Love takes many forms. There is romantic love, agape love, love of a mother for a child, love for an ideal. One kind of love is the love for a person we only know from afar, the love of a fan for a star. That kind of love can be very intense. Most often, the fan is female and the star a man. He can be a movie star or a rock star. More unusual was my love for a 19th Century composer, Richard Wagner. I discovered him during my college years. I think such infatuations involve marriage of an ideal with the image we have in our minds of the object of our love. It has religious connotations. It is a kind of worship. The fact that we have never met the person makes it easier to create our own personal god/goddess. Personal interaction with this deity can never spoil hir perfection. It is a very special kind of love.
This morning, I woke up with the thought of Elton John’s song, Candle in the Wind. I went to You-Tube and watched the video. I was struck by the expression of love that came through. The video showed some pictures of Norma Jean as a young child, lots of shots of Marilyn Monroe in movies and some of her dead body being wheeled out of her house, covered with a sheet, as is customary with corpses. The song depicts her as a victim, perhaps unfairly. People didn’t “crawl out of the woodwork, put her on a treadmill and make her change her name.” She chose her career, after all. Elton John sang, “I really wanted to know you but I was just a kid.” Do we ever know these objects of our worship? He sang, “Loneliness was the hardest role she played.” It seems to me that it was her very image that made her unknowable and, I guess, lonely. Who was she behind the myriad images controlled by the movie industry. We see her in so many movie roles, playing a fictitious person in a fictitious story.
Usually, this kind of worship involves a sexual fantasy. Girls have it for boys, less often, boys for girls. Elton John is gay which, I guess, makes it even more unusual. I decided to try to find out more about Marilyn Monroe/Norma Jean. I remember a few things I had heard about her in the past. I saw The Seven Year Itch as a child and a few other movies over the years. I remember a friend of mine dissing her during the troubled time in her life when a picture of her coming from a hospital, unmade-up and far from glamorous. My friend gleefully declared that this was what she “really” was. I never figured out why she was so hostile toward this person she didn’t even know. I also remember hearing mutterings about how Arthur Miller was to blame for her problems. She should have stayed away from that left-wing intellectual, according to the mutterers.
Icons lend themselves to the many fantasies myriad people weave about them, from conspiracy theories to something more personal as was the case of Candle in the Wind. But Elton John didn’t write the lyrics. They were written by Bernie Taupin, Elton’s song writing partner. He wrote the lyrics first and Elton John set them to music. About his part in writing the song, Taupin said,
“I think the biggest misconception about ‘Candle In The Wind’ is that I was this rabid Marilyn Monroe fanatic, which really couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s not that I didn’t have a respect for her. It’s just that the song could just as easily have been about James Dean or Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain. I mean, it could have been about Sylvia Plath or Virginia Woolf. I mean, basically, anybody, any writer, actor, actress, or musician who died young and sort of became this iconic picture of Dorian Gray, that thing where they simply stopped aging. It’s a beauty frozen in time.
In a way, I’m fascinated with that concept. So it’s really about how fame affects the man or woman in the street, that whole adulation thing and the fanaticism of fandom. It’s pretty freaky how people really believe these people are somehow different from us. It’s a theme that’s figured prominently in a lot of our songs, and I think it’ll probably continue to do so.”
Fame separates the celebrity from the fans. “I really wanted to know you…” but the image prevents us from truly knowing them. However, isn’t it the very unknowableness of them that makes such a love from afar phenomena possible?
To be continued…*********************************************************
I had been expecting more information about the dynamics of fandom but, instead, I came upon a lot of the stories I had heard of vaguely in the past when I wasn’t really interested enough to follow up on them. Today, I found a lot of stuff on You-Tube about a long-term affair between MM and JFK. Her singing to JFK on his birthday at Madison Square Garden was so suggestive, Kennedy called the affair over to protect his reputation. She threatened to give a “press conference” and Bobby Kennedy came to calm her down. Then she and Bobby started an affair. When Bobby called it quits, MM threatened to expose both of them. She was allegedly murdered to keep her from exposing them. There were all sorts of stories about what really happened but it looks like she was probably murdered. I’m not going to reiterate all I heard and saw and it really isn’t the subject of this post but here are some links for those who are interested.