Recently I’ve been occasionally talking to my therapist about how healthy it might or might not be to reconnect as an adult with stuff you loved as a child. I'm talking here, as someone who has a couple of Battlestar Galactica ships sitting on his desk, and a modest but thoughtful collection of 80's pocket electronic games on his office mantlepiece. I sometimes wonder if, even though I still genuinely love these things, there might be something a little dysfunctional about that. Turns out, it's a good thing. A way to show your childhood self that you haven't forgotten them in adult life, and that however much you might have changed as a grown-up, you still genuinely love the things you used to love. I like that. So let's talk about last week, and the Kids From Fame.
Back when I was a young teenager, this show was important. Apart from having singing and dancing and funnies and drama and cool 80's New York-ness, it also had Bruno and Doris. Bruno and Doris were my favourites. Smart, sometimes shy, nerdy characters who struggled with themselves and what they were, and with what they wanted to be. I wanted to be Bruno, and I wanted to be friends with Doris. I wanted to have a basement like he had, with synthesizers and pizza and - and this is key - friends.
It was this show, and these characters specifically, that gave me permission to fantasize about being some kind of performer. I didn't know what kind - this was years before I learned any of the skills that I pay my mortgage with these days - but I allowed myself to imagine what it would be like to be part of a gang of differently talented people, who were there for each other, and hung out, and did cool performery stuff. Fame nudged the direction of my life just enough, that as the years rolled by, the path became more and more divergent from what it would have been, until, well, here we are. Fantasy realised.
And not just in terms of my work. Somehow, down to a combination of luck, caution-throwing, and a rather splendid policewoman called Sue, something ridiculous happened. I became friends with Doris. Well, with Valerie Landsburg, who played her on the show. And over the years we've been occasionally hanging out, I've finally managed to calm down and be able to have normal conversations with her, so yay me.
Which leads me to last week. The splendid policewoman called Sue had organised a charity concert, in Liverpool, in which cast of the show would be reuniting and singing a bunch of old songs. The songs that I used to sing along to alone in my bedroom as a kid, sung by the people who were on the poster on my bedroom wall. You bet your ass I was headed to Liverpool. The show was big fun. There also may or may not have been a moment when Val, the girl from the show who I dreamt of being friends with, dedicated my favourite song to me, and just, basically, broke me. I sunk down in my seat, emitted a kind of "NNNHHHUUHH" sound, and proceeded to risk serious dehydration through happy tears.
The next day we got invited to the legendary Cavern Club for the cast party. I walked around gawping at beautiful old posters with the names of legends in gorgeous splashy fonts like the tourist I was. The Beatles are great, obviously, but I’d be a liar if I said they’re super meaningful to me. But once I got myself in front of an old black and white of Cilla Black.. Well, I was on three series of a tv show with Cilla in the 90’s, and I liked her very much. That was something. Another pin in your life with string stretching back to a memory.
In Fame, the TV show, every so often (OK, every week, regular as clockwork), there would be a moment where some of the kids would suddenly all come together, pick up instruments, and sing a song. “How unlikely”, the cynic in your head would say, before relaxing, safe in the knowledge that that’s just how things work in musicals. So, there we were, sitting around chatting in the Cavern Club, when the actual Kids From Fame drift up to the stage, pick up instruments and spend the rest of the night jamming, singing songs, swapping instruments and taking requests JUST LIKE THEY USED TO IN THE SHOW.
I even managed to, through a medicinal haze of scotch and soda, thank Lee Curreri, who played Bruno, for, well, basically completely changing the course of my life and giving me artistic purpose. A confession that he seemed to take fairly well. Better than I did, perhaps, since it was only on the train home the following day that I remembered that conversation and had a little cry.
I write this not to brag about my 1980’s TV friends. Well, ok, slightly that, but mostly not. Mostly this is a letter to my teenage self. He wasn’t very confident, stuttered badly, spent a long time in his own company, and was, often, scared of too many things. The creative life that Fame encouraged me to pursue was instrumental in helping me grow away from some of those things, while keeping hold of the stuff that the young me loved. The life I get to live, while still a continual struggle, was an actual, literal, bona-fide fantasy to the me that watched Fame every week. So, one more time, thanks to them.
I still love the show, and still have a bunch of songs from it sitting on my phone, and some of them still make me cry. Life is too short for shame about stuff that makes you happy and harms nobody else, so fuck fashion and the judgemental awfulness of “Guilty pleasures”. To quote the great John Hodgman – “People love what they love”. I love Fame, and I owe it, because it helped make me the dude who is currently sitting in an airport coffee shop, about to get on a plane to Switzerland, where I will do my show, and hang out with a bunch of other, differently talented people, who I love.