There’s a reason famous people don’t remember meeting me. And you. But I didn’t want to come off as too insulting.
Ben Greenman was telling Questlove about researching stories for the autobiographies he’s worked on.* He said it’s amazing all of the stories that are out there, and how one person’s biggest deal encounter can often be a long forgotten nothing-moment to the celebrity.
Questlove laughs that it’s the story of his life – people coming up to him with tales of “that time when…” and him feeling like a jerk.
Greenman explains, “Everybody remembers being with famous people but famous people don’t remember being with anyone.”
It’s a status thing.
When we’re with somebody we’re excited to meet, we’re aware of the status imbalance.
They’re normally up there (in our minds), while we’re down here. Now, we’re meeting, in the same spot. A delightfully surprising equilibrium on the status seesaw.
We feel lifted. Our senses get turned up. Memories get made.
But the celebrity doesn’t feel different. They don’t feel lowered in status – our excitement might even make them feel a little lift. But they are just having another Tuesday coffee.
The stories that end up in the world are the result of memories and misremembered interpretations of status reflections. They get extra wild when they include celebrities. They stay normal wild when they just include Tom from accounting, or your brother-in-law, or your dog.
Greenman’s dissecting of this idea really struck me. He’s seen it more than most. In working with Sly Stone, George Clinton, Brian Wilson, Little Steven, and Gene Simmons (just to name a few!) he’s had to vet all sorts of “what had happened was” -crazy stories.
It’s a reminder that stories never exist in a vacuum. While there may be factual events, we are all unreliable narrators. Understanding the function of status in the research is brilliantly useful.
Ps. Read more about Keith Johnstone’s “status seesaw” here – once you see it, you’ll start measuring with it everywhere.
*This is from the Questlove Supreme episode, “Sly Stone Tribute With Ben Greenman.” Excellent episode for any of you writing/music history nerds. I have long admired Greenman’s work and style, but this talk just elevated him to a whole new level in my heart and mind.