The Lie That Will Be On Your Tombstone
Reading today that Emilio Estevez says ‘Brat Pack’ will be carved on his tombstone, I’m reminded of Bette Midler’s line that ‘She started at the Continental Baths’ will be stamped on hers. Everyone is cursed to have the origin of their success marked on their grave because people don’t realise that when they’re starting out on their careers the way they begin may stay with them forever.
For years I had ‘The author of Roofworld’ stamped on my metaphorical tomb, then ‘The author of Spanky’. Now it’s ‘the author of the Bryant & May mysteries’. Perhaps if I turn my hand to something more profound, the epitaph will change again. One of the worst mistakes you can make is hurrying a project so that it’s less than it should be. No tombstone ever read ‘They produced something very nearly great’ or ‘They delivered their work right on time.’
In French author Eric Vuillard’s poetic, heart-rending book ‘Sorrow of the Earth’, the sentiment of history is stripped away, removing the label from the person. Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill are doomed to spend their lives reliving a single defining moment, the Battle of Wounded Knee, in a roaming wild west show that recreated the scene for years and years. The worst part is that the whole thing is a sham. There was no battle, just an appalling, horrific massacre in which the Indians were scalped by the cowboys, just as there was no Buffalo Bill, just a con-artist chancing his luck by making up a false history, and in doing so accidentally creating the foundations of show business, as audiences watched history being falsified to their liking.
It’s true that the pair were friends, locked by mutual need into this lifelong farrago. Buffalo Bill’s fake persona followed him into the grave. He was a man lost inside a myth that had required him to purchase Sitting Bull’s furniture in order to manufacture a connection between them.
The motto I live by is; ‘Nobody likes a good all-rounder’, told to me by my English teacher when I was eleven. He was right. Specialise, become known for that specialisation and then change to another passion. Prevent the tag from sticking to you like a burr and you will never become who you aren’t.