SURVIVING FAME by: Bryan White
As I sit here scratching my head in disbelief over the tragic and sudden loss of yet another massive musical icon, I remember being on a tour bus many years ago somewhere in the upper midwest. In one of the bus drawers was a VHS tape of Prince and the Revolution Live in Syracuse, NY on the Purple Rain Tour. I had already been a big fan since I was very young, but something about this live tape just destroyed me. The band and I watched that show all the time while rolling down the road. I gained even more respect for Prince as a live performer. I loved how he always had the audience in the palm of his hands. He made everything look effortless and fun. Complete freedom on stage. It made me strive to have that kind of energy and excitement in my live show from then on. Back then my label, management, and the whole regime constantly tried to make sure I didn’t talk about any pop influences in interviews and it was a BIG no no to pay tribute to them in your live show. Especially being a country artist. I did it any way. I never quite understood back then why a country artist couldn’t be moved and or influenced by all music. It’s anything goes these days. Looking back now it’s apparent to me that their motive was all fear-based and money driven and about people protecting their jobs. But I don’t have to answer to any of them anymore so I get to say exactly what I want now…
At the same time, when I think of how many icons have influenced me, I also become very sad when I think of words like perfectionism, results, applause, fear, façade, money, loneliness, belonging, skeptical, trust, trauma, Inner-circle, bubble, identity and many more. The truth of it is, not many survive fame. And the ones that do never come out unscathed but affected in countless ways. No human being is created for nor equipped to handle applause from men. No matter how grounded you may be, it affects you. It is a slippery slope no matter how you cut it. I never second-guessed or doubted myself until I had a #1 record. Then the games began. No one really understands the inside and out of it. What is actually at the core of it? What is it that slowly amasses over years and years of success and takes people out? My story is certainly not the same as everyone else that has dealt with fame but I know that for me the pressures of having to be great all the time was a pressure that I could only handle for so long. The more and more success that you have the more introverted and closed off you can become. And the more fearful and worrisome you get about losing what you have because it fills a void. It’s so easy to medicate yourself and numb yourself with it. And the people that really truly love you can’t even penetrate the bubble enough to tell you about the stupid decisions you’re potentially making or even tell you how much they love you. It all happened for me at such an early age. I was not a very strong-willed individual at that time in my life so I was easily influenced by those around me. I also did not know how to say “no” so I ran myself in the ground working for everybody else. By the end of the 90s that cycle had taken it’s toll on me and tried to steal my voice. Lost and broken I found myself in an extreme depression and with no hope. Eventually I found my voice and found my way through those who truly love me and by seeking help.
The reason that I am passionate about this subject is because I know that people that deal with fame are afraid of what everybody else will think. It’s very difficult in that world to be honest because you’re worried about so many different factors. I definitely don’t have the market cornered on self-help but I do know this. Vulnerability, honesty, and transparency are the very things that are the doorway to true freedom.
No one talks about their problems, their fears, the things that weigh them down, or the things that hinder them from being all they were created to be. Nobody talks about anything to anyone. Much less famous people. It’s like since birth we somehow were inadvertently fed that it is weak to share our junk with people. Or we might think to ourselves, “Man I don’t want to burden my friends with my problems…”
Nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, let’s be honest. Does anybody really want to talk about all that stuff with anyone? No! It’s scary! For many of us, shame is at the root of all of it. I’m sure the fears are mounting up as you read this. It’s not the big green hairy monster that we all think it is. I, by all means, do not intend to even put myself anywhere in the vicinity of these icons that I’m talking about, nor do I claim to know the inside and out of their story. But I know enough about this lifestyle to tell you my perspective.
I’m certain there are people that hear news of someone like this dying and are like, “Damn, that could be me if I’m not careful.” Of course we don’t know all of the details of Prince’s death but it makes you think of all of the other greats that have come and gone too soon. Instead of speculating, I am choosing to celebrate the amazing life of Prince. I can say this about Prince for sure, he was an individual that wasn’t afraid to be original. This is something we can all learn from. A very popular tweet this past week came from a woman @ElusiveJ. She summed it up best by saying, “Thinking about how we mourn artists we’ve never met. We don’t cry because we knew them, we cry because they helped us know ourselves”. Today, I am reminded how the slope gets slippery when your identity is wrapped up in what you do versus knowing who you are spiritually and emotionally. I know firsthand what it’s like to be on top with fame and then watch it slip away. However, I am glad to be on the other side as a survivor and still able to connect the dots as it relates to emotional freedom. If I could speak to every artist or creative type that is struggling at the moment I would say this: My hope for you in the process of navigating through and surviving fame is, KNOW that you are amazing and valuable outside of the career. Success is not contingent on what you do for a living. And you are not what you do for a living. Your freedom and mental health should NEVER be sacrificed for what the world thinks or says you ought to be. Or for what you think people might think. LET GO, reach out, and get help! All the things that you are resisting so relentlessly are the very things that are going to set you free and keep you alive to keep influencing this world…