Most of us want to be a star, but that’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
I heard yesterday that more people applied to be on “Love Island”, a particularly trashy bit of British TV, than applied to study at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities last year.
The allure of instant stardom, of overnight success, is clearly still strong.
When you think about it, instant stardom is a relatively new phenomenon. In the Middle Ages, the likelihood is that nobody knew who you were more than a village away from yours in any direction. Perhaps your fame didn’t even spread that far…
As a musician or an actor back then, perhaps no more than a few dozen people saw you as you wandered from village to village, hoping for something to eat and a bed for the night in exchange for an hour or two of singing and telling stories.
Then Thomas Edison invented the phonograph and silent movies came along. For the first time in human history it was possible to become an overnight success.
If enough people bought your record or paid to watch your film, you were wealthy beyond most people’s dreams in an instant and you didn’t even need to do all that tiresome wandering from village to village. Your message went around the world on celluloid or vinyl without you having to move from your house…and you still got paid!
Now there’s a nice deal…
But it has led plenty of people over the years to pursue fame and fortune for its own sake.
That’s the story of Patsy Gallant’s “From New York To LA”. Outside her native Canada, this song was Patsy Gallant’s only worldwide hit record. It reached the UK Top 10 in 1977 and became a staple of DJ’s disco playlists.
In my mind there’s a face
On my lips there’s a name
In my life there’s no place
For the man that I love
’Cause I’m living my life
Just to sing and be free
But was she free or was she trapped?
Fame can be a fickle master. Once it gets a hold it can be hard to let go.
You might be “a star in New York and a star in LA”, but if that comes at the expense of not being with someone you love, are you really getting the better end of that deal?
When we’re “a star in New York and a star in LA”, we think everybody loves us and that’s a sensation most people are looking for. I’ve never heard 40,000 people in a stadium call my name while I sing my songs, but I’d imagine it gets intoxicating.
That might feel like love for a while…it might even be better than love in some ways…who wouldn’t like their own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and all those VIP strolls down the red carpet?
But the world of fame and fortune has way of sucking you in and distorting your sense of reality…
The city life of flashing lights
Busy streets and fancy cars
Booze and drugs and all the clubs
Everyone’s a shining star
Was so inviting to my eyes
That I can only be surprised
By all the sights and sounds to see
I thought all this was meant for me
But was it really meant for me?
Sadly the truth is, none of this was meant for you. In fact, you’re just a little cog in someone else’s masterplan. Everyone’s on a percentage of what you make, so they’re strongly incentivised to make sure you earn as much as possible.
Then, when you’re not such a big draw, or when you start to become awkward and hold out for doing things your way, they pass you on and pick up the next hot prospect to take your place. The stars come and go. The managers, the agents and the record companies are still there decades later.
The stars might make big money overnight, but life at the top is short. The smart ones prepare for it as soon as they get there. The sad stories of those who thought their glittering life would go on for ever keep tabloid journalism alive instead.
Yes, there’s a small number of Elton John’s and Paul McCartney’s who do go on for ever and still pack out stadiums after 40 years in the business. But they’re rare.
So you need to know what you stand for. If that’s “to sing and be free” good luck to you. Take every ounce of pleasure out of the thing that you love doing.
But the time will come when the thing that used to make you free turns into your jailer.
When your manager stuffs you full of pills to get you on stage for the 200th time in 200 days just so they can bank the gate from that night’s event, you might still be singing but you’re no longer free.
The city lights are often blurred
By stories we’ve already heard
Booze and drugs now break my head
‘Cause all the shining stars are dead
I sometimes close my tired eyes
Look at myself, be hypnotised
Finding a reason of loving you
The man I thought was meant for me
But were you really meant for me?
200 nights into your worldwide tour, you don’t know anything any more. You just do what your tour manager tells you.
Then one night on a tour bus driving through the darkness to get to your next gig, you remember someone you used to know. Someone you loved. Someone who loved you. Someone you left behind in your quest for fame and fortune.
It’d be so nice to be with them again. To hold them close once more. To look into their eyes and know what love feels like.
But you decided years ago you wanted to be free. You can’t go back. And even if you did, would they have you? Perhaps their life has moved on too. Perhaps you’re just a distant memory for them. Perhaps they see you on TV and say to their family from time to time “I used to know her at High School”.
Their kids go “yeah, right, dad…you used to know a worldwide superstar” with all the disbelief and disdain that only teenagers can manage, so they stop telling stories of your time together, they stop even admitting they used to know you.
They dream of a glamorous life with you jetting around the world. You dream of a mundane life with them on a little suburban street somewhere, with kids of your own and no touring beyond the school run each morning.
You dream of each other, but you’re no longer dreaming about being in the same place. You’re each locked up within your own fantasies, but you’re no longer in the same fantasy.
You set out to be a singer because you wanted to be free, but now the freedom you long for is the freedom to be yourself and live on that suburban street with the man that you love, bringing up the kids you had together.
Funny how what you pursue, thinking it will bring you freedom, just brings you a better class of jail.
And maybe what most people think is a trap, the quiet surburban life with 2.2 children where nothing ever happens, is actually freedom.
Perhaps all those people who put their chance of overnight success on an application to be on “Love Island” might have been better off in the long run putting in that application for Oxford or Cambridge instead…
Here’s Patsy Gallant to tell us that freedom might not be all it’s cracked up to be…
PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”. You can also follow me on Medium (here) or Twitter (here) to get new articles as soon as they’re published. And why not check out my book “No Words, No Song”, where I write about more great songs like this one, available in the Kindle Bookstore (here).