What beats at the heart of Hollywood?
The idea of swinging cats doesn’t appeal to me, so let’s swing a cheap replica Oscar statuette – anywhere in Hollywood – and you are bound to graze someone in the music or film business. This is the town of entertainers and entertainment – from one end of the spectrum to the other and everything in between.
You will see familiar faces at the grocery store or sitting at the next table in the cafe and then the game begins:“Oh – that’s …you know…. remember that movie…?” Bits of conversations as fellow hikers on the Hollywood Hill trails pass by, include “scripts”, “angel investor”, “so I said to my agent ….”
On any day, you will see a young twenty-something kid with printed directions in hand stop with a reverent here-at-last gaze at the surrounding buildings and then trudge on with bulging suitcase rolling in tow. They are arriving. In other places, the paparazzi cluster, barely disguising their telephoto lenses behind hats. Their heads jerk this way and that as their keen eyes follow movement like birds of prey. That’s how you know ‘someone’ is nearby. The day before Christmas Nicki Minaj was doing a last minute jaunt and last week we heard that Brad Pitt was walking in L.A. With the children in tow. Missed him, but think it was Megan Fox who was shopping at a small boutique we were in.
The actor who owned the first house we stayed in was recognizable from films and sitcoms but you might not know his name. The first time we met, he was sweeping out his garage wearing jeans and a pyjama shirt. The owner of the second house we stayed at was a producer of known films and headed out to Sundance Film Festival the day before we left. Perhaps he had a film there. My sons moved into an apartment and discovered the guy across the hall was a music producer. They got to play a guitar given to this dude by Johnny Cash.
One day we picked up a little book called The Gift at the juice bar in Franklin Village. It was a self proclaimed synthesis of the various motivational books of our time, but it was told in few words within the relevance of the author’s own experience. We went back the next day to pick up another, only to find the little stack all gone. On asking we were told that the author was in most days and if I left my card, they would have him call. Well he called and when we walked into the shop, there was another familiar face – David Dayan Fisher – one of the ‘bad guys’ from feature film – National Treasure.
David shared with us that he started acting late – at twenty-eight. Against all the naysayers he came to Hollywood from England and ‘made it’. Every soul is called to its art. Whether we heed it or not is another matter. If we do follow the call of our soul, then we embark on the path of the epic life. Life lived large – not necessarily on the billboards and in the ratings, but in the expansion of our own experience.
When we follow our art we inevitably come face to face with our own doubts and limitations. It is in facing these down that we ultimately ‘make it’ whether we get another part or not. David realized that he wanted to live life on his own terms. He acts, paints and writes. The proceeds from his books are donated to caring for stray animals in Hollywood. He works out, hikes the hills with his dogs, does yoga, meditates and eats for vitality. He knows that true freedom comes from within and he lives that truth. His book, The Gift shares that story.
I tell you this not for the luster of it, but to facilitate the underlying thrum of this place called Hollywood. Its heart beats on creativity and the striving for personal expression. Now, there is the ‘star making machinery’ to quote Joni Mitchell, that gathers up the handful of marketable faces as commodities, and there is the entertainment business that gives and takes millions of dollars to dictate tastes and then pander to them turning out films and music of questionable virtue or artistic quality.
Attaining the golden heights of stardom are as within reach for most folks as are the marble sized diamond stud earrings in the shop on Rodeo. And those heights are not always desirable and must be precarious to cling to and still retain the freshness of innovation and creativity not to mention self-mastery. There is a trade off in there.
While that stratosphere represents the lion’s share of the money, and the big bucks inevitably circulate within few hands, the rest of the population of entertainers are following their hearts and fulfilling their artistic longing. Many have other jobs between gigs because, for most, this industry is not about steady work. But it is this very willingness to live on the edge of uncertainty for the sake of fulfilling a dream is what this town is really about. You can feel it.
To paraphrase my son, if the continent of North America was tipped on its edge you would see talent of all kinds flow to that little district of Hollywood in the big city of L.A. that rests between the Pacific Ocean and the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. It is the threshing floor that polishes the brightest and spits out those who lack the searing conviction that this is the life for them. Making it isn’t necessarily about being a star. Making it for an artist is about doing what you love to do and getting paid for it. It’s also about living within a culture of others doing the same thing. A place where being an artist is a respected profession. And this is that place.
There is a friendliness and openness to strangers because this is essentially a place populated by strangers. Coming from the Northern sensibilities of insular living and constant striving for material success often at the expense of our creative selves, this atmosphere is like oxygen. There is a vibe here. No doubt about it.
In his new book, The Icarus Deception, Seth Godin, calls us all to find our personal art and express it on canvas or in the chapters of our lives. Stepping out of the confines of our structured lives and onto the stage of our own fulfillment asks for a belief in ourselves that many of us haven’t developed fully.
Hollywood is the context where you can believe in the art of being you. There is this whole marvellous arena of life beneath the stars that is rich with diversity and beauty and originality. In the ethers of stardom, the machine is not fuelled by originality but by sameness. Who will be the ‘new’ Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt rather than who will be the new and inspiring original? Imagine having to sing outside your key for the rest of your life rather than belting out your own anthem.
There are many Hollywoods peopled by beggars and stars. The Hollywood I love is the one that welcomes me as I am and inspires me to express that out loud. Hooray!