If you could be anyone, who would you be? When life gets you feeling low or up against the wall and wishing things were different, whose face would you wish looked back at you in the mirror?
I would want to be Johann Strauss.
You know, the waltz king of Austria, composer of the “Beautiful Blue Danube,” “Tales from the Vienna Woods,” “Vienna Blood” and so on, who stood in front of his orchestra and played his violin before all the twirling and whirling couples below, everyone on stage, everyone on the floor smiling all night long, no one more broadly than he.
Was he among the greatest composers? No. Music professors like to call his kind of repertoire “program music,” written for occasions rather than for the ages.
No matter. “Blue Danube” makes people want to dance grandly, romantically, suddenly recalling what it might have been like to do that all the time and look at one’s beloved with new eyes. Or help one understand the plot of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
I would also want to be Chubby Checker.
We all toil our whole lives at various and numerous pursuits and hope we accomplished something, but forever the man born with the uneventful name Ernest Evans will be known simply as – and his tombstone likely will simply read — “Purveyor of The Twist.” The Twist was the greatest of the overnight sensations; thanks to Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” within days — maybe hours — millions of people across America, young and old, were doing the dance craze he created in 1960 at the age of, no kidding, 18.
I would also like to be the man who revives disco music.
Put down your overripe fruit and vegetables. I know, it’s become the cultural norm to dislike it as an aberration, but if disco did one thing it was worth it: It got people who emerged from the 1960s and 1970s gyrating alone on dance floors in T-shirts and jeans to dress up to specifically go out dancing – and actual dancing with someone else you held on that floor, not merely with someone who was six feet away.
Heck, they even revived disco on “Glee” a couple of weeks ago. If disco wasn’t a ratings grabber, they would never have tried it.
“YMCA” played today as a kind of humorous respite for tipsy wedding guests shouldn’t be the last survivor of the disco era. Clark is gone now and there isn’t an impresario of his caliber to replace him, so I don’t think disco will ever return. In Clark’s place is a guy named Ryan Seacrest. What does that tell you?
Or the great orator Daniel Webster. “Liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable!” he bellowed on the floor of the Senate. Or, in an appeal before the Supreme Court that had the usually stoic Chief Justice John Marshall on the verge tears, he begged that Dartmouth College not be closed: “It is, as I have said, a small school, and yet there are those who love it.” What power to move people. Wouldn’t Russell Pearce like to be him? No, wait. Paul Babeu.
Of course, all the people I’ve longed to be are people I’d want to be at their best. It wouldn’t be the solution to my worries to assume theirs. But that’s what you get if you could actually become someone else.
My mother is a retired nurse who passed on to me something once told her by a friend of hers, a psychiatrist:
If all of us, the entire population of the world, could sit in a big circle, in the middle of which we all placed the sum of each of our troubles and cares, then one by one be allowed to approach this gargantuan pile and choose anyone else’s burden, well, each of us would take back our own.
When it comes right down to it, no one really wants to assume the life of someone else, because that’s exactly what it would mean: Denying our very selves in exchange.
We might dream of being someone else, but what’s really going on is we want to be ourselves as that other person. Either it’s them on the outside and us on the inside, or vice versa.
Here in the East Valley we don’t name our high schools after great men and women they way we used to any more. Are we afraid to say someone, though not perfect, still was an inspiration? No. It seems that we name most of them with words like “desert,” “mountain,” “vista” or “view,” or maybe, some local plant. Real motivating.
When you think about it, one of today’s greatest problems is that there are fewer people we want to be like than there used to be. Which means that a society increasingly lacking in inspirational figures could be in for a lot of suffering. Or at least, boredom.
Read Tribune contributing columnist Mark J. Scarp’s opinions in the Sunday Tribune. Watch his “On the Mark” video commentaries on eastvalleytribune.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.