I was a kid in man clothes. I was out at an expensive restaurant with a girlfriend and her parents. The night was long, the conversation dull, and I felt like a frat pledge at a debutante’s ball. When we were done, just while I walked out the door, I took off my coat, balled in in my fists and hurled it into the grass…in front of my girlfriend and her parents. (I did say “kid in man clothes.”) Her parents, in no uncertain (and not particularly polite) terms, explained to me that my maturity level was not impressing them. They were right. I was a child throwing a tantrum. Kids need to be told when they’re acting badly, and this was no way to spend my 42nd birthday.
If I were famous, if I were absurdly rich, my acting up would surprise no one. The difference, though, would be that ten people would be congratulating me, telling me I’m right. I never watched the show “E-True Hollywood Story”(swear to God, I’ll take a lie-detector), but the snippets of it I saw convinced me every celebrity has people surrounding him, exuding all the unmitigated positive regard of a therapist without the constructive advice. The thing is, constantly hearing “you’re right, you’re the best” in your ear must change you, especially when you reach fame and fortune before you reach maturity. It’s easy to believe you’re a deity when that’s all everyone around you tells you.
Remember Alec Baldwin texting in a plane, Billy Bob Thornton flipping out on an interviewer for discussing acting when he wanted to discuss music, Russell Crowe throwing a phone at someone, Mel Gibson flipping out on the officer pulling him over, or cursing out his girlfriend? Didn’t a Cowboys wide receiver stick a knife in a teammate’s neck before he became an ESPN broadcaster and NFL analyst? Remember every moment in the lives of people like Lohan and Bynes?
Now consider Paul McCartney.
Two inescapable, related facts struck me last week as I watched an interview Steven Colbert conducted with Sir Paul McCartney: 1) Paul McCartney is out there somewhere, right now, and 2) he talks to regular people sometimes. You know, non-Paul McCartney people. (Not to suggest that Colbert, the wittiest man in the country, is a “regular person.”) It’s easy to forget that McCartney is, theoretically at least, one of us; he eats vegetables; he smiles at people he doesn’t like; he leaves his credit card in the pants in the drier. He even does what Celia did in that Jonathan Swift poem. (Google it–this is a clean site.)
Some of us felt that Paul McCartney was part of Lennon’s support staff. Some of us were all-McCartney, forget Lennon. Some of us were even all-Harrison. (If you were an all-Starr, get your game on, go play…hello? Is this thing on?) But wherever you focused your mad-Beatle obsession, you must admit that McCartney wrote many great songs, a few classics, he could sing the lights out, and he has something going on that none of us besides one other guy alive has: he was a BEATLE! If there’s a King of the World, it’s not James Cameron.
But consistently throughout his interviews, McCartney seems like a nice guy, implausible as that may seem. We are so used to our famous people acting like their fame and fortune were simply their due, it’s almost disappointing to see him be so polite, especially considering the level of his fame. He’s had screaming fans after him for 48 years now. He has more money than the Euro Zone. He wrote “Hey Jude,” “Let It Be,” “Band on the Run,” the Bond theme “Live and Let Die”…I could go on, how much time you got? Countless newly wedded couples danced to his songs (including this one, “Till There Was You.”) All that, and he never came close to stabbing a guy in the neck.
How does McCartney,who’s more famous than anyone ever, stay nice? Was it because people like Lennon were so frequently willing to criticize him? Was it because his fame came primarily as part of a group, rather than as an individual? Was it just that he was raised well?
Who knows? But for the record, when I’m a rich and famous novelist, I’m not going to let it change me. I will not end up nice!