Earlier, I watched a half hour talk by young actor Jack Gleeson of some pop tv show I've never heard of and don't want to see. He spoke to the Oxford Union about celebrity, this new role in life he fell into unawares. He was insightful. He spoke as himself and as celebrity. He analyzed what celebrity means in our society, role models largely, though he hesitated to see himself as a role model, when all he's wanted to do was to be an actor. Of course, he wanted celebrity status too, but had no idea what he was getting into when the role of celebrity came to him. I felt like he fell short of what he wanted to say. He lost himself in the forest of his mind and research, a talk written in another place and time, the night before, possibly in a hotel room, where one follows mind in one context, then at the place he's meant to give his presentation, it's an entirely different context from the one he'd projected for himself in the writing. I sat through the whole half hour of his talk. It held my attention. Not long after, I saw where Pope Francis ordered the distribution of 400 sleeping bags with papal insignia to the homeless of Rome. Swiss guard and volunteers distributed them, driving around the city in a van looking for people to give the sleeping bags to. I thought, a conscious role model gesture from a celebrity using his celebrity status to call attention to the people who need help. I admired him again. At first, I thought it a bit corporate having Vatican insignia on them, then rethought: the people who receive these sleeping bags will prize them as personal gifts from il papa, holy sleeping bags.
These are humble people, more than likely all of them Roman Catholic, who hold il papa the highest. It's a refreshing bit of news. His celebrity status is a role model for many, and some of them will repeat the gesture in different cities of the Western world. He encourages people who pay attention to him to be kind to the poor, to see that poverty is a miserable existence. He has already reformed the Catholic church with his own humility. He has a charisma no other pope or public religious figure in my lifetime has had. He extends himself to the poor, not the rich. Kinda upside down and backwards in the world as it is today. I wonder if he might be a light in the darkness. I don't know if any popes in the past have had his compassion. It seems both odd and necessary that a celebrity religious figure who cares for the poor would be in ascendance in this dark time for a world of people living in spiritual poverty. America that calls itself a Christian country hates the poor. The poor are not beloved in Europe either. In a time when only celebrities have voices, it's refreshing to have a papal celebrity who wants to live the teachings of his Master. Like Bob Marley, he's too popular to assassinate. It's fun to know that he is burning the American so-called Christians a blister. They have him identified as Satan in human form. Help the poor? Satanism. Half a century ago, it would have been communism. Enabling the good-for-nothings. Get a job. Great idea. Know anyplace that's hiring somebody who needs mental health care? Get them off the streets, put them in prison where they're abused and given AIDS, often end up in solitary for inability to contain emotions. I hear Fifties comedian Dave Gardner in my head saying, When a man's down, kick him.
The few times I've seen American Idol, I've been in awe seeing these young people so desperately appealing for celebrity status and a chance to be rich, wanting to be a product, the next Britney Spears and Michael Jackson. Listening to Jack Gleeson talk about role models, I was recalling the time when I was taken with pop star celebrities for role models. Bob Dylan was a good role model for me. He went his own way, struck out in a new direction several times. Pete Seeger wanted Dylan to be the one to take folk music mainstream and Dylan went electric with rock. I think I've used Dylan for a model in my readiness to change my art form from time to time. When what I'm doing gets boring, I change and do something else. I knew intuitively in childhood that my life would be one of many big changes. I've made it a point to be open to the changes and to flow with them. Dylan has been an encouragement to honor my own changes. A guiding light in that way. A celebrity role model. Henry Miller, too, was a celebrity role model. I liked Miller's moral code, his willingness to let go and see what comes next, his writing most of all, his engagement with the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. I learned from Miller that the people immediately around me in my world are every bit as important as celebrities. It's been among the most valuable learnings of my life. It has opened the door to a lot of people I might not otherwise have appreciated. I learned from Miller that interesting people are everywhere around. Nobody is writing their biographies, but they all have unwritten biographies. I learned much appreciation of others from Henry Miller, as well as appreciation of solitude. It's an interesting subject, the influence of celebrities as role models. It's something I never think about. I can't help but think it would be a horror to be a celebrity. I'm happy on Waterfall Road pursuing my own interests.
About the most foolishly flattered I'd ever been was when I was asked for an autograph taken for Mick Jagger. The kid was so disappointed when his star sighting turned out to be a dud. I laughed in embarrassment, embarrassed because I was so flattered. I'm laughing that same laugh right now. This would have been 1967 or 8. Now I'd do good to be taken for Walter Brennan. Even then, I didn't look any more like Mick Jagger than Willie Nelson. I think of the Rolling Stone song, Star, that's what you are. One of the great songs about celebrity status. And another Stones lyric, it's the singer not the song. In the old-time way, it was the song, not the singer. Now it's the other way around. It's another time, another experience, another cosmology. I've seen the celebrities of my past fade into history, like Frank Sinatra and Elvis. A few years ago in the grocery store a girl at the register had a name that was a Chuck Berry song. I mentioned the Chuck Berry song. She said, Who's Chuck Berry? I knew then I was in another time zone. Our celebrities change so fast and the role model they manifested is in new faces and names, new ones for each generation. They make us think we're cool for being aware of them. I find in this time of the life when I hear the Rolling Stones as a band of musicians making music, I hear the music better than I ever did when I was listening to stars. Baby Vada, 3, already is enchanted with Elsa, the princess in the children's movie, Frozen. Crystal took her to see the ice show in Greensboro, Frozen on Ice. Elsa waved to the audience in Vada's direction and made Vada's show, "Elsa waved at me!" Vada has an Elsa dress she dresses up in and runs around the house a princess.
andy warhol by andy warhol