumstances where the connection we’re trying to make could be much more significant. Or perhaps in the end it’s just another baby step towards, well, something else.

This week I attended an event in honor of the 125th anniversary of Ithaca College held at Walt Disney Studios. It was a big blowout hosted by I.C. alum Robert Iger, Disney’s chairman and chief executive officer – a guy who is arguably one of the top 10 most powerful people in the entertainment industry.

After me… of course #wink

Aside from the fact that he looks great while somehow being even OLDER than I am (Note: And let’s face it, that’s all that we in L.A. really care about, right?), it was fascinating to see the face of this guy brighten when he talked about the meaningful human connections HIS COLLEGE LIFE gave him and taught him – so much so that forty plus years later he agreed to show up and host the gala festivities on his own studio’s back lot the very day he lost his much publicized attempt to acquire 20th Century Fox, to one of his rivals, Comcast.

I’ve held an endowed CHAIR (ahem) position, taught writing and mentored countless students and graduates at the school’s L.A. campus for more than 15 years and in that evening found myself face to face with more grown up versions of people that I will always remember fondly as the not quite adults Mr. Iger once was than you can count.

Feeling very proud #channelingmyinnerMaggie

Forget that some of them now have kids who are teenagers and know a lot more about so many things relevant to today’s world than I do.

What I will always remember from that evening are the numerous instances someone came up to me and recalled some pivotal time where I managed to somehow say something that made them not give up, imparted some little piece of craft (Note: That, no doubt, someone had taught me) that fixed a problem with their work which felt insurmountable or imparted some tiny piece of life advice or social statement (Note: Likely perched on the soapbox I carry around with me, along with my manifesto of liberal talking points) that gave them the confidence to engage in the battle of the world to get what THEY really wanted.

OK.. maybe channeling my inner Ron Burgundy

I mean, who KNEW? At this point, it’s not as if I can remember 85% of the things I’ve said in the past – or even in the very recent present. Though I will confidently proclaim that in every case, whether I remembered it or not, I had NO IDEA what I was saying was even being listened to, much less important to anyone I was saying it to.

It was merely spontaneous engagement on a topic with a group of people sitting in a room and sort of willing (Note: Yeah, sometimes it is tough) to engage.

That’s not the stuff of great teaching. It’s more the talent we all have – of being a thoughtful, decent, listening and reactive human being. At the end of the day it’s only the give and take and exchange of ideas with others that ultimately makes any real difference at all. Or has the chance to.

Four Tops – “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)”

Grampy’s Grammys

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 11.47.16 AM

Music is a touchstone. But many young screenwriters I teach have confessed to me they have previously been instructed NEVER to put a song reference in a script because they will limit or confuse a reader who may or may not know the song or the group they’re talking about or will be taken out of the moment by a tune that will probably never wind up in the movie anyway.

The above advice is, of course, ridiculous. Music has always been a great connecter and the perfect evocation of a mood or moment in time that all the talk or visual images in the world can’t muster. It is true that if someone doesn’t know a song a reference to it will not put them in the mood or mindset you intend. But if you go with your gut and choose wisely that song most certainly will do the job when they get to HEAR it – which is the point of writing musical references to begin with. And besides, any artistic moment in time needs all the help it can get.

Which brings us to #GrammyAwards2015.

Hosted by LL Cool J - for the 2,000th time

Hosted by LL Cool J – for the 89th time

As a resident of the west coast who is not in the music industry and therefore not present at the actual live ceremonies, I was three hours late to the party thanks to the greed and hubris of CBS. As the official broadcaster of said ceremony, the network has decided that unlike the Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes they have no public obligation to share the music simultaneously across the world – or at the very least, the country.

Knowing full well that the primary reason people watch a music awards show is for the performances and not the actual awards, CBS instead chose to delay their west coast broadcast in order to sell more prime time ads and create a greater revenue stream for itself. This is, of course, the network’s prerogative – but only for the time being.


There is a power shift going on in how and where and when we get our entertainment. And that shift is going back to the consumer, which means that before long every event of any importance will be available simultaneously in most time zones. It might be five, ten or 20 years away but the corporate world – which these days includes entertainment and even politics – knows deep down that the party is essentially over and that changeover is causing major and minor freak outs as well as corporate and personal misbehaviors everywhere. These manifest themselves in little bouts of broadcast hubris as well as false and outrageous public statements from people, politicians (Note: No, they’re not the same thing) and various organizations about everything from vaccines to international terrorism, before segueing into mass media hysteria over the possible gender change of an Olympic gold medalist or the newsiness of just what the historical accuracy is of any number of Oscar nominated feature films this year whose only real sin is failing to announce loudly enough its claim that it is merely “based” on a true story.

On the flip side, which of us hasn’t found it a little bit more than fun to live in an age when political gaffes and cultural injustices aren’t events so easily handled?   Truth be told, there is some infinite joy in knowing that eventually Twitter, YouTube and Instagram will provide the real images, observations and videos of said events or thoughts rather than the pre-packaged or approved ones we’ve mostly been previously granted by the gatekeepers.

Enter: Olivia Pope. #ItsHandled

Enter: Olivia Pope. #ItsHandled

I guess I’m gloating but it can be quite entertaining to watch more than a few members of the status quo squirm as their grip on power unwittingly gets pried out from behind our necks. Still, the new scandal du jour of something like NBC anchor Brian Williams exaggerating being shot down in Iraq during the previous decade or fictionalizing a case of dysentery in order to make his Hurricane Katrina reporting more dramatic during the Bush, Jr. presidency is almost quaint at this point. I mean, the one thing we all know these days is that EVERYONE exaggerates a bit – it’s just a lot easier to get caught.   Yes, it’s true – the public already does know that even if the bosses in power don’t.   This is not to excuse the lie or the liar or even to condone that mode of behavior.   Only to acknowledge that we mostly understand that we – most of us – are, in at least some occasional cases, a bit hypocritical, indelicate with our opinions and guilty of bending reality ever so slightly and more – whether national, international or not – whenever the mood hits us.

The new normal today is the degree of the lie. Which is why awards shows are so terribly fun to watch – even when a power broker like CBS doesn’t allow you to view them live along with everyone else.

The craftsmanship of a successful artist’s image is often painstakingly and precisely planned, executed, buffed and shined before you and I get to experience it. But how the famed act in public when they have to be themselves onstage at a live event cannot be any of the above by its very nature. Oh, a person can sort of present a terribly rehearsed version of themselves but on a live show the rehearsal is often fodder for the real show on social media. Sure, he or she or even they can do a bit better fooling us when entertaining live – if indeed that is their profession and they’re good at it. But on the other hand, those who have been auto tuned, or have had their public images sculpted up a bit too brightly become as transparent as an overexposed X-ray held up to the light. Which is more than apt since the people we’re talking about have often been far too overexposed anyway.

Or a little underexposed if you're Sia.

Or a little underexposed if you’re Sia.

Watching this year’s Grammy awards I couldn’t help but feel like I’d be a bit like the star of Gramps Goes to the Movies – catching up with what the young-ins are doin’ and listenin’ to or watchin’ it three hours after the fact or perhaps even a year after my own figurative children’s children had first gotten wise to it.

But then I look up at my TV and the 1970s hard rock band AC/DC – a group I managed to avoid during most of my natural adolescence – are doing a five minute opening number.

What year is this? Am I a teenager again? And what time is it? Don’t I still have math homework to get through? Or perhaps it’s CBS again – playing a cruel trick on the left coast and switching programming back 40 years in order to appeal to its key heartland demographic where presumably they all still do listen to that group.

Performing at next year's Grammys

Performing at next year’s Grammys

As it turned out it was none of those. Only that the actual Grammy broadcast was clearly not hip or even unhip. It actually simultaneously managed to be a hybrid of both and neither. There was something for those of us in or moving into AARP range, others who are indeed still teenagers and the rest of you who fall somewhere in between. In its own odd way, its musical acts, award choices and onscreen behaviors amounted to nothing consistent or at times even decipherable.

This is not say to it wasn’t infinitely entertaining at points or that it failed to reach some quite high moments in others. It is only to note that try as they might to manage it all into something slick and pre-packaged it was actually all kind of a big, engaging mush of truth, fiction, fabulousness and confusion. Sort of like sifting through Twitter or Facebook for too long – but then realizing you’ve both enjoyed and wasted three and a half hours of your life in what seemed like 33 and a third minutes. Not to date myself.

That Zuckerberg

That Zuckerberg

Those of you who didn’t watch along with Grampy Chair or Great Uncles AC/DC can certainly revisit the highlights on the social media platform of your choice. Though I can save you the time with a few thoughts and links to some bottom line highlights.

  • You’ll want to marvel at who thought about having Tom Jones and Jessie J duet You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling as a tribute to famed Brill Building songwriters Cynthia Weill & Barry Mann. No, I didn’t say it wasn’t good. I’m just sayin’…
  • You’ll want to slap your head when you realize CBS is actually choosing to bleep out some song lyrics and words from country superstar Miranda Lambert’s live performance. SHE’S too racy for your core audience? Really? Or do you just think the left coast can’t take a bit of sexual innuendo?
Seasonal allergies be damned!

Seasonal allergies be damned!

  • I want to applaud Katy Perry’s Cover Girl commercial where she frolics amid pink flowers while managing to sell me makeup. Though you might want to boo. But as Taylor Swift, all sleek and tall in Grammy blue once both wrote AND sang: Haters gonna hate.
  • Critics might love groaning when Madonna does her new single about the power of love but I thought it was fun and, more importantly, SHE was once again having fun. You can choose to not think so but you’d be wrong. And no matter what you say anyway, here’s my answer to you in the form of a tweet from GregvsMatt: Roses are red, violets are blue #Madonna is 56 and looks better than you.
Werk it, Material Gurl

Werk it, Material Gurl

  • CBS proves it is once again infinitely unclever by having Fox/American Idol’s Ryan Seacrest introduce NBC/The Voice’s Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani performing their single, but all the network proves is it doesn’t have a tentpole TV reality singing show nor can it even make a lame joke about the others.
  • Matthew McConaughey’s confounding Buick commercials, particularly the one with the bull, will short circuit your brain before you even realize that the revenue it produces is what this three-hour delay is really about. (Editor’s note: It’s Lincoln, not Buick, Chairy. #powerofadvertising)
Annie kills it.

Annie kills it.

  • Sixty-year old Annie Lennox stops the show cold with the best performance of the night both by igniting Hozier’s tired performance of his own Take Me to Church and then electrifying us all with her own rendition of an almost 60 year old song – I Put A Spell On You. If nothing else, the reaction confuses those who live and die by the age demographics of corporate market research. #HelloCBS.
  • I manage to consider that Kanye West’s two onstage collaborations with Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett’s jazz turn with Lady Gaga center stage might disprove every bitchy phrase myself and every other baby boomer has ever uttered about what people, or even corporate networks, will promote those days.
Prince digs into Maude's closet

Prince digs into Maude’s closet

  • I then reconsider the above stance when Kanye steps onstage to try and Taylor Swift Beck’s unexpected win for best album (Note: Presented by Prince in the orange chiffon number your Aunt Esther was gonna wear to your bar-mitzvah but didn’t) and instead pulls back at the last minute even though Beck asks him not to. Then I have to admit to myself that just because one loves a Beatle doesn’t mean one necessarily has or evokes any taste at all.   Though at the same time, I have to also admit Prince looks far better in that getup than my Aunt Esther ever could have, not to mention she’d never be smart enough to publicly state: Like books and Black lives, albums matter.
  • You, if you were indeed watching, probably listened in awe as Sam Smith dueted with Mary J. Blige on Stay With Me – a simple love song/video about a gay guy who isn’t good at one night stands. And you would be right to marvel at both that and the fact that he went on to win four Grammy Awards. #WhoWouldHaveThoughtWayBackWhen. Though it would have really been something if he had dueted with say, Rufus Wainwright. #JustDreamin2025.
Hot damn we love those soulful Brits!

Hot damn we love those soulful Brits!

  • No, it was all of us who kept rewinding Sia’s performance of Chandelier facing away from us while funny woman Kristen Wiig mimed and dance with Sia’s diminutive ballerina all through the song and didn’t so much get a laugh but prove that she is actually also a real live performance artist.
  • You will thank me for advising you to consciously uncouple from Chris Martin and Beck in the fourth hour, almost finale when they duet on one of the songs from what was just voted album of the year. What year, I’m not sure.
I mean.... we get it.

I mean…. we get it.

  • And, though I am in the minority and hesitate to say this – I continue to wonder how Beyonce – clearly an extremely talented and driven woman – can somehow manage to make the finale of the evening – the spiritual Take My Hand, Precious Lord, from the soundtrack of the movie Selma, so beyond grand and indulgent while Common and John Legend sung the hell out of their original song for Selma – Glory – and closed out the show with sincerity. I’ll take a guess. It probably had to do with the fact that they didn’t have a wind machine, flowing white chiffon or enough lighting effects to buff their imagines into a perfect shine.

But hey – that’s just me. And this year’s Grammys. Three hours late. On the west coast feed.


It's all about how you see it.

It’s all about how you see it.

There is an old adage that the more specific you get, the more universal your message will be.  That’s why when Pres. Obama pointed out the 102 year old African American woman in the audience at his State of the Union speech who had to wait six hours in line to vote in Florida in the presidential election in November, his shout out was not corny but resonant to so many people. We’d heard stories like this for more than a century of minorities, especially women, discouraged or deterred from voting, but what made this one especially affecting was that several new details had been added.  It was not just an older Black woman but it was a 102 year old woman.  It was not a story of civil rights-like voter suppression from 50, 100 or even 150 yeas ago.  It happened within the LAST year.  

That’s also why the gun violence/“they deserve a vote” section of the speech also worked.  We’ve all seem victims of gun violence from both sides – the shooter and the shooted and the respective families of each.  But there was yet another new twist on it this time.  Due to the proliferation of assault weapons used in so many of these mass shootings, firearms which blast up to 30 bullets in five seconds, many more people die in record time.  But because any one of these individual blood fests – Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech – can cover a greater number of people and acreage, more than one or two humans these days also manage to escape or survive and then, live to testify.  Whether it was the young man in the Colorado movie theatre who has become an anti-gun activist despite the bullet fragments still lodged in his body or the fighting spirit of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her ability to resume life after a near fatal brain injury, it’s really just simple math: the greater the area and number of victims you’re dealing with the more likely the percentages that something will go wrong and someone will live to speak out against you.   Once again – old story, but with a new slant.  Of course, there was the classroom of 20 dead children and 5 adults at the Sandy Hook elementary school where everyone did die, proving there are exceptions to every rule.  But let’s face it, the lack of survivors and extremely young median age of everyone in that 2012 mass shooting only made that tragedy even more unique and caused it to stand out given the norm of the  “aughts” decade of where we now all reside.

Putting your own “contemporary” spin on an old story is something we all do either on the page or in real life, whether we know it or not.  Actually, it’s impossible not to do it if the yarn takes place in or is being told through the lens of someone who lives today.  But often times we feel quite insecure about it – as if we’re unoriginal or ripping off some other tale of woe or happiness that we particularly liked either consciously or subconsciously.  And if me writing about the notion that no story is new except for the personal spin you put on it sounds as if you’ve heard it before – well, you probably have.  But perhaps not put exactly this way.  See, addressing an issue in an opinion piece is no different than creating a story from ground zero to tell your friends, or writing it down in short story, play, screenplay or book form for your readers.  Or verbally addressing a crowd, or talking to Matt, Diane, Oprah, Katie, Jay, Dave, Jerry Springer or the nation or the world in an interview.  A version of every story in the world has been offered in some form ad nausea.  You might swear it’s new because you’ve never heard it, or the people who were around the last time it was told are long gone, but pretty much someone or something has done it prior.  And perhaps better (though certainly different) than the version you’re hearing or seeing now.  And if you need any proof of that just look at the various movie versions of Annie Hall, When Harry Met Sally and 500 Days of Summer after watching Two for the Road and Scenes from A Marriage and see if you don’t see what I mean.

It's even hard for your face to be original!

Uh… Who’s that girl?

Perhaps this seems corny or obvious even though I don’t mean it to be.  Yet that’s a normal reaction in any discussion of archetypal stories, archetypal behavior or archetypes in general, since the very essence of the word is defined as:

“A symbol, term, statement or pattern of behavior – a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated.”

In other words, any discussion of cliché become cliché because a. it is literally about cliché and b. because it has been done and talked about so much before.

The most famous of these thoughts were advanced from Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” which rethought some of the work of the famed psychiatric mind of Carl Jung, both of whose works were re-adapted by Christopher Vogler for, of all things, screenwriters in the movie business two decades ago in what is now considered a bit of a movie industry how-to masterwork entitled The Hero’s Journey.

And here for your viewing pleasure...

And here for your viewing pleasure… click for closer view

THJ was quite popular among studio executives and adult storytellers of all ages in Hollywood as it helped crystallize a “formula” for storytelling (and who in the entertainment biz doesn’t want that all knowing formula) that had been written about for decades and probably centuries but in different language.  Simply put, it states that if you’re trying to weave a compelling tale you FOREMOST must have in your tale certain kinds of characters that will compel fellow humans to listen, buy movie tickets or read about.  These include: a hero, a villain, a mentor, a love interest, a best friend, a jokester and so on and so on…. i.e., recognizable types human beings have been known to respond to en mass  (Note: it was no coincidence Vogler first conceived his “adaptation” of these theories in a seven page film studio memo while an employee working at — Disney)

We can bellyache all we want about this – “oh please, it’s the same old thing over and over; that book was from the nineties, this isn’t new; I’m tired, I need a drink, and why am I reading about something that was popular 20 years ago when we know they didn’t have the web back then and, let’s face it, computers have changed everything”  – but the dirty little truth is that when utilized judiciously (and sometimes blatantly) it always works.   Even a discussion of it often evokes enough controversy to warrant validation because the fact is I didn’t twist anyone’s arm to read this but for better or worse, most of you are still reading (I think).  And – if you are still reading – it means you’re curious to know more about old stories, archetypes, THJ and why they work (or at least, what I am going to say about it) – which in itself lifts it very essence above cliché and thus reinforces the following point:

When you or anyone else puts your own individual SPIN on the familiar it immediately CEASES TO BE SUCH.  And will in that moment can be seen in some NEW WAY.

One foot in front of the other..

One foot in front of the other..

This might be an obvious intellectual insight but it is shocking to me in how many moments of real life so many of us (myself included) don’t truly believe it.

This became apparent to me earlier this week when I decided that a new piece of writing I’ve made a bunch of notes on for myself wasn’t really worth doing because I felt like I didn’t have anything new to add to the subject despite pages of observations to the contrary.   But lucky for me, after teaching several days ago to a group of many young yet like-minded writers, I’m not sure I still feel this way.

Standing, sitting and sometimes pacing before 40 different students in four different classes I had to listen to any number of story outlines, ideas, detailed treatments and verbal pitches for 40 separate original story ideas for either film or television and noticed something sort of funny.  What was universally the biggest fear of each creator of these many wonderful, uh, narratives, were self-doubting thoughts like – “I know this has been done before,” “right now this is incredibly cheesy,” “I know/don’t want this to sound(s) like —- (fill in film) or an episode of — (fill in TV show from the past) or, my favorite, “This is a bad rip-off of —- but I can’t think of anything else, and maybe, really, I shouldn’t do this at all and just think of something else.  If I even can.”

Truly, anything old can be new again.

Truly, anything old can be new again.

After all these years I couldn’t believe how another old adage is true – you reflect what you give off.  Meaning the question in my own mind became – was my own self-defeatist attitude so unoriginal that I was literally seeing it among a group of people in their early twenties who had not been writing even half as long as I have? And then I wondered – “jees, is this kind of thing contagious and am I infecting them with this type of thought unwittingly?  Or is this something they came to on their own.  Something that, dare I say it, is archetypal?”

Well, here’s the good news:  I don’t think I’m the Typhoid Mary of writing teachers.   But like Jung and many of his ilk who studied along with him realized – there are certain archetypes, specific kinds of behavior that are endemic to all humans.    And since most writers and would-be writers are human (notice I said most – there are a few exceptions who shall go nameless – Okay, Shakespeare, Proust), it is not unusual they would share these exact feelings of self-doubt, albeit exhibit them all in their own individually unique forms of expression.  Put another way:  When you put your own individual spin on a behavioral cliché, it ALSO ceases to be a cliché.

Accepting all this as a given, it feels not out of line to occasionally ask oneself this cliché question – How do I become the hero of my own story?  I think the answer is to go by the above advice and let whatever we dare to hang out – knowing there are no guarantees but knowing there are also no rewards if we don’t try to spin out something.

Find yourself

Find yourself

Brenda Euland, writer extraordinaire said in her wise and seminal book If You Want to Write, that no one will tell a story exactly the way that YOU tell it.  She hung out with Louise Bryant and John Reed and a bunch of other New York Bohemians almost a century ago but spent most of her later life back in her native Minnesota where she was known mostly famously as a prescient writing teacher who periodically gets rediscovered over the decades, usually after the latest “how to” fad passes.   Lest you think her personal story of a bohemian who hangs out with famous people in N.Y. doesn’t get famous herself, goes home with her tail between her legs, and spends the rest of her days handing out advice as a teacher to help people do the very thing she didn’t manage, sounds familiar (nee archetypal) – it really isn’t.  Ms. Euland was, indeed, a talented writer.  But fame and recognition is a funny thing.   Despite all evidences to the contrary, some people become known for, or grow into, that which they had never planned at the outset, fame or not.

Other times, they seemed destined for greatness, or at least worldwide recognition at the outset and nothing and no one can stop them.  Watch Beyonce’s HBO Special, Beyonce: Life is But a Dream, and determine for yourself whether you think this is fair or even true.  Then consider the work of filmmaker Michael Bay and do the same.  Then perhaps the oeuvre of our greatest living playwright of the last century, Edward Albee, now represented on Broadway in a yet another great revival of his classic play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and note it was not this play but several of those that most of us don’t know because they were not well-received that are his own personal favorites.  Of all the artists I know of, Albee manages to be the least cliché, the least archetypal, in work or in his life.  Yet even he admits to feeling about his plays, especially those that have trouble on the outside, like a parent who wants to protect the most vulnerable of their children from the vagaries of a cold, cruel world.  Talk about cliché.  Talk about archetype.  Yet re Albee – never was.  Never will Be.

The SugarMan himself

The SugarMan himself

Then finally – watch a documentary called Searching For Sugar Man – a real life story no one could have written for fear of being not cliché but ridiculous.  It tells the tale of a singer named Rodriguez, a brilliant 1970s songwriter-balladeer who seemed destined for stardom a la Bob Dylan, according to industry experts, at even one listen, but whose two outstanding albums sold quite poorly in reality.  Meaning they did zilch.  Consequently, Rodriguez then disappeared from public sight in the US, yet someone got hold of his album in South Africa and from the mid-seventies on he became a star on the magnitude of Elvis, especially since it was believed that one night on stage he grew so despondent at the acoustics and audience response to his music that he blew his brains out in front of a live crowd.

There was one problem with this folktale, which endured for a decade and a half – unchallenged – it wasn’t true.  Until someone got the idea to research the details of what happened to him and the real Rodriguez was found outside of Detroit – having spent life as a poor day laborer with no knowledge of his stardom overseas, but still in possession of the ability to sing, write and perform in almost the same manner he had decades ago.  Plus – and this is the best part – he was also found to be content with the financially difficult life he had and the children he had raised despite the stardom and financial bonanzas that eluded him.  Though he enjoys making music still, he doesn’t do it all the time, gives away money from his occasional South African tours to his family and friends, and just continues on.  His story is a true original.  A real life non-cliche because it twists the story trope of the talented artist who is never accepted and lives penniless for the rest of his days in bitterness or drug/alcohol abuse into a real life happy ending that seems unbelievable but can’t be because it’s true.   One wonders – how many others like that are there out there and who is going to tell them?