Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Little Local Limelight

Famous people don’t often rub shoulders with folks living in this small Idaho town surrounded by wheat fields. Red carpet premiers and star-studded galas simply don’t happen up here. So whenever some big name arrives in town, it’s almost always front page news. When Jesse Jackson came to speak at the University of Idaho last year, half the population turned out to hear him. Nevermind that half the population thinks he’s a joke. He’s famous, dadgummit, and that gets us excited.

But if the mere arrival of somebody famous gives us a thrill, you can imagine how much more thrilled we are when somebody from around here—somebody we actually know—becomes a household name.

That is why a bunch of us here in Moscow are all abuzz this weekend over our newest—and probably our biggest—encounter with fame. The J.J. Abrams/Steven Spielberg movie Super 8 is opening nationwide on Friday, and it just happens to star one of our local home-grown kids. We are more than excited; we are practically intoxicated. This sort of thing just doesn't happen here.

I remember listening to NPR while washing the dishes in my kitchen in Dallas one day when an album review came on the air. “Our next artist hails from Moscow, Idaho,” said the announcer. I stopped scrubbing. Nobody had ever mentioned my home town on a Dallas radio station before. Who on earth could they be talking about? “Josh Ritter’s newest album, The Animal Years…”

Wait. What? Josh Ritter is a musician? I know that guy! Well, sort of. He’s in my junior high yearbook! I used to go to the Lutheran church with his family!...Whoa. So, of course, I had to look him up online where I discovered that he’s actually made something of a name for himself on the folk/pop music scene. And that made this Moscow girl feel mighty proud. I like to see my home town on the map from time to time, and I know I'm not alone.

When Sarah Palin's name went global during the last election, our town—well, half of it at any rate—was happy to remember her as having spent her college years here in Moscow.

When track star Dan O'Brien made sports headlines when I was a kid, our local university named its outdoor track after him. We claimed him as ours.

And then there’s N.D. Wilson who graduated from high school with me (lo, these many years ago) in our little class of 17 and now lives just down the street. And he is a bestselling author who has appeared on a National Geographic special and the Today Show. Every time Nate's work makes the news somewhere, we small towners who know him immediately start posting links all over Twitter.

Successful people are impressive. There’s no denying it. We get a charge out of our little brushes with fame. We’ve all heard people tell those long stories in which some chance encounter with a rock star is the punch line of the whole narrative. And most of us actually like to hear those stories told. (Count me among them.) If you shake hands with Alice Cooper at a Target store in Phoenix as my husband did many years ago, you’re going to tell people about it. And if you have a movie star as one of your acquaintances, you and I both know that that tidbit of information will find its way into plenty of casual conversations.

And I think all of that is just fine, to a point. It’s inspiring to watch friends succeed. We love our hometown "heroes," we love to tell their stories, and we especially love to be somewhere within their orbits. There's something just plain fun about being little moons to their sun—satellites that are just near enough to reflect some of the glaring spotlight; the higher their stars rise, the brighter we ourselves seem to shine. But sometimes (maybe more than sometimes) the glow of that limelight turns us a bit more green than it should. To be honest, when astonishing success comes close to home, it can be subtly tempting—all too easy to start thinking that hey, it could have been me. The thought, fleeting though it may have been, has crossed my own mind more than once.

But no. Actually, it couldn't have been me. And to think so would poison the delight of seeing our friends being publicly recognized. Far better to rejoice with them and for them. Far better to enjoy the show than to stupidly regret not being a part of it. It is inspiring to watch a friend succeed. And that, I think, is the reason for all the excitement over tomorrow's release of Super 8.

It’s been entertaining and a bit surreal to see Joel Courtney, who attends our sons’ school and whose family has been part of our church community for years, on the cover of Entertainment Weekly and showing up next to Steven Spielberg on MTV. That cute kid with the bed head who used to sit in front of us in church is a movie star? And we’re not just talking about a bit part in a low-budget, limited-distribution art-house flick. We’re talking about the lead role in what some reviewers are calling the must-see movie of the summer. It’s a bit hard to process.

But most of us who know him and his family are thrilled. We know a movie star! We know somebody who knows Steven Spielberg! I can’t scroll through my facebook news feed without finding link after link to reviews and interviews about Super 8. And I can’t say that I mind. I could take a ride on my high horse and ask what the big deal is. I could wonder aloud why everyone is so worked up about this. After all, it’s not like he found the cure for cancer. It’s not like he’s some kind of genius. It’s just a movie, for pity’s sake.

But that wouldn’t really be the truth. For us, it’s not just a movie. It’s our movie. It’s hard to say how long the thrill will last or whether we’ll get used to seeing our local boy’s face on billboards and movie posters all over the country. But for now, we’re enjoying the ride. Joel’s success feels, in some small way, like our own.


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful blogpost! You have encapsulated our joy, pride, and excitement. Thank you!
(and...I cannot wait to see the movie!)

Luma said...

I'll have to tell my kids about this. :-) It's beautiful to rejoice with those who rejoice.

Dianna said...

Fantastically put!

Jan said...

You said it best! Cheers, to a job well done by Joel!

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