Check Your Head

Jesse Leach is back this week with another installment of his Gun Shy Assassin column ‘Check Your Head.’ This week, the Times of Grace and The Empire Shall Fall frontman examines the notion of celebrity and analyzes our apparent obsession with celebs.

Here is a song you can play while reading this; it seems appropriate, in addition to being a great song by a great band.
Over the past few weeks I have been doing phone interviews and press all around the world. Not only have I been able to talk about the record of my career The Hymn of a Broken Man but I have had great discussions and conversations, “off the record” as well. It always strikes me when people say to me, “Wow, you are a real down-to-Earth guy.” It begs the question: How many musicians out there are not? For the record, I do not own a television (I have not for years), I don’t pay attention to mainstream news, gossip and celebrity magazines, newspapers, etc. However, as of late, I have been rather intrigued by entertainers and celebrities, and the lives they lead, as well as people who are fanatics versus people who simply just “support” artists. It seems to me in our society (especially here in the U.S.), we take all privacy away from people and put them on these unrealistic pedestals. How do fans help solidify and perpetuate this “celebrity status?” 

A personal example of this sort of “odd” way of thinking is here, at my day job (I currently work Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.) People found out through word of mouth I signed a record deal and began to treat me slightly different. Saying things like: “Don’t forget us little people when you make it big” or “When you’re making your millions, don’t forget who knew you when…,” etc., etc.

What kind of a delusion do we all live under? First of all, musician = millions is very, very rare. In fact, most musicians I know struggle. Who started the PR campaign way back when, to lie to people and make them see entertainers (especially musicians) in this light? To me, it is a tragedy to see people who believe this and act accordingly — on both sides. However, I know a few of the many musicians I am acquaintances of or friends with who — for better or worse — fall into this way of thinking. OK, I get it; you have people almost every night clapping and cheering you on to play your music or in some performers’ cases (admittedly), to just “do their job” (Note: When you become a musician who is just “doing their job” after starting out as a passionate artist, it may be time to rethink things). This is the equivalent to me clocking in this morning at work and having a crowd of people applaud, yell and scream as I go about my day checking the company payroll, sending out emails and entering bills into QuickBooks. Then imagine I start to get an ego about my job and give people attitude here at the office, demanding to be treated differently and expecting the “rock star” treatment. Sounds funny but reflect on that for a second; in fact, picture it… pretty pathetic and funny.

Perhaps I have an ingrained “blue-collar” mentality? To me, this attitude just seems odd. Humility should play a role in all entertainers’ lives, because in this “business,” you can lose it all in a moment. One day on top, and the next day, begging for “work.” We musicians and entertainers have all of our “fans” and audience to thank for what we have been able to achieve via our art and music. The appreciation should be two fold really.

OK, so moving on…being a celebrity in general isn’t necessarily a negative thing. However, our fascination with people who are entertainers and the dirty, grimy stuff they get into or are a part of is where negativity plays a role. So where is our society heading? How much worse will it get? Or has it always been this way? I believe in one form or another it has been around for centuries. Anyone who was brave enough to step outside of the “norm” in society was either praised or scorned in one way or another. If you do catch any sort of “fame” in this world you will inevitably be subject to public opinion. So why do we focus on the negative aspects of the lives of “famous” people? Where does this fascination come from? I don’t have the answer to that but I think it is important to reflect upon the next time you find your self watching “reality TV” or the news, or reading a “celebrity worship” magazine. Are you just contributing to an ultimately negative voyeuristic segment of society or are you just being entertained?

I am a big fan of entertainers and musicians who “keep it real,” as it were, especially here in New York. I have run into various celebrities, musicians, artists and I observed how they were just “regular people.” Here in New York, (for the most part) you are treated as such by a vast majority of the population (at least in any area outside of Midtown or Times Square). I enjoy seeing and experiencing that. To me, that is how it should be. People tend to forget that everyone has their problems; everyone has their bad days or day when they just want to be a “normal” person. Then you hear people say “Well that’s the price you pay for fame and fortune.” Sad but true??

I suppose the bottom line is (as I try to keep my wondering mind from rambling on for paragraphs) this: To entertainers, musicians and artists — be aware of who you are in the public eye and just as important, in private. Remember you are a human who is subject to successes as well as falling flat on your face. Try not to lose sight of the person you are and strive to keep grounded. I assure you, you will find more peace and happiness as well as longevity with your career because you will realize you are not separate from the people you “entertain.” When the music and lights or cameras die down, you are just a person. Treat the people who work for you, your managers, publicists, etc. with respect; they are working not just for you, but for themselves as well. There are plenty of other people who would kill to be where you are and may in fact do it “better” and treat people better, leaving you at a loss. In short, stay humble. 

To fans and people who become obsessed with entertainers and musicians: be careful how you treat and idolize them. Remember at the end of they day they are people like you; they have problems, relationship issues, addictions, pressures, even money problems at times. It is one thing to admire the work or art someone does; it is another to almost worship and adore them. Supporting ones work or art speaks volumes to an entertainer or artist. I am certain that most would agree that actual financial and mental support outweighs the obsession or worship. A simple calm, brief conversation, email or message telling the person how you appreciate what they do does more than you realize. Badgering, stalking or obsessing just gets to be uncomfortable for everyone and continues to reinforce this exaggerated “celebrity” that widens the gap of reality and fantasy. 

I understand this celebrity versus fan way of thinking will continue to go on, regardless of what my little column says. But I think my voice — and really anyone who has anything of value to say — matters. I hope I was able to give someone out there some perspective and help people to realize that we are not all impressed by the way our society functions, putting celebrities on a pedestal.  As well as not all celebrities and performers are egotistical “rock stars” living in a “fantasy world.” So when you see me out there on the road, don’t expect a great revelation if we are able to meet; I will be as much of myself as I have the energy for. However, do know that at the core of who I am, I am filled with gratitude for anyone who has supported my music in any way, shape or form. I am however more inclined to sit next to you at a bar with a pint of beer, glass of wine or a Scotch and just be another fan of music…perhaps without you even knowing who I am, and that is alright for me. 

Thanks for reading everyone and happy holidays! 
* A big thanks to my wife for helping me edit and condense my columns.

  • Eric Kanavathi

    Great note, Jesse!! Thanks for the heads-up when it comes to idolizing celebrities. We are all still human beings. Sometimes we rise, sometimes we fall. But we will rise again in the end of the day! Thanks for sharing!! God bless & happy holidays!

  • Duan Viljoen

    Love it, man. Love your comparison to someone’s day job. That puts it into perspective. God created us all as equals. No one is more important than the other, and God loves each one the same. I think if you realize that, then you would know that if you are a successful musician, you have absolutely NO ground to stand on to think you are better than others or deserve the best treatment in the world.
    Jesse, you are an inspiration brother!

  • Jason McDaniel

    Great insights Leach – it made me reflect a bit on politicians and how not only the public but often they, the politicians, place themselves on pedestals. I think it is very important that people who make policy for the public are not put in a celebrity status simply because they are performing a public service. I think it may remove them from what is actually going on in the community. (Marie Antoinette- “let them eat cake” although I don’t think she ever said that) I think that with technology growing as it has with Facebook and Twitter it will continue to open lines of communication with others around the globe and that is where the reality of how similar we all are will be made clearer. Communication is a key component to Freedom in all aspects of life whether it be with God or your neighbor.

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  • Seth Roy

    I think that people focus on the negative aspects of celebrities because the ‘normal man’ wants to feel as they are in a higher social status than they actually are. Bringing celebrities down puts them on the same level as themselves. Everyone wants to feel or be bigger than they really are, just as a goose flares its wings or a bear stands up when danger is near.

    • Head Check

      good point Seth !

  • Beth Oldfield

    Hey Jesse, I really enjoyed reading this article and I can relate from a fan point of view. I admit to having a music addiction, but I have to draw the line when it comes to obsessing over artists. To give an example, my absolute favorite band is System of a Down, but there is no way I would ever pay for a meet and greet with them or any band, for that matter. I don’t care who they are. I will buy merch, tickets, help spread the word, etc…but I will not pay to talk to someone for 5 minutes, if that. I just think it’s ridiculous. How is someone going to pay to talk to another person?! Drives me nuts lol…I’ve been to plenty of shows where I was able to meet the band, have a couple of drinks, hang out, talk music and head home. That’s the way it should be. Unfortunately, there are a lot of artists that take advantage of their status and demand to be treated like they’re special. I don’t dig that. I mean, to each their own, but in my opinion, we’re all special. Every single one of us.