The event was ending, all performances finished. As shoes shuffled to the exit a faint sound could be heard from a secluded, door-less room to the side. If curiosity lead you by the hand to peak inside, the sight of a gentlemen thumping the keys of an ancient piano while two young women sung was seen. It looked dusty and old, but the sound that emitted was joyous and youthful. The ladies weren’t professional vocalists but they didn’t sound bad, there was passion coming from a place unseen. I remember one had big, curly, crimson hair like a crown of fire. The energy in the room was contagious, attracting more people, more voices, it was a soul train line of singers. The most memorable performance came from people that never touched the stage. I don’t know how long it lasted but everyone applauded when it was finished. Phones were brought out, social media exchanged, follow buttons pressed. Somewhere between the last note and the high-fives the pianist disappeared. He didn’t stay to celebrate, no one saw him leave, no one saw him during the event, he came and went with the silence of a rising and setting of an eclipsed sun. A man of mystery, a man that didn’t exist beyond that moment.
It starts in school, somewhere between middle and high, the yearning to be somebody. To be known in every class and lunchroom, friends from wall to wall, respected by all the guys, desired by all the girls, popularity was fame. For some, they have a natural charisma that attracts like metal to magnets. They love the attention, bathe in the flattery – extroverts like Big Sean or Tyler The Creator. Others are naturally reclusive, awkward when the center of attention. Usually quiet, only known by the ones they decide to converse with – introverts like Earl Sweatshirt and Kurt Cobain. I leaned closer to the latter. I was a ghost that drifted from class to class, making little effort to contribute anything memorable into that mundane bar-less prison. I loathed every minute, from homeroom to home economics. I had friends, my older brother was on the varsity basketball team and my parents are the owners of the popular after-school skating rink, but none of that mattered. I stopped taking yearbook pictures. I didn’t take senior pictures. I didn’t care to be remembered, I didn’t care if there was any proof that I existed.
It was during a gathering for the playoffs, all eyes on the Atlanta Hawks. We sparked a conversation during a commercial break. I remembered her from high school, we had a typing class together despite her being a grade ahead. She inquired about my job, I told her I was a journalist and she lazily responded, “Oh, okay,” before returning her gaze onto the 55-inch television. I never imagined working at DJBooth would make panties moist, that I'd have hordes of women flocking towards me because I write about music, but her lack of interest bruised my ego. When P. Diddy follows you on Twitter, Elliot Wilson requests you on Linkedin and Kid Cudi publicly shits on your soul, you start to feel like you’re doing something right, something indelible. All my small accolades started running through my mind, but they never made it to my mouth. I returned my gaze to the game. I used to tell girls I worked at Olive Garden and their eyes would light up with breadstick dreams, one even gave me her number and wanted to schedule a lunch date. I wasn’t a manager, just a low-level, underpaid, underappreciated host. Now I have a job where I for once feel proud of my work, wanting to be recognized, but it meant nothing to her. I’m just a guy that works from home. My work as a writer didn’t exist.
I thought about the incident recently, when a friend that raps DM’d me on Twitter. He was sending me music to preview, some unreleased, recent recordings, but the conversation eventually went toward his thoughts on fame. He confessed that he never wants to be famous. Calling it an “intrusion,” an induction into a group of idols that lose their humanity, becoming a machine who's sole purpose is to entertain. It reminded me of a Hemingway quote, “It kills the very brave and the very good and the very gentle indiscriminately.” Fame has no mercy, it can be the driving force that eventually destroys. Once you reach a certain level of stardom, you can’t go back. Drake loves being famous, he’s wanted this since his days in the wheelchair, but there’s plenty of artists who aren’t built for the claustrophobic atmosphere of being larger than life. Having your every move documented, constantly under scrutiny, even your family can be wrapped up in its whirlpool. You also can’t control how famous you become. Fetty Wap couldn’t predict "Trap Queen" would get him worldwide acclaim, now TMZ is in his face asking about his eye. He has to adjust, prepare for everything he ever wanted and everything he never expected simultaneously. The gift and curse.
My friend's worries were the first time I heard them from a rap artist. Usually, they can’t wait for their big break, to finally rub elbows with their idols. Achieving their dreams of GRAMMY victories and world travels. To most, fame is an award, not a poison. As that friend highlighted all the issues with celebrity culture, how easy your life can become a tedious task, I agreed with every point, but he never once mentioned that with fame comes fortune, that a rapper reaching Drake’s stature will never have issues with money or material things. Kids can go to college, mother and father get a new home, and they're able to share their music with the world. You’ll never have to work a shitty job again. It temps and lures by waving all these shiny gifts in exchange for a large piece of your soul. Being famous is almost like an elite class, opening endless opportunities long as you stay in the fore-front of attention. The world we live in can ignore talent but not popularity. It’s no guarantee that his music will topple the industry but it’s on his mind. I suppose anyone publicly displaying their creativity is constantly battling with wanting to be recognized, but how many are ready to be a public figures? Can you handle the praise and the glory mixed with the envy and probing? We're equally terrified with being ignored and being recognized.
We both seem to be at war with our existence. His passion for music is what drives him to create but his anxieties and thoughts on fame causes him to hesitate pursing it vehemently. He could release under an alias, become a character like Captain Murphy or Big GhostFase, release behind a veil. Complete anonymity. If memory serves, GoldLink did that for a while. It became a part of his appeal but he eventually he had to remove the mask. Now he’s in the studio with Rick Rubin. A few perks of knocking on the door to the other side (popularity), and was his anonymity only a strategy to eventually gain fame?
I want immortality, to write a catalog of work that will outlive my heartbeat. I hunger to be read and shared by millions, but I don’t go the extra mile to connect with a larger audience. DJBooth Nation is incredibly supportive, but I spend many nights wondering how I can expand and reach more readers. I’m not on Snapchat, despite its growing community. I don’t spend my days taking pictures for Instagram with celebrities, my face is rarely seen and my voice hardly heard. I don’t want to be seen, I want to be read. These articles are my selfies, I’m painting self-portraits, what these words represent could never be captured with a smart phone. I’m constantly worried about the place of a writer in a digital world. Where memes and GIFs are replacing the written word. We are moving toward a more visual aesthetic, I tend to worry if it will move me right into obscurity, and what I might have to do to stay afloat.
This is what you write when your birthday is a few weeks away and you feel the weight of age and mortality. When your creative friends tell you you're doing great and the college graduates stress you should go back to school. When you start to see the slight grey coloring in your father’s beard. When you notice your mom losing her pep, moving slower every day. When your grandma makes three trips to the hospital in one month for heartaches and the doctors aren’t certain what’s wrong. Hoping you’ll be able to take care of them on a writer’s salary. Then you log on to Twitter and see an article is being well received, you feel good, you believe it will all work out. I’m stuck between reality and the internet. Now that I'm paying my rent with the words I type here, they aren't much different. I feel like the piano player, creating moments with each article, disappearing during the applauds. Maybe one day I won’t come back and I wonder what they will say. I’m no leader, I’m no character, and all I have to offer is my own confusion, not the traits of someone ready to conquer the world. It would be nice to be world-renowned, readers from Atlanta to Africa, maybe fame will come when I finally write this vampire novel. I won't be ready.
They say people rarely change from high-school. Some pounds may sink into the belly, but if you peel back the skin, you’ll see the same person from third period algebra. I'm still the faceless ghost that doesn’t exist. Until my next article. Until my next moment. Hopefully a few of my peers will be readers by the reunion.
“Look at myself in the mirror and wonder, as always who might be looking back.” – Hunter S. Thompson.
[By Yoh, aka The One Who Will Not Be Seen, aka @Yoh31]