On being famous- or not

Hi, this is an extract from Michael Cooney’s article on the drawbacks of putting fame above art

There are indeed many drawbacks to becoming famous compared to the dubious advantages. Perhaps most importantly, it can seriously hamper or even destroy artistic vitality. This can be seen to some extent in the songwriting of Bob Dylan. Most of his good songs were created before he got really famous. Maybe one can only write with conviction about one’s real concerns, and as fame comes, those concerns turn toward new topics: money, business, etc. Being surrounded by agents and managers, accountants and lawyers, investment advisors and adulators, one’s fountain of inspiration can diminish to a trickle or dry up.

But the damage doesn’t stop there. Again Bob Dylan is a good example. When he “went electric” in the mid-sixties, he repudiated all of the songs of social protest he had written earlier. He said he just wrote them to get famous so he could do what he really wanted to do: be a rock star and a poet. But those songs were his best songs, and aside from a few songs written in the following five or six years, very little of value has come from Bob Dylan since. And here’s the hard part: Dylan knows this, and the songs he sings in concert now (Rolling Thunder Review, Before the Flood, and Hard Rain albums) are his old protest hits. And he sings them as though he hates them, and hates his audience for demanding them, and hates himself for singing them. Listen to his earlier recordings of some of these songs (Don’t Think Twice is a good example) as compared to the above recordings. Gone is the sensitivity and care, replaced by screaming and venom. Bob Dylan isn’t too happy with himself.

But fame doesn’t cease with loss of artistic ability. Aye, there’s the rub. Fame begets fame. You don’t have to be any good to be the idol of millions, you just have to be famous. An indication of this is seen in the method by which many recording contracts are negotiated these days. One of the figures most haggled over is the amount to be committed by the recording company to publicizing the new record, for as everyone knows, a new performer doesn’t get famous by being good, but by being well-publicized.

 

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