Many things have been said about the corrupting power of fame by many a powerful star, with enough clout and influence to be able to say it and not actually mean it, but here, I would like to speak as someone who refuses to ride this rollercoaster again. This is a denunciation from someone with nothing to lose and nothing to gain, no wink of compromise, just one truth with no hidden face, no contradiction. I tell it as I see it.
When I was a young artist, I remember being told that I was an idiot for choosing this vocation, and that I was clearly wasting my time. They said my music would never be played on the radio, people would never know my name, I would simply starve and disappear, my efforts forgotten by a world already staffed full with too much talent, and not enough people paying attention. This was, of course, psychic poison: a virus planted in my brain to desire a thing I didn’t want just to avoid something I truly feared, which only enveloped me into a kind of delirious ambition that led me astray for most of my career.
Back then I had nothing but my art. To the person I was then, nothing about me was valuable except what I could make, and how it could impress others. I was hanging by a fragile golden thread, one that can be easily threatened by the mere possibility of failure. To compensate for feeling like I could be cut off at any second, I dedicated years of my work to achieving any kind of notoriety that I could get from making things, not because I wanted fame, but because I didn’t wanna fall into darkness. And so I created art like a prisoner digs a hole in their cell, hoping to one day escape.
When the first men manifested their dreams into reality using their hands, they probably only did it because they wanted to express something that no other language could express, the sight of a magical thing that was too unreal to be communicated in any other way. Fame wasn’t in the equation when our ancestors carved their primitive symbols onto the rocks and the walls of their caves. They saw muses, songs, sirens from the unconscious sea. They saw magical unmanifest things that spoke to them in a secret language, which then dictated how they would be expressed, and that gave the first magicians the drive to create, and the means to do it. The why was simply the urge to share these dreams. This was the first magic.
Even in the deepest moments of my self-pity, when I was making art merely to be acknowledged by someone greater than me, even then I could not move a finger without the song of a muse by my ear. I’ve tried many times in my life to create without inspiration and all those works will be left unheard and unpublished, for they’re abominations, freaks of poetry, mutilated and meaningless, empty of magic. Only when I truly heard the music singing, did the songs actually write themselves, without a thought or effort needed from me. And I attest to this fact for I’ve seen the angels. I’ve come to understand that I’m merely the magician manifesting the song with my worker’s hands. But the songs themselves came to me like angels, like fairies, completely formed, with a message and a meaning and a purpose, before I even had to use my hands or my mind to evoke them.
Eventually, with enough practice and dedication, you get good at your craft, good enough to surprise those around you, and then you get really good, and your music starts walking on its own, outside your grasp. And so I got played in the radio because my songs wanted to play there, and I played in front of multitudes because people wanted me to sing there, and I got all sorts of (although little) acclaim, power and fortune from all sorts of interested benefactors, and I lifted the curse that I had been carrying for a decade. I was on my path to achieving fame, and I didn’t fear the darkness anymore because I was hanging from a strong golden rope towards a promised land of glory.
But when I was at my highest point of the rollercoaster, when I was able to see everything from the top of the world, I felt nothing but true emptiness.
It was the most boring, meaningless, vapid thing. I saw Satan, naked in front of me, looking at me with a dumb, vacuous expression, a stupid grin, with his palms open wide, holding a great treasure he didn’t even know I actually never wanted. I had contradicted those who had cursed me, for sure, but I didn’t feel a thing. I heard the clapping, and the chanting, I saw the people dancing in my own language, and it didn’t mean a thing. I had gone mad, and I was staring into hell, and everyone around me (except a precious few) wanted in on the madness. I felt like my career was a precarious lifeboat, and that people just wanted to cling to its sides, hoping to ride onward with me, to be part of a court around my promised throne, in a kingdom manufactured to my name, all but a fake.
But I didn’t wanna go further. I saw nothing but hell beyond me, and suddenly I didn’t fear the fall. And so I jumped out, and allowed myself to sink into the darkness.
What I discovered then is that fame, regardless of quantity, is nothing more than the proverbial fool’s gold: shiny for sure, but nothing more than reality’s excuse for a reward to those who demand it loudly enough. It’s a cheap ride, granted to anyone willing to stand in line. When you’re at the top of the ride, no one truly cares about the dreaming, or the fairies, or the muses, or lack thereof; they just see power in you and feel attracted to it. (Some might say they don’t even really believe in the magic, even though they desire its power regardless.) They just see mystery, and want to strip it out of you. They just hear a beat they can dance to, and so they dance, ignoring what you’re saying with it. You can sing a song about life, and they will kill themselves to it. They’re buying but they don’t know what you’re selling.
Even for those who are able to manifest dreams, the true magicians, fame is at best a nice but troublesome bonus, that helps with dealing with those who only trade in terms of power and social capital, but brings all sorts of problems of politics and human conflict. It always exists merely in lieu of the actual reward for great magicianship, which is something greater, deeper, not of this world: a token of heaven, the true seat at the table of those who obtain the holy grail. A seat at the table of the most “famous” people in the world must hardly feel as precious or divine.
Fame, in comparison, is just a gift of hell. Especially today, fame seems like a great pyre in which everyone, from the true magicians to the true monsters, are all burned for their sins, big or small, in the search of distilling a new messiah out of crushing everyone who isn’t the true savior. You’re stripped apart, your image, message and name, all taken away and thrown around to mean whatever they want to hear, until you’ve served your purpose. You’re mutilated so that they can feast. And those interested benefactors will tell you to learn to mutilate yourself for them better, to strip your organs out and let the people distort you and shape you into their own image, until you become nothing but a meaningless song and dance number, circling death and decadence. You’re told to self-eliminate and self-censor, to reduce everything great in you towards the most banal of truths, so you can be the main exhibition of the carnival, something even the worst of people can relate to and see themselves in, to fit perfectly into your particular role in the nightmare, stripped of all dignity, privacy and humanity. You wanna be a star? Then burn out like one. Might as well die young.
But I refused then, and I refuse now.
Only in total darkness you start to see the true light. When everyone else is gone, those who remain — those who fell in love with you, and not the stories they wanted to tell about you — , they acquire a beauty that most other people never had before. Fame is alienation as spectacle. In its absence, you start to feel truly connected with humanity once again. When you’re a nobody, anyone can be a friend, and no one can interfere or protest against who you decide to be around. You’re a free agent. When you’re left with nothing but the mundane, when the veil of illusion is lifted, you find yourself in the Real that Lacan spoke of, and you start to see the dream within the Real, and this dream becomes your new home, your Shangri-La.
So I found my heaven. That which terrified me revealed itself to be the source of my freedom and my happiness: In obscurity, I could do what I want and be who I want to be, without having to ever explain myself again. Removed from expectations, I could make any art I wanted to make, even if it was just a dumb meaningless thing that made me really happy, or a great big statement that I wanted to say but not for it to be heard. Never to be the center of attention, never to cause any trouble, finally able to just do good upon the world. I disappeared so I could be myself, wholesale, not a piece of me left behind. Feeling absolute, I discovered true dignity, my true center, and divinity stopped being a goal, but a tangible, ever present aspect of reality. All within me became illuminated, and now I fear no shadow for everything within me is accounted for and known.
I discovered a new dream: like Kenji Miyazawa, I realized I wanted nothing but to “remove myself from the equation”, to do good towards men from the position of a nobody. To leave behind great works that felt like a secret treasure, only for those who dared to search them. I do not fear the death of a common man for I’ve known true glory. I know true love, I know true magic, and I know true power. I don’t need confirmation from the world, I know what is true and what is real because I can see it, touch it, feel it with my own body and soul. I do not fear reality for it’s the playground for my dreams to happen.
But, more than anything, I feel like, for the first time in my life, I am listening to the poetry in the air with pure ears, not poisoned by any ideations or ambitions of fame and fortune. The fact that, even with no possible earthly rewards to hope for, I can still make art and hear the songs from the deep, just proves to me that I never needed anything but my hands, my mind, and the providence of God and all the magic out there to create goodness.
So, now, at this point of my life where I feel like I live inside the most beautiful dream, I just don’t see how any fame could make me feel happier. I know the temptation to make my art “as big as it deserves” is always there for people who discover and then fall in love with my work, but my songs will not sound any prettier, nor speak to you any stronger, by having thousands or millions of people out there listening to them.
We should all learn to love things like a secret between confidants, like a beautiful tree in the middle of the forest that only you and your friends know about, lest the world ends up knowing about it and then decides to chop it down into pieces and trinkets. You will not make my life better by exposing me to a world that probably will not bother to try to understand what’s so beautiful about the things I’ve told you about through my music. The mysteries, the symbols, the songs of the muses, the rumblings of the earth — all that is good in my art, that comes across through it to you, is something I could never take credit for, as it’s within the grasp of anyone who wants to listen to it, to learn from it and manifest it. Know that you’re one of the few that bothered to pay attention, and then move onward.
As for me, I just hope to be able to sell what I’ve gathered and what I’ve made, to make someone out there as happy and alive as I feel, and to earn a living so I can continue to manifest dreams. If you’ve found my works and wish to help me, I’d rather have money for a cup of coffee or a bowl of soup than a thousand more “fans” or “followers”. I want the simple things, the mundane things of life. I have a husband who loves me and that I love, a cat that makes me smile and sleeps besides us at night, all the tools I need to manifest the songs I hear within the trees. I just need a daily meal, something sweet to drink, and some lovely memories to keep for later, of which I’ve already have many. I don’t think it’d be fair to ask for anything else in this life, or this world. We’re already in heaven.