Singers and artists can spend their lives trying to obtain fame. But rather than a goal to be reached, fame is often like a wild cowboy on a Saturday night spree, ready to lasso anybody or anything that crosses his path.
Thus some people who deserve fame, or at least notoriety, never find it. Others seem to have it thrust upon them. Here are three takes on fame as it touched, or hasn't yet touched, a New Orleans belter, a Nashville night club, and a viral dance.
Before Christmas, I went to New Orleans for a conference. It's a favorite town, and contains some interesting destinations beyond the Quarter and the Garden District, even though the perennials seldom fail to reward.
"Frenchmen Street," people kept saying. "Go to Frenchmen Street." On a free night, my wife, Renee, and I did just that. Its raffish blocks of concentrated bars and restaurants wait not far from the Quarter, just down Decatur from Cafe du Monde.
We wound up in the Spotted Cat bar, where we were stopped short by a band called Sarah McCoy and the Oopsie Daisies. McCoy — or the Rev. Sarah, as she, obscurely, is sometimes known — plays the piano well and wildly. Her partner, Alyssa Potter, plies the glockenspiel, while raucous backgrounds surge from a guitarist and bass player who seem to have arisen straight from the rambling New Orleans street scene.
The sound was jazz, it was cabaret, it was Caribbean blues, it was captivating. People went to the bar for drinks, and back again. The music rolled hard and uncompromising, full of thrills.
Theater loomed large, too. McCoy is an imposing woman and Potter is slight. The band didn't need microphones, so they got up and wandered around and past the stage. Sometimes they danced with each other.
McCoy played almost everything in a minor key and sang in a wail, like a Texas squall, then emoted in a lower range, then climbed back to riveting peaks.
The band appears very often at the Spotted Cat and other Crescent City spots. The Spotted Cat is trendy enough to have appeared in an episode of the HBO series "Treme." And McCoy and her band have a freethinking originality that should endear them to a nation that routinely settles for less. We shall see.
Last month, I went to an old hangout that has indubitably become famous. The millions who watch the network TV show "Nashville" will be familiar with the Bluebird Cafe. It's where characters Gunnar, Avery and Scarlett both hang out and work, or did at one time. It symbolizes the street side of Nashville, or the world of the songwriters who aren't yet getting cuts on major labels and hearing their songs played on country radio.
Within my recollection, the Bluebird Cafe has evolved from being a neighborhood bar to a destination for aspiring stars and their fans. The Bluebird's reputation grew all along, from its modest beginnings in the early '80s, to a room to spot rising songwriters and singers such as Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood.
It was always a good place to hang out and play, and owner Amy Kurland made sure people listened to and respected the music. A few years ago, Kurland sold it off to the Nashville Songwriters Association International, with the idea that it would remain a home for "in the round" performances of songwriters swapping tunes, some of which were to become major hits.
I played last month at the Bluebird, along with my longtime friends Tom House and Tomi Lynn Lunsford and Canadian rising star Brock Zeman. It was odd going back, particularly after hearing that the club is sold out, every night, for every performance. Apparently, there's also an exact replica of the club in California, so that the show can shoot scenes there without that wearisome trip to Nashville.
Seeing the Bluebird today was great, in a way. But it also became a case in which life reflected TV, reflecting life. There was even an aspiring songwriter, Drew, washing dishes in the kitchen, just as various brilliant musicians whom I knew did in the day.
So, all good wishes to the Bluebird, local bar and national dreamscape. But people could have as least as good a time at the Spotted Cat. And maybe an even better time doing the "NaeNae."
To catch up, the comedian Martin Lawrence once had a alter-ego named Sheneneh, a character he played as his own excessive, obsessed, showy neighbor.
Not only did Sheneneh take on a following of her own, but she also inspired a dance, the NaeNae. It was spread by a group of Atlanta dancers/rappers called We Are Toonz in their track "Drop That NaeNae." With the refrain "hooooaahh!" and some arm-waving and inventive moves, the dance had caught on by late last fall.
This column's home turf of the Triangle (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill) became something of a center of NaeNae-ism. Here's how: Former Raleigh high schooler and NBA star John Wall dropped the NaeNae after a spectacular win in the All-Star slam dunk contest.
Then, the Eagles basketball team from North Carolina Central University in Durham worked their way into the NCAA tournament, so closely identifying themselves with the NaeNae that We Are Toonz themselves came up from Atlanta to take part in the pre-tournament celebration.
Type in "naenae" on Google, or Twitter, or Instagram, and see how omnipresent the song and dance have become throughout much of our culture. After the Mercer Bears improbably beat perennial basketball power Duke University (also from Durham) during March Madness, Mercer player Kevin Canevari broke out in a celebratory NaeNae that had commentators comparing it to the previous sports/dance craze "(Crank That) Soulja Boy."
Fame wanders far and wide, its lasso always at hand. People with a hunger to experience the new and interesting will do well to explore both outside and inside that unpredictable loop.