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December 07, 2010


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You reaalize, of course, that when we're all famous and your wife isn't, she'll be the most famous one?

I believe you can tell a lot about a society or a culture by the people upon whom it confers fame. And if you buy that premise, then I don't know how anyone could think much of our society or culture.

@Glynn. You're right. She'll be like Oprah.

@Robert: Yes, there are a lot of famous mopes, but there are also Willie Nelson, Dustin Hoffman and Toni Morrison. Granted, they're all nearly dead, but let's enjoy them before they join Kurt Vonnegut, Studs Terkel and George Carlin.

True enough. Unfortunately, today The Situations, Kim Kardashians and Levi Johnsons outnumber the Kurt Vonneguts and Studs Terkels.

Real fame is kind of endurance sport. There are the famous who come and go (until you're reminded of them by some odd Norwegian lip synch video). Then there are the ones who linger - and I mean linger in a good way, not in a bad cheese stink kind of way.

The ones for whom fame is this kind of less intense but enduring type of thing are the Vonneguts and the Terkels. It endures because they actually had some substance behind them - some genuine contribution, talent, or genius to share.

I was thinking about this last night when I was watching Letterman. He had John Mellencamp on and so I put off going to bed to hear him. I don't actually have a single John Mellencamp song in my music collection. But every time I hear him, I think there's a reason he's still kicking around. And so there he was, at the tail end of Letterman, with no band and nothing but his guitar and his smoker's voice performing a new song built out of some splendidly simple lyrics wrapped around some chords. And it was beautiful. You won't likely see Mellencamp on the cover of People or amidst the swirling graphics of Entertainment Tonight. But he's famous in that enduring and more hard-earned way, and not just famous for being famous. If I could be famous, I'd rather be a John Mellencamp kind of famous than a Kardashian kind of famous. I could live with myself and my fame that way.

Yes, good point, Rueben. And even people who are important or famous for a long time are largely forgotten today.

When I was in Baltimore I went to the home of H.L. Mencken, the most important American commentator of the first half of the 20th century.

The house was in a ghetto, and in the front window there was a sun-faded poster photograph of him, slouching from its moorings.

Meanwhile, who was the most important communication professional of the 20th century? I bet half of us don't even have a guess.

The only substantive thing we can do good and useful work. Fame is useful only to the extent that it helps us spread our good work further.

Bill Murray once said that if you dream of being rich and famous, try rich first.

Your wife is already famous. The kids she teaches will remember her for years to come. And they talk about her. They talk about the difference she's made in their lives. That's the kind of fame we should all hope for.

Rou dat.

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