Occasionally I’m accused of name dropping. It’s not true, of course, as I was saying to Russell Brand (Boing!) only the other day. Name dropping implies a level of superficiality to which I can only aspire. Russell laughed merrily, Eddie Izzard (Boing) joined in the laugh and so did Michael Caine. (Boing!) Marty Scorsese (Boing!) asked me to pass the salt, and then Philip Roth (Boing!) came in….
I have met many interesting people in my life and many of them were famous, are famous, or would like to be famous, and many of them were not, are not, and would do anything to avoid it. I try not to discriminate. I think it is snobbish to be prejudiced against somebody just because they are not famous. As it is wrong to hold someone’s celebrity against them. It’s not their fault that just because they have a talent in one of the more popular performing arts, people look up to them, worship them, and hunt them down and kill them. Fan after all is short for fanatic. Fame is not a particularly desirable state, as Bob Dylan (Boing!) wryly observed “A lot of strangers think they know you, and it’s really only useful for getting a table in restaurants.”
The sad thing about name dropping is that there is a sell-by date. You’re best to either name drop quickly or not drop at all. Out-dated name dropping is terribly sad. As I said to Eartha Kitt only the other day….
Not recognizing the names being dropped is very embarrassing. At the Olympic Games Closing Ceremony I didn’t know half the names on the bill and had to stop asking as people were beginning to treat me like an old fart, completely hopeless and totally out of touch. (You are Eric, you are…)
I was first “outed” as a star fucker by the saintly Michael Palin (Boing!) in his diaries of the Python days in the Seventies in New York when we were hot young comedians taking the town by storm. He blasted me publicly for spending time hanging out with celebrities like the Rolling Stones (Boing! Boing! Boing!) Oddly, only the very next day in his diary he wrote “Had lunch with Mick Jagger….”
So even nice Mike doesn’t escape his own condemnation. We are all fascinated by the famous, though to be fair I never wrote about it in a published diary. (Nudge Nudge) My problem was often that they wanted to hang with me, and I am far too polite to say no to Keith Richards (Boing!) I was recently asked by the writer of his autobiography if I recalled any of the times I spent with him as he could remember nothing. Of course I did, Keith was rarely less than interesting. Even when apparently out of it. I remember him at a party he threw in Chelsea where I chatted with the very bright Pete Townshend (Boing!) while a few of the other Stones (Boing! Boing! Boing!) gathered round and badgered him in the way rock stars do to members of another group. Really, they are very competitive. They behave like mobbing birds. I once visited The Who (Boing!) backstage at a Concert in Fréjus with Pink Floyd (Boing!)
“Oh hanging out with them now are you Eric” they said, to which I replied “Well at least they keep their drummers alive.” A sardonic reference to my friendship with the late Keith Moon (ex Boing!)
Meanwhile back at the party in Chelsea young Mister Richards lay comatose on his bed under the influence of something strong, and never said a word. I stayed awhile because I am very fond of Ronnie Wood (Boing!) and the girls at the party were really delicious, though sadly not famous, so I didn’t sleep with any of them. One must draw the line. Finally, just as I was leaving, Keith rose up from his bed and yelled “Goodnight Eric.” So yes he was there alright.
Mick Jagger (Boing!) is one of the most splendid companions on the planet. He is seductive, funny, and very intelligent. Time with him is never dull. And there are plenty of extremely bright rock stars I have hung with like the highly civilized intellectual David Bowie (Boing!) the very funny Paul Simon (Boing!) the deeply read Art Garfunkle (Boing!) and the awesome Joni Mitchell (Boing!) Actors like Harrison Ford (Boing!) and Tom Hanks (Boing!) are very interesting company, though for company no one beats writers like Salman Rushdie (Boing!) or comedians like Steve Martin (Boing!) Gary Shandling (Boing!) and Marty Short (Boing!)
So yes, I don’t think you should exclude people from friendship just because they are famous. To discriminate against them for that would seem to be wrong, and I would have missed out on some of my most valued friends. For example the great and good George Harrison (Boing!) who taught me more of what life in and out of showbiz is about, than any philosopher. An awareness of death is what George taught, not in a bad or down way, but in a don’t waste your time on worthless shit your days are numbered kind of way.
My first mentor in this was the poet Stephen Spender (Boing!) who I visited in the early seventies in the Alpilles in Provence. He said, unashamedly: “I like the famous. They are more interesting.” Then he gave me his oil lamp as he had just got electricity, and I was living without. So in a sense he literally passed the torch, and I read happily under The Steven Spender Lamp until a few years later when we too finally got electricity. Meanwhile many famous celebrities came and hung out quietly in the Sud in the most basic of accommodation. There is a great relief from fame, which is not being recognized. I remember Robin Williams (Boing!) at the height of his TV celebrity, at a local fete in France, standing in the middle of the crowded dance floor yelling “I’m Mork! I’m Mork!” to the total indifference of the locals. For me that was always the best thing about Provence. No matter how famous you were back home, there you could be totally anonymous. I was tolerated as an eccentric English exile for many years and it was only when Python won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 1983 for The Meaning of Life and we were on the front page of the Var Matin that the locals realized that I was part of this odd thing called Monty Python, pronounced magnificently Mon Tee Pee-ton by the French, as indeed to them I will always remain Monsieur Eedler. They were very proud of me then, and my window glass fitter would murmur quietly “Felicitations” and my plumber would come out to fix the drains a little sooner. I cherish the friendships I made before that point, since I could be sure they were based on the purest of motives: they liked my money. So I played football with them and hung out with them practicing my atrocious French and sharing many bottles of appalling rosé wine – which we called Fighting Pink, for its tendency to break up marriages after lunch. That heavy toxic purple stuff, soaked in copper sulphates, was light years away from the beautiful blush wines they now produce. There’s even one called Pink Floyd which comes from Miraval, the Chateau where improbably many years ago Tania and I watched Roger Waters (Boing!) recording the vocal of Just Another Brick in the Wall. It’s currently owned by Brangelina. No, I don’t know them….
Ronnie Wood (Boing!) was totally anonymous in France when he came and stayed with me in 1976, just before he became a Rolling Stone. Mick had given him a tape of all the Stones songs for him to learn, and a second language tape, which consisted largely of slang, including important things like how to ask for a blow job in French. (Faire le pipe I think.) This I suppose was essential information for a would-be Stone about to go a-rolling.
Mike Nichols (Boing!) always appreciates the value of the famous. In fact he rarely works with anyone else.
“There is a good reason they are famous” he says, “it’s because they are the best at what they do.”
Of course. The smartest man in the room as always. But Mike also gives an acting class once a week to utterly unfamous actors and is always most generous in supporting writers who, of course, have no names worth dropping. His insightful and encouraging notes are the most valuable on the planet. So his will be the last name I drop…
As George said presciently and succinctly “Even the famous have to die.”
Oh and the New Yorker piece is in the October 8th edition. Enjoy.