Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Popular (Nada Surf more than Wicked)

I was with a girl the other day and her phone kept going off. She expressed her aggravation. “Everyone likes to be popular” I said. “I don’t” she abruptly replied. And that was that.

I was reading an interview with Elvis Costello. The interviewer asked his advice to prospective musicians. "Make sure they are in it for the music, and not in it for the fame . . . Fame can be disappointing, but music is rarely disappointing." Elvis Costello is famous. Sure, he’s not the most famous Elvis on the planet, nor the most famous Costello, but he’s the most famous living of either. And an international jewel thief. And he thinks that fame can be disappointing.

What is popularity, other than a very local fame. It’s being famous in a small sphere. I think the only real addition is that it’s also being liked; for surely there are many famous people that aren’t liked, so aren’t really popular.

Elvis didn’t say fame is disappointing, just that it can be. I think he’d also say it can be gratifying. It allows him to hang out with Alec Baldwin, Will Farrell and Stephen Colbert, so it can’t be all that bad. People often give popularity a bad connotation. Any competition can be dismissed by calling it a popularity contest. Is being popular bad? No. Like money, it isn’t itself evil. But the preoccupation with fame and the idolization of being an idol, that’s the problem.

Popularity: I kind of hate it, and kind of love it. Or more accurately I hate it and I want it, since I’ve never really achieved it.

I’ve written about social cycles before. I’m currently at the bottom of a social cycle. Or at least I think I’m at the bottom. I guess my imaginary friends could get married as well. In any case, my posse has been whittled down to the point where I don’t believe I could accurately call it a posse any longer. But I remember the high times. I liked being a nexus of social activity. I liked choosing between parties. I liked having people know who I was. I might like being known better than being liked.

But I hate it too. I hate getting tons of pointless calls. I don’t like having social obligations. Being popular isn’t exactly hard work (often the opposite) but it is certainly time consuming. Furthermore, being popular would seriously clash with my counter-culture sentiments. But the question of course is whether those sentiments are themselves a reaction to unpopularity. It’s hard to tell.

And imagine how obnoxious moving from popularity to fame would be. I’m kind of annoyed when I run across friends when I’m at the grocery store. I’m shopping here, you’re just going to slow me down. Imagine how much worse it would be if strangers stopped you. Strangers! Gross. Sure, once my book tops the NYT Best Seller’s List I’d have free reign to work on side projects, like chamber music rap albums, but if I can’t shop in piece what’s the point?

No, I don’t think I’d like to be famous. Just look at MJ. He could very well have been the most famous person in the world in his prime. Little happiness there. No, I don’t think fame is for me. I’ve succeeded in not being famous these last 27 years, and suspect I’ll be able to keep it up. I’m still pretty conflicted over the popularity though. At the end of the day, it makes life harder, but also fuller. Fuller in a shallow way. I guess adding heaping spoonfuls of pleasant shallowness is ultimately inconsequential. But perhaps pleasantly inconsequential.

Yep, no conclusion for this blog entry.

No comments: