[Note: Cathy Zymet, née Alter, has been a professional writer for many years. She has contributed to a number of periodicals, including many alternative weeklies, and Might, a defunct magazine. She now lives in Washington, D.C., and among other projects, writes, for a largely juvenile audience, biographies of popular bands and singing groups. These books are available at Wal-Mart and Walgreens. This is the fifth in a series of indeterminate duration, in which Zymet will be chronicling her experiences. Her story is very real.]
EPISODE FIVE: SELF-EXPRESSION
Let’s say I want to write the definitive Buddy Holly biography. And I choose him as my example only because I just watched Gary Busey’s stellar, pre-cycle-crash portrayal of the horn-rimmed legend. (I could have supposed just as easily Jim Morrison, Dennis Wilson, or Ricky Nelson if only their biopics had appeared on my television screen instead.)
I am merely making a point, which is: If I wanted to write the real life story of Buddy Holly, I would need to travel to Lubbock’s Texas Tech University, the keeper of $175,000 worth of primary source reference materials. Once there, presumably mitted with small white gloves, I would be able to gently caress Holly’s lyric book complete with handwritten lyrics and sketch notes, finger Holly’s Fender Stratocaster, and maybe even slip my narrow foot into Holly’s maroon-and-black stage shoe (the University owns only one).
I’d next move on to some secondary source material — perhaps a surviving Cricket. I’d also be sure to ask the school librarian if Peggy Sue were living anywhere near campus. “Does Ms. Sue,” I’d probe, “shop at the local Pic ‘n’ Save?”
So let me be clear. There is no Yorba Linda for Ricky Martin.
What I’m saying is I can’t march into the Library of Congress and ask to see the Menudo diaries. West Branch, Iowa, may have Rose Wilder’s collected letters from 1865-1968, but they don’t have any of Martin’s correspondences. Besides, Chelsea House doesn’t demand that I do this kind of legwork anyway. When I asked how I should research the LeAnn Rimes books, my editor replied with a matter-of-factness that startled me.
“Just use the Internet,” he suggested.
So, I must examine Ricky’s spotted past using alternative — some might say unapproved — methods of research. Tonight, for example, I will watch the Latin Music Awards in order to answer at least one Riddle of the Sphinx: What is Ricky doing to/with his hair these days?
Last week, I hit the mother lode of archival pursuit — “Behind the Music.” I wasn’t expecting much in the way of insight. With the exception of the Shania Twain episode, these bio-lites are not very illuminating. Addictive, yes; edifying, no. But, in the last few minutes of the show, Ricky said something that made me sit up and face the music, if you will.
When asked to reveal the “real” Ricky Martin, the “VH1” Ricky Martin sat back in his chair, folded his legs up into the lotus position, and quietly responded, “I am whatever you say I am.”
A stunningly astute revelation, really. One that recalls the contributions of two trenchant social psychologists: Erving Goffman and Marshall Mathers.
Goffman, the author of The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (a glorious and necessary interpretation of human behavior as well-rehearsed theater) divides us into expressers and impressers. For Ricky Martin to express himself as society’s mirror actually says more about his own performance. And in portraying his “self” as up-for-grabs, does he give us to understand that he is just the receptacle for our own dreams and desires? Is he nothing without us? Are we impressed?
I wonder what Goffman would say about my own presentation of self. Would he suggest that, conceptually, my band books are really just thinly veiled stories, fables even, of my own life’s desires? In expressing myself, for example, as the consummate Latino showman, I script my intense love of Miami and Puerto Rico along with a passion for performing in marabou feathers. My readers, in turn, get the impression that I have supreme social value and at least one more Grammy left inside me.
Eminem, whose latest single eerily unites him with Ricky Martin, clearly understands this concept. Savvy enough, in fact, to market himself in triplicate. When he is content to rap, he labels himself Eminem. When he cops an attitude (presumably while rapping), he answers to Slim Shady. And when he is just being a man, he calls himself Marshall Mathers. While Em’s antics are all very silly and annoying, his act also casts doubts on the “realness” of what is being presented. Goffman would delight in questioning whether Eminem was taken in by his own routine or simply deluding his audience for the chief purpose of self-interest. Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?
But all this thinking is fancy foolishness. There’s no way Chelsea House would ever let me write a Goffman-laced observation of Eminem. Instead of writing my next biography on a challenging and controversial, albeit cartoonish, provocateur, I’ll probably wind up penning the epic history of Freddie Prinze, Jr. Or worse, Joshua Jackson. And then how will I ever preserve my self?