HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated October 27, 2013 – 12:00am
I have walked among the famous for more than 40 years. Some were famous momentarily and were gone quickly while others were famous for quite a long while. Some were instantly famous and stayed for a long time, and there are those who worked their way to fame for years and lingered there.
Fame confers on a person some kind of royalty status. Everywhere you go, you are recognized, sometimes even adored. People actually gaze at you approvingly. You can cause a minor, sometimes even major commotion, depending on how well-known you are.
I have been famous, in varying degrees and depending on the occasion. When I was with APO, we were sought after, followed, praised, adulated by record buyers, concert-goers, radio-listeners who loved the songs we wrote and sang. There were also the TV viewers who watched us faithfully and supported us by writing fan mail, and shrieking when they saw us in our concerts and personal appearances. We were, well, idolized.
There are so-called perks that go with being famous and idolized — money, privilege, respect, and the feeling that one belongs to some kind of royalty. But I am most uncomfortable with fame and the adulation that goes with it. This is primarily because of my egalitarian, middle-class upbringing. My mother always reminded us that although we were special in her eyes, we were really just like everyone else. I could never reconcile my feelings about fame with my mother’s voice in my head. Why should I be singled out, be treated specially and adored just because I may have done a few good things under the spotlight?
Another reason was, I was quite insecure about my skills as a songwriter, singer and performer. Every time anyone came up to me and said how great a certain song I wrote or show we did was, I would smile and say thank you. But inside me, I wondered if I deserved such praise. Was this person just flattering me? I often asked that of myself. A built-in self-deprecating attitude instantly burst my bubbles before they could even come up.
But it would be a lie to say I did not enjoy the applause we would get during concerts and the good reviews for our records, even if it took me almost 20 years to accept it without the “guilt” of being undeserving.
How do fans choose whom to idolize? There is a “play,” or what is called a “participation mystique” that happens between performer and audience, idol and fan, leader and follower, and it goes something like this: a performer makes a call to an audience to watch him or her at a certain time and venue, promising to take the audience to a psychological state where they feel good, or a place where they have never been. In that state, they will experience surprise and delight in varying levels. Surprise and delight can be delivered in many ways. Athletes and physical performers, for example, wow people by pushing their physical limitations and seemingly defy gravity with grace. Musical performers evoke deep feelings and emotions through song. Magicians leave you wondering how they defy reality. Great orators and politicians will mesmerize and transport you to some ideal place. Religious leaders and priests perform rituals that evoke the presence of God.
Metaphysically speaking, the “performer” who can make you forget your own limitations as a human being and demonstrate a magnificence that brings you to a sublime state of transcendence, is a successful one. And the performer will enjoy fame as long as he can do this consistently and keep his audience engaged. When a performer stops delivering, the participation mystique ends.
In my experience, fame has been a blessing and a bane. My kids have certainly enjoyed some privileges for being my offspring. However, while perks and opportunities may have opened up for them, being the rugged individuals that they are, their connection to me has also made them work harder to come into their own.
I have lent my name to many commercial ventures. I have done the same for more noble causes such as saving the environment, damning the dictatorship, promoting OPM and clean elections, supporting certain candidates, promoting RH, etc. Those times when I did, I put my relative fame and influence to some good use, and not for the self-aggrandizement it is mostly cut out for.
We’ve heard it said that to whom much is given, much is expected. I have often wondered how much responsibility famous people should shoulder for being famous. After all, while a beauty queen speaks of world peace and harmony, she is not expected to sit down with Al Queda and the US government to initiate reconciliation.
I find it quite funny, no, abhorrent actually, when people who are on the other side of political and social issues, for example, express disappointment and threaten to withdraw adulation because I am not on their side. They use their fan status as a weapon to hostage my support and force me to behave a certain way. They must feel empowered because they think that since they made me famous, they can take it all away, at will. In the process though, their arguments weaken and what takes place is a pathetic attempt at power play which descends into name-calling. When such things happen, my usual respect for ideological adversaries quickly dissipates.
Most famous people I know would not be affected by fans who withhold or withdraw their support or admiration in situations like this. What affects them more is stalkers. If you want to sow fear in the heart of a famous person, say something like, “I like you so much I am so obsessed with you. I know where you live and I know you were wearing your favorite running shoes for three days last week.” Or say something like, “I love you the way Chapman loved John Lennon.” Then watch them really get worried.
The public will want to run your life if you let them. They feel entitled to do so since they “made” you. But I wonder why some famous people get away with outrageous things while others do not. Paul McCartney spent 10 days in a Japanese jail for drug use years ago. John Lennon was cursed for saying candidly that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ. Miley Cyrus shocked parents of teenage girls with her audacious performances. And lately, there’s Freddie Aguilar who has earned the ire of some for his politically incorrect choice of who to fall in love with.
I have been a recognizable person for too long. In truth, if all this disappeared tomorrow, I would not cry over it. My ambition is no longer as great as it used to be. But I would be grateful if you took time to listen to my new songs, read my writings, watch me in concert or attend my workshops.
While I have admittedly made great strides in my career, I still have this discomfort in being “famous.” I never liked being called a “star.” From Day One to the present, I have carefully chosen my words when I refer to people who like what I do. In interviews, I rarely call them fans. I prefer to call them friends, or my audience who enjoy my music. It feels more right. I am not someone unreachable “up there,” and they are not “down there” looking up at me.
As a performer, I will continue to try and surprise and delight my audience and I hope they continue to get a kick out of it. But when the show is over, I want to get back to my real human size and dimension. Maybe that’s why I enjoy Australia where my celebrity status is practically nil. As an Italian proverb says, “When the game is over, both pawn and king go back to the same box.”