Saturday, December 22, 2012

Invisible Fame

I got the news as an afterthought. Sam's drum instructor had emailed me about a lesson related matter and at the end of his message added "by the way, I'm playing with a band at Little Bear tonight."

I love going to Little Bear. It's an old biker bar, set in the middle of our historic mountain town in Colorado. You can almost always find live music there. Local musicians often grace the stage. Sometimes they're really talented. Sometimes you just have to appreciate their deep passion for music.

I love any excuse to head to Little Bear. Every visiting relative and friend gets dragged down the street to spend some time there with us. The pizza specials mid week draw us to its old wooden front porch, a cheap way to watch live music and fill up teen boys.

There was no doubt we'd go see Dean play with his band at Little Bear. The hiccup we hadn't counted on was the fact that after 8 pm they don't allow anyone under age 21. Our normal visiting time was before the later crowed rolled in. It hadn't occurred to me that my middle schooler, who spent a lot of time at Little Bear, would not be allowed in.

The kind bouncer at the front door let the holiday spirit rule his decision and let us in 'for just a few songs', once he heard that Dean was Sam's teacher, and we were there to see him play live. We stood to the side and watched the band rock out a few classic rock tunes. Sam got to see this guy who is usually giving him instruction, as he got lost in his own element.

He got to see what the end result of all those Tuesday afternoon lessons could lead to some day.

It was time to leave. We'd seen our 'couple of songs' and we didn't want to outstay our welcome at a place we frequent. We filed out the big old wooden front door and gathered on the huge front porch, covered in Christmas lights. It seemed such a shame to leave, when such an amazing band was on stage.

I asked Michael if he'd mind taking Sam home and come back later to pick up me and Jeff. It was the perfect chance for a spur of the moment date night. My agreeable  boy was fine with the plan and quickly added, "But HAVE to do me a favor!"  

I was surprised by the excitement coming from my normally stoic boy. "The guy from Burn Notice is in there! He walked right by us! Could you please get a picture of him for me?" This request, coming from a kid who is normally irritated at mom's eagerness to take photos.

Michael is not easily impressed. He doesn't excite easily. But this was the guy who starred in a show he religiously watched with his best friend in New York, before we moved out to Colorado last year. It was one of the few shows he invested his time in, and he could hardly believe the guy had just walked by us as we casually stood around in Little Bear, watching Sam's drum teacher play in a band.

Jeff and I made our way back in, paying the cover charge as legitimate guests this time, and found a table near the stage. Behind Jeff's head I could see the guy, sitting at a table with friends. He looked like a regular guy. A guy I'd pass in Safeway and not realize he was the guy.  But this guy meant something to my, to my young adult son, who was days away from leaving to start his grown up life in the military. The guy suddenly mattered to me too.

The venue was intimate. Maybe two dozen people filled the tables and bar around us. I just didn't have the heart to bother this poor guy, who apparently was on break from filming and trying to enjoy a night out with friends. I've met celebrities before, and know that most of them are pretty gracious when it comes to fans approaching them in public. But this just felt wrong. I wanted the guy to have a night out, enjoying a rocking band at Little Bear, without some old woman harassing him for a picture.

So I did the cheater thing. I pretended to take a picture of Jeff, catching the guy in the background. It was dark. There was NO way I was going to use a flash. It's the best I could do. You can see from the picture that one of the guy's buddies was on to my game. But I'd love to tell Buddy that it was just a quick picture. And ultimately I was trying to leave his friend in peace.

After my cheater picture I sat back and enjoyed the show. I watched four guys, who live in my town, pour their hearts and souls onto that stage. During the first break  Dean came out from behind the drum set and sat at our table, telling us funny stories about his years traveling in bands. He told us about his fellow musicians on the stage, and how talented they all were. The kid playing electric guitar was in his early 20s, getting a college degree and playing band gigs in his free time, but had talent that was unbelievable. 

Then suddenly it was time for Dean to crawl back behind those drums and start the next set.

And as they rolled into their first song I started to wonder about fame. Much like the line from the movie Notting Hill, I believe celebrity is really nothing. You know, in that scene where Julia Roberts is cowering in Hugh Grant's book store saying, "I'm just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her"? In that same scene she also says something like, "The fame thing. You know it's not real."

 It's something that's discussed and analyzed but doesn't really have bones. It only exists in perception.

What is it that makes the man sitting behind us at Little Bear, hunkered in a dark corner so he's not spotted by crazy fans like me, matter more than the 24 year old kid playing his heart out on the stage in front of me? There is immense talent in both men. One has his face on billboards and television commercials, the other will pack away his guitar after this show and head back to college classes. No one will apologetically ask for his picture.

I work in a public venue. I greet people as they come into our local Rec Center to work out or take fitness classes. Sometimes I play a game where I pretend that each person approaching my desk is a 'celebrity'. I treat them like the world has bestowed this invisible blessing on them and the paparazzi are waiting just outside our doors, hoping to catch them sweaty and rumpled after their latest fitness endeavor. Because it really is just a way of approaching the people you come across in the world.

The magazines and newspapers are somehow in charge of telling us who deserves to be showered with respect and extra favor. Sure, many celebrities are immensely talented. But so are many of the people you pass every day. You just haven't been shown their talent in a Hollywood way.

This week, through a casual conversation, I learned that one of our gymnastic instructors at work is a professional artist. Some day he hopes to make his living creating art, and do gymnastics as a hobby, not the other way around. I thought about that conversation for several days. It made me wonder how many other invisible celebrities I am surrounded by every day. 

Then I happened to share some space with a guy who even my hard to impress son was in awe of. And in the same night I was moved by some music played by some guys who may never grace the cover of Rolling Stone. And it all came together.

Talent and passion are not things we can measure and place definite value. Networks of powerful people are in charge of deciding who we adore and idolize and dream of meeting. When, in reality, there are people all around us who deserve respect and awe. The woman standing in line at the grocery store who paints amazing landscapes. The man pumping gas next to you, who takes breathtaking photos of his grandchildren. The shaggy headed teenager who can write poems that would make you weep.

And, oh yeah, that kid standing front and center on the stage at the local bar, caressing the neck of that guitar like he has legions of fans waiting just outside the front door.

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