I gravitated toward the giggling coming from a small group of female co-workers, all north of the middle age demographic. They were passing around 8X10 glossies and smiling as if back in high school. Stan, the resident work place geek, was beaming like he just discovered 3 gigs of RAM.
The pictures were glam shots of Bobby Sherman, the Sixties pop star. He was either using really old photos left over when his fame sailed out of the harbor, or had filtered current shots with industrial strength Photoshop.
Stan had been to visit his sister in California and as promised, brought back autographed Bobby Sherman pictures for the five ladies who requested them. I had been skeptical; now he was delivering, and basking in the limelight.
Later than month I mentioned to the same group of people that John Lee Hooker had passed away. Each and every one of them looked confused. One finally asked me who that was. I always knew fame wasn’t fair and didn’t have a good sense of musical genius, but the idea that people remember Bobby Sherman and not the great John Lee was more than I could bear. It just seemed so wrong.
Now, more than a decade later, I’m reminded once again how fame isn’t tied to talent in our modern world; and maybe never was. A group of friends were celebrating the day before MLK Day by enjoying each other’s company and eating Portuguese pot roast.
After the first of the pro football playoff games ended, the Yippee-ki-yay Post Game Show appeared. Nothing says football like a censored line from an old Bruce Willis movie. One of the folks watching asked if a certain large, gap-toothed, smiling commentator was the “guy who’s on in the mornings with Kelly Ripa.”
The person in question is one Michael Strahan, former defensive end for the sometime World Champion New York Football Giants, and a shoo-in for the pro football Hall of Fame. I began to chastise my friend for her perspective but halfway through my diatribe realized more people are aware of Strahan as a TV host than a football player. Fame once again easily defeats talent.
This has been the case for a long time. In my youth Herman’s Hermits and Tommy James bested the Rolling Stones for bedroom wall poster sales. A few years later an acquaintance told me history would consider Kiss a greater band than those same Stones. And I read recently in the comments section of an on-line story (I know I shouldn’t) that Justin Beiber was much more talented than Kurt Cobain because he had more Twitter followers.
On the same day as our little party, Stan Musial died with little public fanfare. Stan Musial, the man who played 24 years of otherworldly baseball with the same team. Stan Musial, who never thumped his chest, got roaring drunk in public, or was implicated in any kind of scandal. Stan Musial, who was every bit the equal of contemporaries Mantle, Mays, and Clemente; but quietly plied his trade with almost boring consistency and unbridled joy.
I’m sure the folks who didn’t know John Lee, or connect Strahan with football, have no idea who Stan the Man was. Modern sports references need buzz much more than excellence, notoriety much more than substance. Legions of observers miss the point of greatness.
Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.