Brushes With Fame: The Devil Is In The Details

“I attended a wedding over the weekend and happened to see my mother-in-law for the first time in nearly a year. It wasn’t as painful as you might imagine.”

The five glasses of champagne I’d had beforehand probably had a lot to do with that, and the three subsequent glasses caused me to overlook, till much later, the one curious thing about this meeting:  she pulled out an old chestnut that I thought she had abandoned long ago, or at least she’d stopped using it on me.  When she was a young woman, she was an acquaintance of one-half of a certain SoCal surf pop duo, and she loves to point this out whenever she gets the chance.  I can understand this, I suppose; we’ve all had our brushes with fame, and we all get a kick out of watching people’s reactions when we reveal them.  I did a literal double-take when my best friend revealed that she’d lost her virginity to one of my favorite 80s synthpop stars (did I doubt her?  Not at all, especially considering she was a spot-on lookalike of the woman he later married).  I’ve certainly been guilty of this myself.

I’ve had several celebrity encounters in my lifetime, particularly during my concert-hopping days several years ago. It’s amazing the variety of classic rockers and minor television stars you see standing around you at an LA gig.  My big claim to fame is that I once sat on Bill Clinton’s lap. That’s a fun one to whip out.  I remember how he pulled me onto his knee, and stroked my hair and told me how pretty it was, and I was his from that moment on. I always get the wide-eyed look of surprise and the raised eyebrows, usually followed by a grin that says “You naughty thing!” But then I have to reveal that I was six years old at the time and he was stumping for gubernatorial votes, and my mother happened to be his target at the moment (it worked – she’s a hardline Clinton devotee). But you can’t reveal that information too quickly or it ruins the whole set-up. It’s the illusion of it being something more than it is that’s the key to the whole Brush With Fame story. I learned this trick from my mother, who, when it comes to Brushes With Fame stories, has the king . . . or I should say, the King of Rock n’ Roll.  You see, my mother once danced with Elvis. Yes, that Elvis.

It was this revelation that made my mother-in-law put her surfin’ safari on ice, at least for a while. Who can compete with that? Who tops Elvis? The Beatles perhaps, but I’d be willing to bet that even Sir Paul might be momentarily impressed by a semi-intimate Elvis encounter. That is, if he never heard the actual details of the story. It took place at a wrap party for the film Charro!, and Elvis actually danced with every woman at that party for exactly thirty seconds, after which he retired to his suite, not to be seen again for the rest of the evening. A pretty uneventful occurrence, really. And to top it all off, my mom isn’t even an Elvis fan. But the way she sets up the story is masterful, and if you happen to be someone she wants to take down a peg or two (like my mother-in-law), she won’t fill in those all-important details. She’ll just let you stew in your own broth of awe. Most importantly, unless it’s specifically requested, she only tells the story once, and she tells it in an offhand way, as if to say “I don’t really find this all that interesting, but you might.”

So what’s the lesson to be learned by all this? I suppose it’s that no matter how much they mean to you, most brushes with fame are pretty insignificant. So if you’re going to share them, set them up well: spin a good yarn, but do it casually. Don’t reveal the mundane details too quickly. And please, only tell the story once, unless you want your audience sprinting towards the nearest glass of bubbly.

  1. Brushes with fame : Sandy Cercone @ Pinterest
  2. The battle of the celebrity memoir : Guardian Culture/Books
  3. The most boring party guests?
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