Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Worthlessness of Fame

Roy Harris
Ever hear of the composer Roy Harris? How about Vincent Persichetti?

What about the writers Robert Nathan and John Cheever? Don Delillo?

Or...some TV pesonalities? Like...say, Hal Linden or Carroll O'Connor ("Who's she?") or David Ogden Stiers or Marion Ross? Loretta Swit?

There is a good chance someone my age or older might recognize some of these names, but I'd bet big money anyone younger than I am would pretty much be in the dark about these people who reached pretty big heights in their respective careers.

After only -- what? -- three or four decades, many of these names that used to be often on the tongues of their respective colleagues and of the public are, at best, occasionally Googled to jog the old memory (as I had to do with Hal Linden).

These were people who made a mark on their fields -- the tier under the legends, who disappear more quickly than the legends, also, are destined to do, some day. (Many of my high school students don't know who John Wayne is. Still more couldn't name a single movie he was in. None of them have any memory of the show M*A*S*H. Most have never heard of Alfred Hitchcock.)

If it were not for school and annoying teachers like me, the kids would not recognize names like Twain and Steinbeck.

Even the more current people, like Toni Morrison -- still alive and still writing and still brilliant -- are not common knowledge.(Delillo is still writing. Does your teenaged daughter know who he is? Does your forty-year-old neighbor? Do you? He's won a Pulitzer.)

So what's the point of rising on the ladder? What's the point of fame? I write and Toni Morrison writes. I compose and Alexander Desplat (I know -- who's he?) composes. In a few decades, none of us will be remembered, however high we climb.

There are just too many people, now, and too much information saturation for us to have Shakespeares or DaVincis in 500 years.

The thing is, we do what we do because we love it. In the end, time will wipe us all out like a sandstorm over a Saharan city. Fame is worthless in the long run. What's worth something is doing the thing. And I just did. And I will do it again on Friday -- whether anyone reads or not.


  1. I've loved Roy Harris 's 3rd Symphony since I was in my teens - it certainly deserves its status as the greatest American symphony. But if I mentioned his name in conversation, it would mean nothing to the vast majority of people.

    The good thing about the Internet is that it gives people a forum for reviving forgotten names and sometimes, underappreciated masterpieces receive belated recognition.

    1. Steerforth -- I remember my dad playing Harris's 3rd for me when I was around 12. I must have wrinkled my nose a few times. I was already a devotee of the French impressionists and of Copeland, but Harris was too much for me. My dad smiled and said, "Some day you'll understand Harris." He was right -- it took me a few years, but eventually I found his work, to use an overused word, sublime.