Lonnie Ostrow has been a PR and marketing innovator in the world of celebrity for over 20 years. Now, its his turn to share his insights and reminiscence from "the other side" of the entertainer's life... just in time to coincide with the launch of his debut novel, Poet Of The Wrong Generation.
Thursday, December 8, 2016
The Fable Of Stardom’s Rewards
I’ve always been
mesmerized by the concept of fame. As a kid growing up on Long Island, I was
forever in awe of the talents and popularity of my great musical heroes. From
my vantage point, there was nothing better than having a hit song on the radio
and getting the chance to play it in front of thousands of screaming fans.
Musical stardom had to be the pinnacle of all achievements.
In my teens and twenties, I became one of those screaming
fans, using babysitting money to buy concert tickets to see my favorite artists.
Sitting in darkened theaters and arenas, I could imagine no grander moment than
the one where the star walks out on stage into the bright spotlight, soaking in
the adulation. Goosebumps and shivers on a nightly basis. Absolutely
An interesting and most unexpected encounter with a
real-life music legend began to alter my perception of the whole celebrity
mythology. It was June of 1992. I had just graduated college and was spending a
summer afternoon with my cousin, Mike down in Greenwich Village. We were
standing in line at a Häagen-Dazs stand on West 8th Street when the guy
in front of us reached the service window. “I’ll have a vanilla ice cream with
chocolate sprinkles,” announced the curly-haired gentleman in a whiny yet
familiar voice. The attendant quickly fulfilled the order, handed a cone to the
man and then turned his attention to us. “Next please.”
The man in front of us hadn’t yet paid for his order. He
stood in place with one hand in his pocket. “Um, excuse me. How much for my ice
counter attendant flashed a smile of recognition. “It’s an honor to serve you.
We love your music. Have a great day.” He then turned back to us and asked, “So
what are you guys having?”
Now growing irritated, the customer with the vanilla cone interrupted.
“Hey, I said, how much for my ice cream?”
“Really, sir. It’s on the house. Please come again. I’m a
big fan. We all are.”
“I said, how much for this ice cream?” the man insisted,
now pounding a hand on the metal counter, his frustration mounting.
“Okay, fine. It’s a dollar fifty,” said the worker in the Häagen-Dazs
hat from behind the glass window.
My cousin and I watched intently as the guy with the
familiar, nasally voice reached into the pocket of his jeans for a pair of
rumpled dollar bills. He slapped them on the counter and walked away muttering.
“Everywhere I go I gotta be that guy. Everywhere I go. Can’t even pay for my
own ice cream!”
Incredibly, this would be my first and only encounter with
perhaps the greatest songwriter in pop music history, the incomparable Bob
Dylan. But more importantly, it would offer a unique lesson on the concept of
stardom and public recognition. When not on stage, even the biggest of
celebrities often yearn to be treated as just another face in the crowd -- if
only this were possible.
career in marketing and publicity enabled me the unique privilege of meeting
many of the stars I grew up admiring. And with each encounter, I was impressed
to discover how even the world’s biggest superstars are very much regular
people who just happen to occasionally walk red-carpets, perform to sold-out
venues and have and a stack of 8 x 10s to autograph when they get home at
night. They may live in spectacular mansions, date other beautiful celebrities,
and eat in the world’s best restaurants. But more than anything else, I found
that the one thing the world’s biggest superstars share in common is that they
crave something that they rarely can enjoy. Normalcy.
novel, Poet Of The Wrong Generation,
I transferred my youthful fascination of rock stars onto my protagonist, Johnny
Elias. Johnny attends concerts with his friends and frequently imagines the absurdly
happy lives these musical icons must be living off stage. But when a song he
writes lands him a recording contract and suddenly climbs the pop charts, he
quickly discovers that stardom is vastly different and more demanding than
anything he ever imagined as a fan. Instead of mind-blowing happiness, Johnny’s
life begins to buckle beneath the weight of his own unlikely celebrity.
of the great musical heroes of my generation (and one who figures prominently
in my novel) is Paul Simon. This past summer, in an interview with the New York Times, Mr. Simon said of
musical stardom: “I’ve
seen fame turn into absolute poison when I was a kid in the ’60s. It killed
Presley. It killed Lennon. It killed Michael Jackson. I’ve never known anyone
to have gotten an enormous amount of fame who wasn’t, at a minimum, confused by
it and had a very hard time making decisions.” And this coming from a man who
has spent more than half a century as one of the world’s most beloved
In the 1990s, Alanis Morrissette went
from being an obscure Canadian teen singer to an overnight superstar with the
worldwide success of her album, Jagged
Little Pill. Fame brought her riches and wild popularity. Yet she wasn’t
prepared for such a bright spotlight as she explained in 2014 to Oprah Winfrey.
“My head spun around 360. I just
remember having been the person who loved to sit and watch people... and then I
immediately became the watched. That was really disconcerting. I remember
looking down a lot. I didn’t laugh for about two years. A lot of
self-protection. There was a lot of invading of boundaries.On some level, I think
becoming famous and wanting fame, there’s some trauma.The traumatized person
— in this case, me — gets traumatized by the very thing that I thought would be
Rock music legends who died at the age of 27
The list of legendary music stars victimized by fame is
staggering. Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Mama Cass, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain
and Amy Winehouse are just a handful who struggled with celebrity and turned to
drugs and alcohol as self-medication – vices that heavily contributed to their
demise before the age of 30. Certainly there is no blueprint for the rock star
to live by. Fame is undoubtedly not the key ingredient in lasting happiness.
British songstress, Adele rose to worldwide superstardom in
2009 after winning Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards. Proud as she is of her
success, she seems to have a realistic approach to celebrity. "Fame is not real. And I don't want to live a
fake life. Sometimes I have my moments, but not that often,” she told BBC Radio
in 2015. "I find fame quite frightening and I find it really toxic…
It's very charming and it's very persuasive but it doesn't last so why would
you want to get involved in something that you will miss so much when it's gone
- and it always goes."
In 1999 I spent an afternoon with the Bee Gees as part of a
postal tribute by their birth nation, the Isle Of Man. When I asked Maurice
Gibb about the ups and downs of his long career he explained why he far more
embraced fame in the later years. “I think you just appreciate it differently
once you’ve hit bottom. You can’t really grasp the concept of stardom when it
first happens to you. Everything moves so quickly and you have no perspective
or appreciation, other than the cheers. But once you’ve been humbled a few
times and realize that the fans are still there, it gives you that much more
gratitude for the success you’ve achieved.”
Of course, not all rock
stars and celebrities succumb to the pressures of fame. Many artists including
Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Neil Diamond, The Who, Neil Young, Frankie
Valli and the aforementioned Bob Dylan are still performing with much fanfare
well into their 70s. For some, it may be about the money to maintain a certain
lifestyle. To others, it could be about the addiction to adulation that never
wanes; not even with age.
Sylvester Stallone and his Rocky Stamps
Back in 1996, I helped
organized a postal tribute to Sylvester Stallone on 20th anniversary
of the first Rocky film. Not a rock
star, mind you, but a man who knows a thing or two about adulation and
celebrity. I got to meet the actor in a private room at NY’s Planet Hollywood just
before hosting the official ceremony. He provided a most unexpected and
refreshing answer when I asked him what the honor meant to him.
successful; when you have all this popularity, you really can go out and do
whatever you want. You can buy the fastest cars, the biggest houses, take
vacations anywhere. But the one thing you can’t buy, no matter how much money
you earn is respect. Recognition that your talent and creativity is still
Respect and long-term
appreciation are attributes that almost certainly get obscured in any initial
rise to fame. But for those who survive the perils of the intense spotlight and
the rock and roll lifestyle, it can often be the reward that awaits once the
artist come to grips with their unique achievements. That, and the benefit of
time and perspective balanced by a degree of normalcy.