This quote, and the news that Jane Russell has passed at the age of 89, got me nattering on twitter about voice and authenticity. I went to look up her famous duet with Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Here, watch this:
And here's bonus! "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend."
And the thing that struck me as I was watching them is how we forget famous artists' very real talents, presence, skill--their art--and collapse them into a simplified version of what they are. I grew up on pop culture, and the Monroe and Russell in my head aren't, you know, the Monroe and Russell who graced the screen. They're Jessica-Rabbit-like pastiches, parodies of themselves.
The version of "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" in my head isn't Monroe at all, but a thousand second-generation copies.
But look at that: these women were funny, sarcastic. They had great chemistry on screen together. Russell had fabulous comic timing. She was a person, and an actor, and (yes) a great beauty.
I was privileged last weekend to stand in the presence of a Van Gogh self-portrait (this one: it lives in Hartford) when we went to see Monet's water lilies and I had the experience I always have with Van Gogh: I don't actually realize how good he was until I'm standing there fixated and my heart rate is accelerating. Because I have an image of Van Gogh and his work, and it's not the real thing. It's not a candle to the moon of the real thing.
I had this experience over and over again writing The Stratford Man: I had to get through the media images of Will and Kit to their real work. What they said themselves, rather than what people said about them.
I suspect all of art is like this. Seeing what's really there, rather than what we expect to be there. Seeing Monroe's awkward, charming, vulnerable self-consciousness rather than a Jessica Rabbit slink; Russell's verve, sly wit, and energy rather than a pinup silhouette.
Some artists eventually become their own parody. (Elvis Presley, I'm looking at you.)
Your voice is out there. Finding it is finding your authenticity, the thing that makes you unique. And it's too easy to turn into a caricature of somebody else in the process--in fact, I suspect, we all have to go through that phase where we're copying to learn to be unique (there's some great early Bowie videos where he's trying so very hard to be Mick Jagger, it's adorable)--but if we keep pressing on past that, we emerge as ourselves again.