Archive for Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Fame lost to the ages

November 3, 2010

Life continues to surprise. You get used to the idea that some people’s images and names are more or less universally known, but you just never know.

This is especially true around Halloween, when many children want to dress up as their favorite superhero or cartoon character.

Who wouldn’t know Garfield, for example, or Superman?

We spent Sunday afternoon in Wichita to celebrate the birthday of our granddaughter Myra, who turned 13 last week. Extended family and friends had gathered for cake and other goodies before the children set off for an evening of trick-or-treating. (I would be remiss if I didn’t put in a word here about my wife’s contribution to the festivities: a cheesecake that was all that cheesecake was meant to be – rich, creamy, moist, exquisite, you name it. But I digress.)

After we’d sung “Happy Birthday” and cut the cake and given and opened presents, we were sitting around while our granddaughter and some of her friends got into their Halloween finery, which sort of ran the gamut from punk-rock-chic to undead gruesome.

The youngest child at the party, a 3-year-old, was done up in a Supergirl costume. One of Myra’s friends, dolled out as a punk rocker, carried the little Supergirl back to her mother, who exclaimed, “Who’s got you? Cyndi Lauper’s got you.”

The punk rocker, adorned in a gauzy skirt, a pink tank top and a black camisole, resplendent with multicolored plastic bracelets and strings of black beads, frowned, shook her head in obvious puzzlement and left the room.

“Wow,” Supergirl’s mother said. “She doesn’t know who Cyndi Lauper is.”

It seemed odd, but we all agreed that must have been the case. (Did I mention that we had some really great cheesecake? No, wait, that’s another column.)

To get back to the topic at hand: how could a teen-ager not know Cyndi Lauper, you ask?

Well, do the math. Cyndi Lauper, heaven help us all, is no spring chicken. She came on the scene with “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” in 1983, 15 years before these girls were born. Cyndi, by the way, was 30 that year; she was born in 1953. Through the years, she’s sold something in excess of 30 million records and was the first female singer to have four top-five singles released from the same album, but that’s not necessarily enough to make her name instantly recognizable to a 13-year-old.

We could have mentioned Sarah Bernhardt or Yma Sumac and gotten the same response. In case you’re not up on these names, Bernhardt, of course, was the French stage and early film actress sometimes called the most famous actress ever known; Sumac was a Peruvian soprano whose voice was reputed to span five octaves and who appeared in films such as “Secrets of the Incas” and “Omar Khayyam” in the 1950s.

So much for fame. Fame, as Emily Dickinson said, is a fickle food upon a shifting plate. Or consider this from Davey Crockett: Fame is like a shaved pig with a greased tail, and it is only after it has slipped through the hands of some thousands, that some fellow, by mere chance, holds on to it!

Did I mention we had some great cheesecake?

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