Around 28 I developed Late Onset Bob Dylan Fandom. I'm an early period Dylanist, the time between '61 and '65, when he released seven truly great albums before he turned 25. (OK, maybe six. His first one is good but not great.) There are some very good albums and some great songs after '66, but it is clear that up until the last track of Blonde on Blonde the hands of God were upon him. I listened to those albums repeatedly, even got some Newport bootlegs, pre-and-post electric, and marveled over the different versions of Mr. Tambourine Man, the live version of Maggie's Farm and Like a Rolling Stone with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, etc. At some point during this phase of my life, in a bar on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago, I saw a poster of Dylan in a studio holding a Fender and immediately thought-- I want that. I even went so far as to find it online... but soon realized I could not do it. I could never hang a poster of pop musician on my wall again. I put aside those childish things, and I should not, I dare not, try to get them back.
Over the years my antipathy for posters has developed into an antipathy for pop-culture in general. It is too often a cult of the genius and the talented rather than of the work. There is a Buddhist parable about a little boy who saw a monk preaching about the self and the universe. At a dramatic moment the monk pointed to the moon. Later the monk saw the boy imitating him preaching and pointing to the moon. The kid obvsiously didn't get it, so the monk did the only logical thing: he cut the boy's finger off.
We are the kid, mistaking fingers for moons constantly. We don't like Bob Dylan songs, we like Bob Dylan. We can hardly tolerate the thought we might dislike the guy if we knew him. As recent years have shown, we will purge an artist and his work if he turns out to be a jag-- we'll burn his records like the evangelical Beatles fans who took affront to Lennon claiming he was bigger than Jesus. We're not much different today, we just have different Jesuses. While some may take pride in their willingness to play iconoclast, it's just another way of mistaking fingers for moons. Artists are there for us to worship, but when they fail we-- or a loud and powerful some-of-us-- condemn them with the same enthusiasm. If they say anything offensive, anything that we did not believe five years ago but believe with a convert's zeal now, we cast them out of the temple.
Maybe the act of taking down my Who poster in 2000 and then listening to musicians who did not literally write songs about being boys innoculated me from joining a Twitter mob. Maybe my reluctance to enshrine anyone anymore has made me more tolerant of talented people being assholes. I feel like I can meet my heroes since they are not really heroes to me.
This, however, is a way of valorizing myself, elevating my own worldview as the moral and right one. I'm even more reluctant to revere myself as I am to revere someone else. At least revering someone else, even a rock star, is giving something away. Admiration can be a kind of love and a sort of generosity and humility. Self-admiration is repugnant. The aim is self-respect, some joy in being who we are that stops short of adoration, to attain a modest level of self-esteem without thinking we are especially special.
One of the things I first noticed upon joining Facebook in 2008-- at 33, after a lifetime of being just some guy--was that we were all cultivating a public persona. We were not just being ourselves, we were presenting a version of us that we wanted people to like. I had some experience with this, having done a lot of improv for the previous decade. I was used to the idea of audiences and of wanting audiences to like me and laugh at my jokes. I know, you are not supposed to do that, but I am human. Making that error in theater is easier, since you are only on stage for brief parts of a week. On Facebook the stage is always open, an audience member always awake and online somewhere. The mistake of caring what the audience thinks is constantly penalized. Worst of all, most people seemed to have no idea what was happening. They had no idea they were becoming minor celebreties, with an image to cultivate and defend despite being very minor indeed.
I only lasted five years on Facebook before leaving the site, but while I can quit Facebook some amount of social media is probably unavoidable. Some amount of performing and watching people perform online is now, shall we say, endemic. Here I am with a blog; the address for it is my own name. I have and occasionally use a Twitter account and am aware if a Tweet is liked or not. I learned a lot when I took down those posters and a little when I left Facebook, but not everything.
I can't recall if the kid in that Buddhist legend gained enlightenment when he lost his finger. Probably not. He still had nine more. That's plenty of chances to keep making the same mistake.