What goes through your head when your idol walks past you?
It was a stagnant summer day and a windless heat had reached its peak compression between ground and sky. A heaviness pushed down on our skulls, causing our brow to crumple and our eyes to blink and blur. A group of us were standing on the pavement outside a busy pub, and this made us the prime target for a particularly menacing cloud. The thick air was waiting for the storm to break and cure the city of its relentless migraine. As we huddled together, I noticed the stark contrast between the bright summer clothes of orange, green and fuchsia against the apocalyptic backdrop. Even the outline of the roofs looked surreal in their clarity, the urbanity replaced with a dreamlike quality.
Come rain or shine we were going to enjoy our last August weekend; for us Brits are stubborn weather warriors. Evidence of this was found in the many optimistic flip flops which skipped in and out of the pub, ankles and toes stained with cider and lager. The drunken buzz travelled from the terraced tables, making its way through a wind tunnel of sandy Georgian buildings. Finally, it reached my ears and I turned to my friends to ask about our next plan of action. It was three o’clock in the afternoon and I wanted a quiet coffee.
With no plan forming, only the same umming and ahhing, my back was beginning to ache and my patience to wane. And then somehow with no warning, an eerie wave came upon us and everybody stopped talking. From our group to the loud pub customers, nobody dared to breathe and I couldn’t understand what was happening around us. That’s when I saw my friend Hannah staring at something behind me so I followed her gaze and turned around.
There he was walking towards us. He was so familiar, almost like an old friend or even an ex boyfriend. I would have said hello except for the fact that I didn’t know him at all, at least not in real life. I knew him from my old CD collection, from road trips, from shouting his lyrics with my brother and most of all I knew him from our beloved MTV. He was shorter than he looked on screen and was also more attractive with a decent haircut and sharp cheekbones. It seemed the charismatic aspect of his persona prevailed wherever he was, which came as a relief to me. When you see someone famous that you admire, you want them to remain your own property. You want them to be just the right amount of enigmatic and the right amount of what you expect them to be in a cosy, reliable way. Part genius, part mystery, part entertainer and reluctantly part human. Our idols have the power to mould us considerably but in actual fact, we go on to mould them in return.
I pulled Hannah out of the way so that I could see him more closely. I could hear his name being spoken in every direction, with a hushed excited urgency. He glided past with a trail of these loaded whispers. They gradually filled the wind tunnel, floating around like bubbles and bursting against the cobbles before they could reach him. He was calm and collected, almost rigid in his quest to keep walking but I have no doubt in my mind that he caught glimpses of our strange orchestra of delight.
This was my idea of paranoid hell and I wondered how people like him could stand it. The moment he was a few yards away, the loud banter and drinking started up again. It was as if a switch had tripped. I carried on looking at him, just a guy in a jumper and jeans. Nothing special some would think, except for the fact that he was very special.
I felt sorry for him because he was alone. Even my own silence had contributed to the overall atmosphere in some way. I can’t have been the only person that day who considered the bleak reality of that level of scrutiny. I grew up thinking that famous people were invincible but he looked very much made out of the same flesh and blood as the rest of us.
It reminded me of Hannah’s view of beautiful people. She believed that they had it so much easier than everybody else, that somehow good fortune protected them from the moment they were born. A new girl had recently joined our group, who was called Eliza, and Hannah had chosen to hate her immediately. She made snide comments and blanked her in that ever so subtle way that often goes unnoticed by others. I knew Hannah well enough to recognise what she was up to so I asked her what was going on. A woe-is-me speech ensued that made no sense. She was adamant that with her copper coloured hair and soft amber eyes, there was no debate that Eliza was leading an easy, peachy existence; that her entire future was sealed in a soft bite from that velvety fruit.
I argued back and we almost fell out. A few days later Eliza’s blighted background of abuse came to light; however Hannah remained unconvinced and found new ways to justify her anger against her.
If only Hannah could find the patience to really look at our new friend, she would see the tired reddish light flicker around her pupils. Like a bulb about to die, they shone a little in the wait for an inevitable blackout. There is no guaranteed immunity against pain, it is thrown around indiscriminately.
This thought passed through my mind whilst my famous friend still wandered ahead in the distance. Maybe he was bothered, maybe he wasn’t. I was probably just projecting my own anxieties onto him but whatever his true feelings were, I felt a loose affinity with him.
I turned back and my friends had finally decided on a cafe. Behind us, the students continued to yell in the wind tunnel. Was anyone else as affected as I was by the incident that we had experienced only moments ago? At the heart of the shouting, a pint of cider toppled off a table and smashed against the cobble stones.
My idol was now gone and it was time for us to move on and delve back into the crowd and the heat and the drowsy shoppers.
And then I remembered a song of his that had touched millions of us over the last twenty years or so. It had the power to make our day a bit easier, a bit lighter because someone else understood. You could sing the chorus with all the power your lungs could muster, with your voice breaking and the notes shaking. And you would feel cleansed. You would feel brave enough to accept your inadequacies again. The lyrics went something like this:
'I wish I was special
but I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don’t belong here
I don’t belong here.’
Ref: Lyrics from ‘Creep’ written by Thom Yorke from Radiohead