Monday, June 27, 2011

15 Minutes - The Faustian Bargain

During Piers Morgan's interview with Barry last week, he asked (while discussing Spears' issues with the papparazzi) "How much of this did she bring on herself?"  It's an elephant-in-the-room question because "celebrities" rely on exposure via the news media - including freelance papparazzi - for their sales.  Morgan is of the opinion that if one is going to benefit from the enterntainment news media, one needs to pay the piper in some way.  Like in revealing personal details, etc. 

I was flipping through some DVDs in the TV room the other day and ran across a favorite:  the 2001 remake of "Bedazzled" with Elizabeth Hurley as the Devil.  It's not exactly "From Here to Eternity", but it was a fun date-movie with my then-fiance.  New retelling of an old version of the story:  Lead Sap is obsessed with one thing (usually a girl), Mephistopheles slides up to him at exactly the right time, tells him everything he wants to hear, but nothing he needs to hear, Lead Sap gets what he wants, hates it, and risks eternal damnation.

There's a million retellings of this.  First one I remember is Gounod's Faust which has been done to death at Lincoln Center.  (In fact, I think it's been banned!)  There's the original Bedazzled with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, the one that was remade about 10 years ago.  Even the Christian redemption story runs parallel to it:  humanity went its own way, apart from the one that was planned, and a price had to be paid to redeem them.  One in pop culture that is almost buried is the third in the "Oh God!" movie series, Oh God, You Devil, with George Burns in both parts.  That last one is different.  Lead Sap already has the girl.  He's a struggling musician who states out loud that he's willing to sell his soul to be successful.

Sound familiar?

That's me within a blaze of glory / I'd sell my soul in order to succeed

Good thing you brought that forward.  Because that's exactly what's going to happen.

Every tale about someone so driven to success or otherwise gaining something for themselves follows this same tack and all have a few things in common:
  • They're inherently unhappy with their lives.
  • They feel if they just get That. One. More. Thing. their lives will become suddenly perfect.
  • They are self centered to some degree
  • They're vulnerable to suggestion and easily manipulated.
  • It isn't until they achieve what they want that they realize how much work isn involved.  More often than not, they can't handle it. 
  • When the world they've created falls apart, they find themselves in their own personal idea of Hell. 
Whether you believe in the Devil as a real person (albeit a spiritual one) or a symbolic idea, the real-life story often mimics Faust.  Although it's not quite so obvious as George Burns or Elizabeth Hurley offering you your dreams on a platter.  The person whose priorities are out of whack are their own worst enemy.

I don't think these parallels were intentional here.  As usual I could be wrong but that's how it looks from my chair.

In 15 Minutes, the character thinks that fame is everything, the one thing that will make his life satisfactory.  ("15 Minutes") All that matters is being famous - his own wants, no one else is as important.  The people he's auditioning for don't even have names.  ("Work the Room")  The wife isn't mentioned until the 3rd number and only after he's had his first stage of success.  Just enough reward to lure him into the trap ("Bring on Tomorrow")   He gets off to a good start but when he thinks everything is fine, he gets derailed by the usual traps ("Wine Song")

Now that the drugs, groupies, and whatever trinkets and beads his handlers have thrown him have tilted reality, the payment is due.  He gets trapped in a spiral, practically an addiction of needing applause and approval, and feeling lost without it.   ("He's a Star") His friends are gone and the one person in his life he should have been paying attention to has also drifted away.  ("Written in Stone").  He's paid for his fame with his soul.

Next comes Hell.   ("Letter From a Fan/So Heavy, So High")  If it's not bad enough that he can't give any more of himself and his owners keep trying to take from him, you have the fans who have absolutely NO idea what his reality is like.  Even their innocent letters and reaching out is a thorn in the side.   He's surrendered his immortal soul, now he's going to experience damnation. ("Everybodys Leavin")  It was there all along, disguised as a party ("Wine Song").   

Even though he offered to sell his soul, he wants to renegotiate.  He wants some control back.  ("Who Needs You")  But it's hopeless - he can't control anything of what was created in response to his wish.  ("Winner Go Down")  That's how deals with the Devil always work out. 

Rock bottom.  He's given up and admits his failures and his fate.  ("Slept Through the End of the World") 

At the last minute, he is offered salvation. ("Reflection", "Trainwreck")  He gets to start over and if he has a brain cell left, he'll not make the same mistakes again.  ("15 Minutes - Reprise")  Maybe he's figured out that the price of fame doesn't have to be so high.  He doesn't have to offer as much as his soul in exchange.  Negotiate a little this time.  Offer so much but not one bit more.  That and getting his priorities in life straight and it might just work out better.  ("Everything's Gonna Be Alright")

Or, just like in the CD player in my car, the cycle will repeat....

Like I said in an earlier post, there's enough going on in this album to talk about for years.

1 comment:

  1. The more I listen to this album, there more I can see so many different viewpoints. I love how you weaved the "sell your soul for whatever you want" into the story of this album. Sadly, most who have fame have probably done just that. I always told my kids, "what you want is usually never what you need." And when you get what you want, it most often isn't what you expected it would be.