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William C. Altreuter
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Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Watched Twenty Feet From Stardom last night. Great music, obviously. Interesting stories, too. The structure of it was notable, and I want to dwell on that a bit. The movie is about backup singers, and it features one who broke through after she was 40 to become a star in her own right; one who almost did, but didn't, quite; some who've made a living at it; and one who is trying to become a solo artist but hasn't, at least yet. Throughout we get some interviews with some of the big deal stars that the singers (all of whom are women, by the way, and mostly all African-American) have worked with. Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Mick Jagger. All three of these white guys admire the craft that the singers bring to their performances-- but both Sting and Springsteen seemed somewhat condescending to me, particularly the loathsome Mr. Sumner, who seems to think that being paid scale and scuffling for gigs is what develops character and makes these women good artists. Springsteen is only slightly better: he seems to be implying that there is some element lacking in the make-up of these singers that prevents them from becoming big-deal popstars, like him. Oddly, Sir Mick comes off the best: he talks about singing with Merry Clayton and it is clear that he had great time doing it, admired her talent, and respected her as a person.

It's funny how it goes. Just last week I was talking to a friend about the idea of meritocracies. You'd think that there would be fields where the best rise to the top, but if there are I am not sure I know what they are. It ain't art or music, and although sport might seem to be the answer, there are a lot of athletes out there who feel like they had the tools and just didn't get the breaks. For every Kurt Warner who somehow breaks through there are dozens of QBs who got sent in for a series and then sat  for the rest of their careers. In our glamor profession keeping score is tricky. Some people reckon it is as easy as counting the money, and some think it's about ascending to the bench, and some people even think that becoming a law professor is the pinnacle, but the Kurt Warner principle is at work here too. I know lots of rich lawyers, and enough stupid judges, for sure, and the law schools are full of dolts who found that actually practicing law was not to their liking, but enjoyed academic politics just fine. I'm glad Darlene Love gets her props, and Merry Clayton's vocal on "Gimme Shelter" gives me chills every single time.  

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