April 1999
s m u g
by Joe Procopio

Old School

A lot of information can be gleaned from a high school yearbook. This is the forum where, traditionally, we will make our first mark on  society. We've completed twelve years as a political prisoner of the state. They're going to snap our picture and paste it onto a somewhat  glossy page with a few hundred others. So we spew forth wisdom that seems so individualistic, so golden, so diamond in the rough, that it makes  our folks shell out thirty or forty dollars just to see it in print.

Raise your hand if you can review your own yearbook entry and not shudder, grimace, or internally debate the merits of therapy.

I didn't think so.

For any of us who have taken that first step toward the edge of the carousel, there have been more than a few nights interrupted by hideous dreams and cold sweats relating to said yearbook issue. For the marginally to ridiculously famous, the fact that a spotty and unimpressive past  may someday sneak up on us is fear number one. And it's hard. Your family doesn't understand, they're part of the problem. Your lover doesn't  understand, they've been just as snowed as the public (unless, of course, you've managed to cling to that sweetheart who "stood by you" in the  beginning, in which case, you have other, more pressing problems). Your therapist doesn't understand, what with a night degree from some State  U and a caseload of mostly Mom's-a-nag-and-I-hear-voices tripe.

But I'm with you. I suffer just as you suffer, perhaps more. Proof? Well, I can't just open up my past to you on this worldwide podium with its  myriad intelligent and sexy readership. That would instantly unravel years of hard work burying, modifying, erasing, and bribing ($75K alone  for what's become known as "The Great Haircut Cover Up"). Look up my CV for yourself, if you need verification, and what you may find is that  there's nothing to uncover. No shred of evidence of any former life before the spotlight found me. And that is in fact the thrust of the point  I'll drive home today.

I can tell you this. I've been whence you walk. I've dreamt complex schemes of countering prior unfortunate words and actions with  well-placed and overtly clever explanations (evil twin, frame-up, "was-sick-that-day", etc). I've watched the process done poorly by the  preceding generation, and examined the gnarled outcome of each excuse, from the tired claim of child-abuse (especially the wretched, "my-parents-neglected-my-artsy-fartsy-side" scenario) to the paper-thin, "Yes, I used to be a big loser, but that just makes me a more HONEST,  DOWN-TO-EARTH, celebrity today."

My conclusion: An excuse only buys you so much cred. And, let's face it, no one cares. The Inquirer has not built its subscriber base on stories touting how far Dr. Laura has come in the glitzy, go-go talk-radio world. The ironic part is, nobody actually wants to see her naked.

If you're on the way up and you haven't blemished the record already, my advice to you is to keep your mouth shut and your pants on until it matters. Then, if it comes down to the latter, remember this: Pamela Lee made a choice when she posed, and she currently feels her new show on the USA Network is quite artistically rewarding.

If you're swinging the scene on words, then choose those words carefully. First and foremost, don't speak your mind. Ever.

Look, we all have ideals and I'm sure every single one of us is convinced that those ideals, if only uncovered and analyzed, will be the inertial force for changing the entire world for the better. But let me assure you, one of every three of your ideals is repulsive to a large number of people. Even if those people happen to be the Klan or the Third Eye Blind fan club, you have to consider how what you say affects your career. I mean, do you want to be famous or not?

Let me put it another way and use an extremely simplified analogy. Have you ever noticed that famous Republicans become strangely mute when a subject outside of their careers is broached? This is a constant with few notable exceptions. But those exceptions, Shannon Doherty and Ted Nugent for example, crystallize my point.


If you've already scaled the peak of celebrity (and, rule of thumb here, but if you have to ask then you haven't) and remain unscathed, it's  the side hobbies that will eventually claw you down. The remnants of your personal life (back when it was de rigueur to have a personal  life) that you can't let die. Sure. Go ahead. Trash hotel rooms and punch photographers to your heart's content. But awaken some ancient fetish and give one ride to one transvestite hooker, and it's a heyday for the lifestyle-mongers. Furthermore, it's a downward spiral. Like a blotch  on a credit report, it takes what amounts to a circus of reconstruction to wipe said quote/deed from the memory of the masses.

Also, and I realize that I say this quite a bit, don't spit into the wind. If you've managed to turn a series of lemons into a Big-Gulp-sized lemonade, then don't go complaining about Marilyn Manson's drug use on tour.

I'll leave you with some action items. Review your history and hunt down the rocky patches (and try to do a better job than Clinton's campaign  team). Then, using all means at your disposal, bury, burn, and spin the regrettable. Finally, keep in step in front of the lens. We all make  mistakes, but only if we make them in public do we actually have to atone for them.



in the junk drawer:

feature car
ac/dc gun
compulsion vise
posedown cheese
and such
and such
blab fan

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