Do we all have to be stars?

20 Feet from Stardom


“It’s a bit of a walk.  The walk to the front is complicated.”  Bruce Springsteen talks about the ambitions of backup singers in the terrific documentary 20 Feet from Stardom.

But do we all need to get to the front, to be a star – or might we be just as happy engaging in our craft and working hand in brain with others as members of a team?

There is a stardom culture today that drives us.  From American Idol to The Voice to Project Runway and the whole apparatus that has grown up to worship the entrepreneur-founder – we are exhorted to flaunt our own originality and be the star of our own and everyone else’s movie.

20 Feet gives a fascinating glimpse into artists facing this challenge; I heartily recommend that you see it.  It shines a light on the backup singers who enrich the songs we know. They are there with the Stones and Bowie, Tina Turner and Talking Heads in an evolutionary line that comes out of the church choir via Ray Charles and Phil Spector.

Judith Hill, who shockingly did not survive on The Voice, says that being a back-up singer “can easily become a quicksand if that’s not what you want to do.”    You’ll have to watch the film yourself to see Sting talk about what it takes to achieve stardom – and parts are played by talent and ego and luck.

Should we not strive to be a star because it’s hard and might not work out?  Should we stay in the trenches and enjoy our gifts and our craft and the camaraderie and the melding of talents to create something larger?  Well ultimately for you… that is up to you.  But being aware of the choices is good and understanding the challenges is okay too.  But if you have the drive and the determination it’s funny how tackling that complicated 20 feet walk to the front does not seem optional.  We have to go for it otherwise we will always wonder.  And a few of us will make it and often for reasons that may not always seem reasonable.  Our culture values and respects those who give it a try – whether they make it or not.  After all if it doesn’t work this time maybe the next time will be the charm.

Bottom line – going for it is probably worth a try.  But don’t do it at the expense of losing touch with the joy of the creativity that keeps you excited.  And when you are famous, do support the next generation and help them make that walk too.  

And speaking of joy – do take a look at this piece on Lisa Fischer – one of the stars of 20 Feet – and of so very many songs you know.