How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I’m found;
Was blind, but now I see.
~ Rev. John Newman, C of E, published 1789
The Twin Cities appear to have a growing reputation among celebrities of all sorts as a place they can let their hair down, relax among the general public and not be bothered too much.
There are the continuing rumors that Paul McCartney owns a home here, somewhere near Lake-of-the-Isles I’m told, and has been seen out for an evening walk from time to time around the neighborhood or bicycling around the lake. It’s a rumor I don’t believe, but it keeps popping up. There’s also the occasional rumors of celebrities like Gene Simmons or Kenny Chesney walking through the crowds at the State Fair. Of course, any of those celebrity sightings could be simply cases of mistaken identity. A thousand guys at the fair look like Kenny Chesney. I’ll admit that I did see Gene Simmons and Shannon Tweed walk past the Grandstand a couple of years ago. It made sense because KISS was playing the fair that night. They had a gaggle of excited kids trailing behind, but they weren’t otherwise being bothered.
Then, too, you have the news stories of Lady Gaga hanging out at a St. Paul bar with a couple of band members after a show, or Mick Jagger walking around downtown and stopping into a Minneapolis bookstore to buy a book. If they feel free to try and blend in, why not? I’d imagine being on tour can be quite isolating. You’re far from the people you know and the places you live, where you feel welcome and safe among relatives and friends. In most places, between the hotel and the gig venue, I’m guessing there’s not really much of anywhere you can go without being mobbed, or worse, unless you’re able to work out a good disguise. And though I can’t claim the experience myself, I’d imagine that being surrounded by 50 wild-eyed, frenzied fans — each of whom wants something from you big or small — can be a pretty intimidating experience. That alone could discourage someone from going out.
Recently, though, I had a celebrity encounter that brings the notion of the Twin Cities as a haven for celebrity-weary celebrities into sharp focus. As I stepped into an elevator in a downtown Minneapolis office building, I looked up to see Mr. _________ (name withheld to respect his privacy), a famous actor. He looked back and smiled briefly — I might even say warmly. Not your typical celebrity defensive behavior, I thought at the time. I smiled, curtly nodded, and took the opposite corner. That should have been it, but then he turned and looked at me pointedly.
“May I be of some assistance, Mr. _________?” I asked.
“I’m curious about something,” he told me. “Obviously, you recognized me right away. Other places, someone might want an autograph, or a selfie, or try to strike up a conversation. At least they’d look a little surprised and start texting. But people here don’t seem too impressed by quote-unquote celebrity. I’ve heard that was the case and now I’ve seen it for myself. So I was wondering: What’s different here?”
Of course, since I was placed in the position of representing “people here” to someone who might have an influence on whether films get shot here, or whether Broadway shows tour here — or even whether a touring show might premiere here — I wanted to acquit myself well on behalf of my fellow Minnesotans. I felt it was my civic duty.
“I think part of the reason may be that every Minnesotan’s extended family has at least one actor or musician in it. And there are a lot of actors and musicians around. It’s not well known, but the Twin Cities has a very strong theater culture. We have more theater seating per capita than NYC, second only to San Francisco. The University of Minnesota’s theater arts program is among the very best in the country, and the Playwright’s Center is unrivaled at producing new playwrights. We have a very strong music scene that is welcoming to new musicians and new bands. They can find places to play here, top quality sound studios to record in, and they can live cheaply while they hone their professional skills.
“Now, I think it would not be unfair to say that artistic types have more than the usual number of fringe personalities and emotionally-needy people among them, no? And until social and market forces thin the herd a bit and cull out the runts and the lame, there’s a much higher concentration of cranks and weirdo’s among any random group of aspiring artists than you might find even among Hollywood’s A-listers and B-listers. The kind of people who say they’re thankful for indoor plumbing at Thanksgiving dinner. Or who claim to channel the spirit of Catherine the Great. Or who have a face tattoo of a Ladybug. People like that. Over the years they drift away and die. But it takes time. Nature is cruel.
“Also, the Twin Cities are a major center for advanced research in behavioral-modification therapy and treatment of addiction, places like Hazelden-Betty Ford — and private clinics that don’t even have names — some that cater to the treatment of celebrities with disgusting deficits of personality and pitiable character flaws. They come here in their private jets in the dead of night wearing dark glasses, just barking mad you know, literally foaming at the mouth, and expect to get patched together overnight by caregivers they look down on in time for some big awards show in L.A. So we pump them full of massive doses of B-12 and Adderall, perform a Total Exchange Blood Transfusion accompanied by minuscule amounts of BTX or TTX neuro-toxin, just enough to temporarily re-ignite the neuronal pathways in the frontal lobes that are fully burnt out and try to restore some semblance of executive function, while they are forced to endure a series of grand mal seizures with projectile vomiting and choleric dysentery. It’s not a pretty sight, I can assure you Mr. _________. Then, once we’ve resurrected and re-animated the undead husk of a man or woman whose agents and lawyers refuse to let die, they hand us $200,000 or $300,000 cash in a cardboard box, swear eternal gratitude, threaten us with death if we tell anyone about what we’ve seen, seize the medical records at gunpoint, and forget our names as quickly as they back out the lobby doors leaving the sour stench of high octane antiperspirants and dirty underwear behind them.
“Of course, these stories of unnamed celebrities in extremis tend to filter out to the general population, who receive them as morality lessons on the moral turpitude of celebrity culture. ‘Why can’t those people just try to be nice,’ they say. ‘It’s not that hard, if you try.’ Please understand, Mr. _________, our social norms uphold the Aristotelian Golden Mean of avoiding the moral extremes of either deficiency or excess — and upholds as well the Catholic doctrine of avoiding the occasion of sin in acts of either omission and co-mission. Lots of celebrities fail to follow any such doctrine and are blind to the causes of both their own suffering and the sufferings they impose on others. Which makes them a kind of social vampire, a loathsome bloodsucker on our communal strength and well-being.
“So I think Minnesotans in general, and Twin Citians in particular, are under no illusions as to what kind of monstrous personality may be lurking behind the outer facade of fame and glamour in any celebrity we happen to bump into. No, it’s probably wisdom to just leave them to themselves. After all, if you get caught up with one, it could last for five minutes or fifteen days. You might get sucked unwillingly into their world of crisis and depravity. But even if it’s just for fifteen minutes, that’s fifteen minutes of your life you won’t get back that you could’ve spent playing with your dog or stopping by to see your mother.
The elevator stopped at the skyway floor and I got out. I had business across the avenue. “Walk around,” I invited him over my shoulder as I left. “You’ll see. Nobody’s going to bother you.”