Saturday, June 09, 2007

I Heart Celebrities

"The Beatles were real bastards" quipped John Lennon in an interview shortly before his death, describing the Fab Four's climb to the top of the heap. It stands to reason that the famous, the true big shots, might be possessed of huge egos and a certain ruthlessness in order to deliver themselves to the winner's circle.

Yet in our culture, we worship at the altar of celebrity in a most earnest way. I'm willing to bet that your average cynical hipster with their ironic pose would melt like butter if, say, William Shatner or perhaps Julia Roberts got involved in a fender bender with them.
Why is this? Well, Hollywood provides a sort of faux royalty, and we accept that. Certainly we generally agree that politicians are bottom feeder scum, so their status is less than movie stars, sporting gods, and music industry icons
Like most average folks, I too suffer from the fixation on celebrity. Indeed, I am aflicted with a bad case of hero worship for certain writers, rock stars and the like. It's embarrassing, but so it goes.

And like most people, I've had actual encounters with some famous folks, and have sort of known some sort of famous folks, as follows:

John Linnell - They Might Be Giants (same high shcool, mutual friends)
Robert Crumb - (fellow cartoonist, mutual friends)
Matt Groening - (see above)
Dan Clowes - (see above, and I actually used to hang with Dan a bit in my Oakland days)
Margaret Cho - (printed her t-shirts for years, barely met her face to face, but she rocks)
Lux Interior - (never actually met the guy, but he did give me a quote for the back of my BugHouse book)
Tom Robbins - (see above)
Alberto Salazar - (lived one town over from Al, ran against him frequently in high school. That kid was smoke!)

I am happy to report that none of these people were "real bastards" to me, as per John Lennon's comment about making it big. Hell, I could even think of some fairly glowing things to say about each person based on personal experience.

Which brings us to my celebrity/famous guy story I really want to tell, about a bonafide genius who also struck me as a truly cool dude.
When I was in my early twenties, I dated a girl named Becca whose family was in the architecture game, and were well connected. In fact, her brother in law, an "old guy" in his 40s, was the Dean of Landscape Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.
We were hanging around the Dean's fancy pants Back Bay townhouse one fine spring Saturday afternoon, when I am introduced to a friend of the family, an architect, one Frank Gehry. Although Gehry was then 50 years old, I was struck by his boyishness, his unaffected charm and frank accessibility. He seemed like a peer, not a big shot "old guy".
It was not a bullshit bluff, a middle aged ploy to seem cool to college kids either. He was simply present, nothing occupied his heart and mind but the moment he was sharing with my gal Bec and I.
Still, I was surprised when he whipped out a bag of weed and inquired if I might roll a joint? Why sure Frank, be glad to! We lit up the doobie as Gehry explained that he couldn't roll for shit.
Sure, he can design the Bilbao Guggenheim, but he can't roll doobies to save his life!
I recently saw a documentary film about Gehry, and was struck once more at his joy in life, his insistence on being present in the moment and being spontaneous with the expression of his creativity.
Rock on Frank, it was an honor to burn one with you!

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