I am not sure if I believe in life after death, and it’s not something I really choose to think about. All that’s certain is that people will continue to live long after I am dead. I have accepted that I won’t last forever, just as humanity won’t. Although, you can probably make an assumption in your own case. I would love to be remembered by my family and friends, and my loved ones. I would also love to be famous, or to at least achieve something in my own lifetime to be remembered for. For those that are famous, perhaps their purpose for their art or other creative endeavors are undertaken with an imagined future audience or legacy in mind. Maybe what motivates them is that their works will reverberate long after they are gone. There are many examples of people who have achieved this, during their lifetime and after.
Prince (Rogers Nelson) who passed away recently at 57, is one example. He was an artist who defied genre and was a prolific songwriter and performer spanning decades. He will certainly be remembered and so will his legacy of having freedom in the music industry. Though, he may well be remembered more vividly in your own minds, to me, he will always be the flamboyant Dorian-esque figure of pop music who managed to make almost every song he did entertaining in his own unique style. What I liked about Prince, is that many of his albums were accredited as been “Produced, arranged, composed and performed by Prince” – truly a one man band if there ever was one. He also injected passion, sexuality, seduction into a lot of his songs, daring to flirt you with his music – but not in an overly provocative way, and long before other musicians had tried. In this respect, art anticipated art. I think Prince is a good example of how seeking fame is not just entirely something an artist does for their own self-interest or self-gratification. He put his own kaleidoscopic touch on his music for his listeners and other musicians, not just to entertain them or influence them – but to give them something to connect with and to remember him by, and that you shouldn’t be confined by what music you play or listen to. He had already achieved fame before his untimely death, and will continue to achieve it, and his music will unquestionably last forever. For Prince it will always Snow in April and Rain Purple.
Of course, fame isn’t everything right? I am not sure I could really deal with fame if I had it. Do I desire it? Yes I do, I think we all do, or a small part of us does. If fame were to be a possibility for me, I would like to achieve it before I die and to hopefully still be around to enjoy it, and for my fame to have made some sort of contribution to society or influence peoples lives. And not forgetting my legacy in mind. On the other hand, there are celebrities from music, movies and so on. We see them on our TV’s, in magazines, newspapers, the Internet, pretty much everywhere. There are celebrity TV shows in one form or another. People craving to be the latest celebrity, the next big thing. Some have talent, some don’t. I watch some celebrity TV shows, and don’t even know the ‘so-called’ celebrities that are on the show. That might be down to being out of touch with what’s going on in the world though.
Nothing quite sells like celebrity. We are tempted by celebrity endorsed commercials, selling us products by using stick-in-your-head hooks, or a clever jingle that we can’t get out of our heads. Celebrities that are turned into brands, human billboards to our materialistic desires, using them to accelerate that part of our subconscious to a conscious decision to buy their product. Celebrities are used to sell us things, sports stars that make more money from endorsements than from playing their actual sport. Most of us tend to buy something if our favorite celebrity, singer or TV star is using it. I am guilty of this, I hold my hand up, guilty as charged. I just want a piece of something that I can’t be. I am so gullible I know. This is only achievable by clever branding strategists – but they know that celebrity sells. In order for celebrities to become big brand names, they have to have achieved a certain level of fame or be the latest ‘red-hot’ thing. If you want to get an idea about the marketing power of celebrities take a look at the Celebrity DBI an index that measures, quantifies and qualifies consumer perceptions of celebrities. Personally, I think branding is just an extension to their celebrity status. However, being remembered for endorsing or selling something like bread for example, is not what I want to be remembered for. Branding is just about corporations making money from using celebrities to sell their products and not really about helping celebrities achieve ever lasting fame.
I recently watched a documentary about Robert Mapplethorpe – a photographer who influenced the ’70s and ’80s New York art world. It focused on both his work and his legacy. His photography included a wide variety of subjects, mostly controversial due to the sexual nature of his work. One of his best-known images “Man in a Polyester Suit” is just a close up of a black-mans penis emerging from an unzipped fly. You don’t see any face, there’s no glimpse of who the person is, it seems to be more about race and sex, than identity. At the height of his popularity he was challenging the ideas of what art could and could not be. One of his last self-portraits from 1988, where he is grasping a cane with a skull handle with his hand, draped in a black turtle neck, a black background behind him, is almost a parody of his inevitable death due to AIDS. His work also had a more subtle theme – such as floral still life, portraits and the form of the beautiful body. I did find some of his more controversial work to be shocking and this just happened to be one of the reasons his best known work in the ’70s and ’80s was deemed unfit to be shown or to be reproduced in certain newspapers. That of course is just a form of discretion on their part and censorship of what can be considered to be art or not. What I also got from the documentary, was how much he wanted to achieve fame and everything that went along with it, while he was still alive. Fame isn’t just about something that only happens after you die, but also when you are still here to experience it. Sometimes reaching fame when you are still living and how you go about it can be challenging, especially when you try to be your authentic self. Mapplethorpe throughout the documentary, always appeared to me, to be his authentic self, and also what the legacy of the documentary was about as well as his life and his photography. His more sexual and provocative photography spurred a number of congress men in the USA to stop it from been shown in art galleries, are today the photographs that he will always be remembered for and turned out to be a natural progression for his legacy. We shouldn’t let our fame or our desire to achieve it be dictated to by other people, just be true to ourselves and as authentic as we can be.
An earlier blog post Remembering David Bowie touched upon what an amazing and talented person he was (will be posting more on David Bowie soon). What perhaps links Bowie, Prince and Mapplethorpe and many other artists, musicians and so on, is that they all arguably create substantial and eclectic bodies of work, while at the same time presenting themselves to the world in ways that challenged a broad array of categories and which ultimately made them famous during their lifetime and after.