A couple of days ago I got in the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine, and there on the cover is Britney Spears, smiling, flat-stomached, and belly-ringed. Now, I could complain bitterly that Ms. Spears has absolutely no business being on the cover of what is purported to be a serious music magazine. She is a music commodity, not a music talent. But Rolling Stone stays in business by selling magazines, and Britney and her drama sells, still. The gist of the article I think is that (oh shock) fame is a bitch, be careful what you ask for, etc.

Perhaps it is a bit too obvious to suggest she retire from public life if she doesn’t care for the glare of the spotlight. Yes, perhaps just a touch too practical. She surely has enough money, does not need to work, could easily retire to the depths of small-town Louisiana, raise her children, and be easily enough forgotten. But, no, a cover shot on Rolling Stone is the plan of action. I do not disagree with Ms. Spears that the public is relentless in stalking her, judging her; it isn’t fair, or cool, or right. But that’s the deal now, and when you know it, hate it, but still choose to play, well, quit whining.

It got me thinking about the psychological need for and ramifications of fame. Not attention, not praise – fame. Ray Davies wrote a project in 1974 called “Starmaker” that ended up as both a Kinks album (“Soap Opera”) and a television play in the UK. It takes a rather quirky look at the effects of this need on one man. The story begins as Norman, our Everyman Rock Star, is getting up and ready to go to work at his stultifying desk job in a bland office block somewhere, so he can “research” his next great musical project. He is arrogant, egotistical, condescending, ready to explore the lives of the “Ordinary People” by becoming one of them, but only until he has enough detail to begin his eagerly-awaited project.

His wife sees to his needs, supports his grand plans, gazes at him in awe and adoration. But as the story progresses, cracks appear. She gets irritable, angry, sad, frustrated with him. When she finally has had enough and complains, Norman says to her, “Do you think that I would live here, with you, in this squalor, if it wasn’t for my work?” She then reveals to us, and to him, that he is no rock star; he really is normal dull Norman with the desk job, and his fantasies of fame are a lie. She will no longer play along, as it is clear Norman has lost touch with reality completely. As he accepts that he must stop his double life and returns to be “A Face In The Crowd,” there is both a sense of great melancholy and a worrisome undercurrent of mental illness, unresolved.

As a creative work, I don’t feel Ray Davies fully succeeded with the Starmaker project, as the story seems more locked in his head than fully fleshed out for the listener. I wonder how much of it was personal. He had gone through a traumatic divorce the year before from his young wife, who had been a fan before the Kinks hit the big time in 1964. She knew Ray before he was famous, saw him through profound changes, pressure, breakdowns, and triumphs. I don’t doubt that she said to him at some point, “Just who do you think you are?” as the wife in Starmaker did to Norman. Was he able to answer her?

Who are you? Who, who? Does fame change your very DNA? Is there little left of the person that was? Is it so addictive that it cannot be cast aside once you have it, even at the cost of every single real person in your life? Whom do you trust when those people have had enough?

I see the cover shot, and I see the cost, continued.

Well, enjoy Ray Davies in his underwear, in any case.