The Price of Fame

In 1996, a song was released that propelled a lowly band called “The Verve Pipe” into being one of the great one-hit wonders of the 90’s: “The Freshmen.” The song is basically about misbegotten youth, beginning with an abortion, continuing with a suicide, and ending with the ugly aftermath of broken relationships. It’s a chilling, gripping song that honestly looks at the folly of youth.

You could stop there and think that’s it. They wrote a deeply emotional song, became famous for it, and moved on. But the curious tale of the song and its writer, Brian Vander Ark, continues with The Verve Pipe’s follow-up album, a self-titled work that examines fame and specifically how the band got there…through “The Freshmen.”

Particularly interesting is the song “Hero,” in which the singer seems to regret writing the song that propelled him and his band into fame. In it he acknowledges the fame he’s received, but also admits that, in retrospect, he feels like a “creep” for becoming famous on “another suicide”, that is, someone else’s pain. In the end, he seems to warn the listener not to take the song too far with the lyric, “For your abuse/but not intended for internal use.”

The guilt he expressed over his fame is striking. He undoubtedly wanted to be famous, he even says as much in the song: “But a hero’s what I want to be.” Yet, it seems, to him, the price wasn’t worth it. He took a very serious and emotional subject and crafted a hit pop song out of it. Some people probably wouldn’t think twice about it, but he feels almost ashamed for how he exploited it.

Much could be said about these two songs and the dilemmas they produce, but I’ll make my point simple: You may want fame on a certain level, but beware of how that fame may affect you. Sometimes the price of fame isn’t worth the trouble (or guilt) it causes you.

Here’s a quote from Flying Colours, a Hornblower novel by C.S. Forester, that I think summarizes what I’m trying to say:

“Prospect, and not possession, was what gave pleasure, and [Hornblower’s] cross-grainedness would deprive him, now that he had made that discovery, even of the pleasure in prospect. He misdoubted everything so much. Freedom that could only be bought by Maria’s death was not a freedom worth having; honours granted by those that had the granting of them were no honours at all; and no security was really worth the loss of insecurity. What life gave with one hand she took back with the other.”

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