I was looking at Picasso’s Three Musicians at the MoMA. A guy wearing a baseball cap all pulled down was standing next to me.
He was Steve Martin.
I instantly knew two things: He wouldn’t be able to enjoy looking at art for much longer because people would recognize him any second, and we were kindred spirits. I was 13 years old. There was no reason for me to think we had any kind of connection, but there it was. About ten minutes later, I passed him walking through another room. He still had his cap pulled down. He walked quickly, staring at the floor. But he looked up when I passed him and our eyes met. It made me so profoundly sad that he couldn’t just go to the museum without all of this attached drama that I left and went straight home. Being 13, that encounter bothered me for days.
Fourteen years later, Shopgirl was released. I got to the Union Square Barnes & Noble three hours early for a front-row seat to Steve’s reading. You know how when a big event happens to you that involves someone else, and it means so much to you but it’s actually nothing to the other person? Yeah. That’s what the whole MoMA experience was. For some reason, it affected me a lot and I’ve felt connected to Steve ever since. So after his reading, I went up to him and told him the story of what happened. But then I felt like a big dork. Because what does he care? He’s heard a million stories just like mine.
I just finished reading his new memoir (he calls it a biography of a guy he used to know instead of an autobiography), Born Standing Up, and recognized this part when Steve was describing his life during insane fame: “I would pull my hat down low on my head and stare at the ground…I would duck around corners quickly at museums.” You might think he asked for this kind of life, being famous and all. But there’s something odd about the way celebrities make us feel all excited that we’re in the same room. And the way some people won’t let them just…be.
This short clip from his recent Charlie Rose appearance is a testament to the power of writing. How writing can inspire change and motivate us to overcome inertia. Thanks for sharing this with me, Laila.