"Tell me who's your role model and I'll tell you who you are," someone I have a lot of respect in the world of arts said to me many years ago. I was too young to understand the true essence of what he was trying to say with this pompous-sounding statement, but years later, I realized there was more to it than "who's style do you prefer and who's album cover do you dislike".
There's a famous Russian saying derived from the Bible, I believe: "Don't make an idol for yourself" ("ne sotvori sebe kumira") but for whatever reason, it was never a motto I used in my early years. Perhaps it's for the better - that way, I had taken the time and effort to really delve into every ounce of my favorite artists' work and artistic being.
One of my favorites (not the most loved one, but easily the next one down) was an adult contemporary vocal sensation of the 90's who became particularly huge in the latter half of the decade onwards - just as I had approached my teens and had definitely decided to pursue a singing career.
It was at the time when the internet had a few more years to go before it had hit every single household in Russia in a big way. So album sleeves with credits, fan club and management info's were the only source for the determined teenager in Moscow.
I had barely turned 13 when one day I decided to write to her and send one of her songs I had recorded by myself in my bedroom - something I wouldn't have done if I hadn't loved her that much (not a typical "fan" and never have been, for some reason).
Believe it or not (and let's not forget that it was right after Russia's initial introduction and first steps towards capitalism and westernization), in the middle of our morning class at school, I got called into my Principal's office: "Your mom's on the phone" (there were no mobile phones at youngsters' disposal at the time...) What could it be, I wondered....
"Are you sitting down? You got a letter through the mail... From across the Atlantic..." I couldn't believe what my mom was saying - it was so surreal, especially living in a rather isolated world detached from the rest of the western hemisphere altogether... And all of a sudden, a letter from the management of someone I had loved and looked up to - needless to say, I was speechless and couldn't wait to get home from school to see the letter with my own eyes!
And there it was.... Beautifully printed with gold font at the top - quite different from our local barely visible print on poor, worn out paper, that's for sure!
The sweet note was signed by a direct contact at the management company who also happened to be related to the artist herself and whose name (being a die-hard fan) was very familiar to the 13-year-old.
It was so overwhelming - I decided to keep the letter (and have done so, in fact) and promised myself that one day I would work with the people who had been directly involved in making her records that I had played over and over again and sang along with enthusiastically in our little Moscow apartment....
There's something inexplicably satisfying in the very knowledge that I have indeed kept the promise made to my 13-year-old self. And although the dream is still a journey and a reality in the making, it makes me feel immensely warm deep down whenever I remember literally obsessing over the little details and bit and pieces of what is now my life - my very own career that seemed like a faraway dream back then, although there are still miles and miles to go before it's fully achieved.
As for the artist mentioned above, I watched one of her latest "behind the scenes" sessions the other day and I have to admit, it was a truly disappointing sight. Having lost her charisma and artistic honesty completely, I thought I was watching an ultimately fabricated and calculated show - and if that's what they call "behind the scenes".... Wow.
It is a shame that anyone who makes it THAT big is expected to "lose it" and become totally alien to the very notion of reality - they are always expected to lose their sense of being a part of something larger and more important than their own persona. It's as if they live on a different planet altogether where the rest of the universe revolves around them. Unfortunately, more often than not, that's precisely what happens.
As Maria Callas used to say, an artist's responsibility is to serve something bigger than himself/herself - the art. Except it's usually the other way around in this day and age of the showy show business.... Music serves the artistic ego and not vice versa.
What can you do..... Just enjoy the music, I suppoose, while the rest takes care of itself...