February 1998
s m u g
smoking jacket
by Jack Smith


Fitzgerald was wrong. Americans do have second acts. And, if they're smart and have a good agent, third and fourth and fifth acts. It's become the American way to reinvent ourselves. This is especially true for those in the public eye. Musicians become actors. Actors metamorphasize into politicians. Politicians become do gooders. Etc. Second acts aren't just for celebrities anymore. We can take the lessons learned from the stars and apply it to our own lives helping us transform from wall street brokers to artists, computer programmers to teachers, and murderers to evangelists.

I Give You Plenty Why Do You Want More?

Remember Leo Sayer? After "When I Need You" he went Virilio and just disappeared from the face of the earth. (Albeit amid cries of "Thank you Jesus" from the hipster set.) Leo's problem was that he failed to recognize that if you're dependant on the pop world for your bread and butter and you want to stay in the public eye, you'd better start your transmogrification while your star is burning at it's hottest. Kenny Rogers' agent knew this. Kenny turned his light rock/country career into an acting career by taking on a very specific role already identified with him, The Gambler. Kenny Rogers = country. Country = western. So, the Gambler became a franchise of made for TV westerns and Kenny himself, eventually, morphed into a franchise of chicken restaurants.

Courtney Love became famous as Kurdt Cobain's wife and secondarily as the leader of Hole. But America loves women who show their tits more than they love punk rock singers who look like Christine McVie on a bad day and sing ditties like "Teenage Whore." This was a multi-tiered job, however. To her indie cred and public sympathy from Curt's untimely death, add a Versace dress, a boob job, and a part in a major movie playing a stripper junky, and, voila, Courtney's got a brand new gig.

Do You Feel Lucky?

Being American's, we like to feel that the spirit of John Wayne permeates our culture down to our very bones. (The Europeans intend it to be pejorative when they refer to us as a John Wayne stereotype. Little do they know, we take it as high praise.) As a matter of fact there's nothing we like better than to have our political figureheads imaged as ass kicking motherfuckers who'd just as soon blow your head clean off with the most powerful handgun ever made than to look at you twice. So, actors, specifically, action heroes get elected to public office quite easily. It's a natural second act. Thus, it's no surprise that Clint Eastwood has a second job as mayor. Not content to just act, produce, and direct, Clint now rules. Granted, his mayoral duties in Carmel don't allow him to stand up to terrorists, thugs, and Lee Van Cleef too often. But, if it came right down to it, we know he's got it in him. The Bridges of Madison County excepted, we've seen him do it in the movies.

Would You Like Malaise On That?

Conservative history has not been kind to Jimmy Carter's presidency. While I remember his reign fondly as the era of The Knack, Billy Beer, the TRS-80, and Ginger Campbell out by the monkey bars, all the republicans and most democrats in my family refer to the former President as a "nice guy, bad President." The two things older American's remembered about his term in office were the Iran hostage crisis and the malaise speech. These two things alone ended his political career. When he left office after getting his ass handed to him by Reagan, he was at a low point in his popularity. So, Carter did the smart thing while preparing for his second act: he waited until everyone forgot about him. He only resurfaced years later during "where are they now?" features wearing jeans and building low income housing with Habitat For Humanity. Celebrity do gooders make for warm and fuzzy kicker stories at the end of newscasts by dropping soundbites like "I wanted to use my powers for good, not evil." Because time (and television) makes us forget the bad and remember the good the patience technique worked well for Jimmy.

How Long Does the First Part Last?

Many people, especially musical acts, run into problems when they try to maintain Act 1 over a long period of time. I recommend doing something new but lets face it, folks like Dave Pirner have few marketable skills other than playing covers. If you insist on continuing Act 1, there are some methods that work though they're entirely situational dependant.

Disappear for a while and stay gone long enough for what you do to come back into style. Saturate. Repeat. This is also known as the Bee Gees method.

Metallica made their fortune by touring the world non-stop and playing music that no radio programmers thought would ever get radio airplay let alone be commercially viable. Yet, they were always out there in the public's face effectively saying, "Hey, we're not going away until you buy our record." This method can only work if you have real talent, however.

Replace your old lead singer with a new one as famous as your band. This, as the ad agencies will tell you, "creates synergy" as in the case of Van Halen. Unfortunately, it has the potential to blow up in your face ala Asia.

What's In A Name?

No matter what method you decide to use, remember to always make sure that your name is spelled correctly in the press. I was once credited as Jack Smythe in a USA Today article on SMUG. This did me no good in creating my very own Act 2. I've been considering what I'm going to do next. After thinking about it for a while, I decided that the first thing I should do is concentrate on getting an Act 1.

Jack Smith is formerly a stripper junky writer. He is now franchising a chain of sweatshops called "Jack Smith's Labour Party."




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