In the double-life that a ghost-writer leads, there is a randomness to be enjoyed; the randomness that comes with vicariously living another’s experiences for the sake of a richer narrative. And so, at the weekend, I found myself transported back-stage at the 52nd Grammys in Los Angeles. Yet another behind-the-scenes experience for which I am grateful.
It was to be a surreal evening, especially when, in the restroom, one is flanked at the urinals by Seal to the left and Jamie Foxx to the right; when Jennifer Hudson uses your shoulder for balance whilst an assistant straps on elevating-heels before taking her seat; when you catch Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban looking so loved-up that it defies all cynicism…and his own once-stated fears of love. The musical great and the good all came and went in a blur of organized chaos in the dressing room corridors: Beyonce, Celine Dion, Jon Bon Jovi, Sir Elton John, Mary J Blige, Andrea Bocelli, Smokey Robinson, and Dave Matthews.
I thought how privileged I was to be in the centre of this experience, behind the veil. I thought how privileged they were – the stars – to lead these lives: the product of dreams, sheer talent, tenacity and, perhaps for some, good luck. I thought how it could be hard for an ordinary human nature not to have its head turned and its ego enticed within this grandiose world. Such superficial distractions build a perennial delusion in Hollywood.
So that’s probably why I was taken on a deliberate diversion away from the Staples Centre venue that pre-ceremony morning, to seek out a grounding observation and a perverse juxtaposition. 6th Street in downtown LA is otherwise known as Skid Row. It is a man made waste-ground for the homeless and mentally-ill. The LAPD used to pick up transients from all over the city and just dump them here. Out of sight, out of mind, and hidden away from the rest of the metropolis.
You soon realize that the lines of impoverished people are not queues to get in anywhere but people just finding their spot; a square section of sidewalk to call their own and park their trolley/cart. It is like this block after block, surrounding the compassionate sanctuary of The Midnight Mission. These streets are said to be the biggest concentration of homelessness in America, and it is truly bewildering to any sense of humanity. Your eyes skim this scene in cruise-mode because the head tells you it would be unwise to stop, but the heart only aches for the sheer scale of this ceaseless hopelessness. You look down at your golden Grammys ticket and access-all-areas wrist-band and feel like a thief of opportunity.
Each of these people – these humans that we prefer to snub and pretend do not exist – has a story to tell from within their own maddening corner of Hollywood’s third world city. Oh, how I’d like to pull up a chair on the sidewalk and ‘ghost’ those and get them published. Stories that don’t always turn out like the movie, The Soloist. But who listens let alone cares, right? Except for the people who work and fundraise at the Midnight Mission.
I spent no more than 20 minutes driving around, absorbing these scenes within a stone’s throw of The Grammys. It was an unforgettable night but those 20 minutes beforehand provided a sobering reality check for the ensuing six hours back-stage.
Many celebrities spoke about Haiti before, during and after the ceremony, and rightfully appealed for continued donations. But my heart felt the pinch for those neglected and forgotten people down the street. Lest we forget our neighbours. So impacted was I that I returned home and made a donation to The Midnight Mission ( www.midnightmission.org) Futile, perhaps. But like I said, there are some experiences as a ghost-writer that make me eternally grateful and thank my lucky stars each and every day.