The Footballer's Wife and the Astronaut
A while back I mentioned that the Poetry Subject Index for Carpe Diem had been updated. Carpe Diem is a Latin idiom that translates into English as "seize the day." It’s an exhortation to live life to the fullest. In life and in literature we often admire people who lived large and made a lasting impression. We may idolize them and celebrate their accomplishments and the lasting impact they have had on the world around us. From this, perhaps, we get the term celebrity.
A celebrity is someone who has gained fame - become widely known. Here in the 21st century, the standard for fame falls a little short of Homeric. In fact, the standard seems to sink lower on a daily basis as the media search moves from A-list to B-list to Z-list personalities in an effort to keep our multitudinous communications channels filled with something. In fact, most of them have notoriety rather than celebrity - fame for behaving badly (infamy, in fact).
There is another Latin idiom, Ubi Sunt, or "where are they" - where have the great ones gone, those men and women who seized the day, lived in the moment and did great things. We see this concept used in life and literature too - nostalgia for our heroes and icons of days gone by. This is a very bittersweet concept, especially in the case of those whose lives were short. This is also a very ancient concept - the Greeks celebrated the memory of their short-lived heroes with 'heroic' epithets (from the Greek epitheton) or iconic descriptions. If you have read any of Homer's epic poems - the Iliad and the Odyssey, or even the later Aeneid by Virgil - you know of the swift-footed Achilles, clever Odysseus, Ajax the great, bold Diomedes, Hector tamer of horses, and of course Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world.
So what put me on this tack today? The Footballer's (soccer player's) Wife - a well-structured ubi sunt song by Amy MacDonald. My son Nick gave this music to me over the summer. The wistful tone in MacDonald's voice is very well suited to the lyrics, which say, in part,
Oh Mr James Dean, he don't belong to anything
Oh he left before they could get him
With their ways, their wicked ways
Oh Marilyn Monroe, where did you go?
I didn't hear all your stories
I didn't see all your glory
But the footballer's wife tells her troubles and strife
I just don't care in the end
Who is she to pretend
That she's one of them?
I don't think so
And the girl from that show
Yes the one we all know
She thinks she's some kinda star
Yes you know who you are
I don't think so, I don't think so
Won't you dance for me cos I just don't care
What's going on today
I think there's something more, something more
She rails effectively against today's pretenders to celebrity,
Oh I don't believe in the selling of your glories
Before you leave this life, there's so much more to see
I don't believe this is how the world should be
As counterpoint - I listened to a talk this week by poet, photographer, mechanic, surgeon, farmer, entrepreneur, parent, astronaut and former fellow Lexington, Kentucky native Story Musgrave - a man with six children, seven graduate degrees, and a very compelling biography. He also has a story that still has "more to see" at age 74. His very appropriate first name is shared by his youngest child, daughter Story, age 3. There's a poem in there, somewhere.